Entries in Laurent Tourondel (14)


Arlington Club


I never realized how desperate the Upper East Side was for a great steakhouse. Laurent Tourondel did. He opened Arlington Club on Lexington Avenue four months ago and scored a bullseye: an instant hit.

You’d figure Tourondel can nail a steakhouse. His BLT Steak (opened nine years ago, and since replicated in a dozen cities) practically defined the modern steakhouse movement: the appetizers and non-steak entrées are terrific, and you swoon over the side dishes as much as the steaks themselves.

Since the failure of Cello, an old-school three-star seafood restaurant, in 2002, Tourondel has been more obsessed with replicable populism than excellence. The man can cook, but who runs the show when he is absent? All of his post-Cello places have been bedeviled with inconsistency.

And none of them have had management that complemented Tourondel’s skill in the kitchen. His BLT partnership with the restaurateur Jimmy Haber ended in an acrimonious divorce in 2010. Now he’s in bed with the Tao Group, the geniuses behind a chain of terrible, but highly profitable, restaurants, such as Tao, Lavo, and Marble Lane. If Tourondel is half the perfectionist he is reputed to be, it’s hard to imagine how he’ll tolerate being beholden to these clowns.

For now, Arlington Club is BLT Lavo, neither as bad as the Tao group’s other outfits, nor as good as it could be if Tourondel ever found the right partner. Tourondel’s DNA is evident in the excellent steaks, the sides, and the heavenly popovers. Tao Group’s DNA is evident in the mediocre service, the clubby crowd, and the spectacular build-out—resembling, and as noisy as, a European train station.

I booked a 5:45 pm table on a Saturday evening. A host called to warn me that my party would not be seated if it were incomplete, and that the table would be forfeited after 15 minutes. That was after they already took a credit card number in advance. Never mind that, according to multiple critics, tables are frequently not available at the promised time. A restaurant that can’t keep to its own schedule has no business lecturing customers about punctuality.

At check-out, I was compelled to sign the bill twice, both before and after I presented my credit card. “It’s our policy,” said the server, who didn’t even try to explain it.

According to Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton, bar tabs are not transferrable to the table—an inexcusable lapse at a restaurant where even modest eaters will struggle to keep the bill under $125 per person. The wine list offers a wide selection, from the low $50s up to four figures; but then, they’ll serve your super-Tuscan in the same glass as they’d serve a Pinot Grigio.

This is what you get when a respected chef goes into partnership with the Tao group: a restaurant practically designed to suck. But with Arlington Club perpetually packed these days, the money-vacuum at Corporate has no reason to change: they just keep hoovering up the dough.

Having said that, the service staff themselves were extremely good. The server gave excellent ordering advice; plates were cleared promptly, and the staff must have circled back half-a-dozen times to wipe crumbs off the table.

The food was fine, but not good enough to justify the Tourondel premium. The price of the menu’s centerpiece, the côte de boeuf, has been on a rocket’s trajectory: $110 in early January (when The Post’s Steve Cuozzo awarded three stars), $115 in mid-January (when The Times’s Pete Wells awarded two), $125 by the end of January (when Bloomberg’s Ryan Sutton awarded half-a-star), and $130 today. Most of the menu has seen a similar, if not quite as spectacular, an increase over the past few months.

At today’s prices, the menu offers a selection of sushi rolls ($12–21), raw fish and seafood ($14–28), appetizers ($14–26), steaks ($36–65 per person), composed mains, referred to as “specialties” ($26–59) and a wide assortment of sides ($11–15). The sushi, by the way, has been panned by all three of the pro critics that have reviewed it. We were not about to touch it with a barge pole.

The meal begins with the legendary popovers (above left), a feature wisely retained from the BLT franchies, served here (inexplicably) with pickles. The recipe has changed since we last visited BLT Prime, and I like these a bit less—they taste a bit too eggy—but they remain a highlight of dinner at any Tourondel restaurant.


Calamari Salad ($17; above left) and Fluke crudo ($14; above right) were competent but unremarkable.


That côte de boeuf (above; $130 for two), served with a trench of bone marrow, is very good and perfectly cooked to the medium rare we requested (not a guarantee here, given the comments of multiple pro reviewers). There’s an appealing crunchy char on the outside, although the meat doesn’t quite have as much dry-aged flavor as I’d like.


The steak comes with the French Fries (normally $10 if ordered separately). Full credit to the server for letting us know (the menu made no mention of them), and urging us to cancel a separate order of “Potatoes Arlington,” which would have been wasted on us. The fries are doused with an excess of cheddar powder and what the menu calls “spices,” which tasted to us like truffle oil. They were merely okay.

The Truffled Gnocchi ($15; above right) are superb, an expensive side dish well worth it.


There are about a dozen wonderful gelati and ice creams, all made in house. The server rattled them off from memory, all of them funky combinations like chocolate popcorn, of which we chose three ($8; above left). A couple of small pastries resembling beignets (above right) stood in for petits fours.

There’s much to like at Arlington Club. We weren’t served a bad dish, and several were very good. If I lived nearby, I’d go back. But the “steakhouse-plus” genre that Tourondel pioneered is no longer a novelty. For the same money, you can visit Porter House or Minetta Tavern, where the food is more consistent and the service is better.

Arlington Club (1034 Lexington Ave. between 73rd–74th Streets, Upper East Side)

Food: Steakhouse plus, BLT style
Service: Very good at the table with a terrible corporate owner
Ambiance: A gorgeous, stylized European train station (and as noisy)

Why? The genre is no longer novel, and Tourondel fails to improve on it


BLT Bar & Grill


Earlier this year, chef Laurent Tourondel and his namesake BLT Restaurant Group split up, with owner Jimmy Haber keeping most of the restaurants and Tourondel’s plans unclear. At first, the divorce was described as amicable, but that unlikely story exploded quickly enough. Last month, Haber sued Tourondel for opening a burger joint in Sag Harbor, LT Burger, that allegedly infringed the trademark of the extremely similar BLT Burger in Greenwich Village, which Tourondel opened but no longer controls.

Under the terms of their settlement, Haber is no longer permitted to open new BLT restaurants, but BLT Bar & Grill, which was already under construction in the W Hotel Downtown, was allowed to keep the coveted initials—presumably the last time we’ll see them in a new place. The hotel remains blanketed with scaffolding, but the restaurant has been open since late July.

Under Tourondel’s supervision, the BLT restaurants were crazily expensive and frustratingly uneven. The potential for a great meal was always there, but they didn’t deliver it consistently. Tourondel’s menus, however, were always clever. He seldom served a classic without tweaking it—usually for the better.

If BLT Bar & Grill is the best the group can do sans Tourondel, the future is not bright. This is a routine hotel restaurant, showing off about as much culinary imagination as a T.G.I. Friday’s. The food is much better than a Friday’s—not bad, in fact—but the menu is a real snoozer. Even in a neighborhood starved for good restaurants, there are surely more interesting options (even if I can’t name them).

At least it is not as expensive as the other BLT’s. Most of the entrées are in the 20s, most of the appetizers in the teens. If that’s a bargain, it is only in relation to the other restaurants in the group, where it is hard to get out for less than $100 a head. In the modern fashion, the menu is in eight categories: snacks, starters, sandwiches, pizza, pasta, meat, fish, sides: something for everybody, but with no clear vision.

The wine list is as unadventurous as the food, and too expensive, with very few reds below $50—and the first one I asked for was out of stock, despite being listed as a choice by the glass.


I had a snack of Parmesan & Olives ($7) at the bar, which came with many more olives than I could finish. At the table, the bread service was a pizza-like substance that tasted like it was yesterday’s left-over.


Tuna tartare ($16) was a much happier experience, one of the best renditions I’ve had in a while, with high-quality tuna overa bed of soy, wasabi, and avocado. Both of us had the burger ($16) with aged cheddar and double-smoked bacon—enjoyable, but not a destination product. An order of fries was soggy, and had to be sent back.

The two-story space is cavernous, with over 200 seats, including two bars and an outdoor patio. We have trouble imagining that it will ever be full, when there is so little of interest on the menu, none of Tourondel’s inspiration, and it’s run by the same management that made the other BLT restaurants so inconsistent.

BLT Bar & Grill (123 Washington Street at Albany Street, Financial District)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: Fine
Ambiance: Cavernous
Overall: Satisfactory


There’s No Recession at BLT Market

Note: BLT Market closed at the end of 2011. The space is now Auden.


Hardly a day goes by without another dozen restaurants practically giving their food away — anything to get customers to part with increasingly scarce cash.

But the recession has not yet arrived at BLT Market, Laurent Tourondel’s haute barnyard on Central Park South. I reserved a table for an informal meal with friends visiting from out of town, but my heart sank when I looked at the online menu. The place is more expensive than ever. If they’ve made any compromise for tough times, I sure-as-hell can’t see it.

Appetizers are $14–19, entrées $26–45 (the majority over $35), side dishes $8–12, desserts $9–12. None of the entrées come with vegetables, so for a three-course meal you could easily spend $70 per head before tax and tip.

You’ll likely go north of $100 if you drink wine, as the expensive list has few options below $70 per bottle. It tops out with an 1870 Château-Lafite-Rothschild at the odd price of $11,111.

You do, at least, get some nice extras, starting with the excellent “pigs in a blanket” amuse (right) and the terrific warm bread stuffed with spinach. I wonder, though, why they haven’t come up with any other amuses: I’ve had the same one twice previously. The novelty this time was a serving of warm, cream-filled doughnut holes after dinner.

Both savory courses were faultless: a Chestnut Apple Celery Root Soup with Mushroom Toast ($16; above left) and Roasted Halibut ($27; above right).

There is no mystery about why BLT Market is so expensive: the dining room was full on a Wednesday evening. The chef de cuisine these days is Ed Cotton, formerly of the Michelin-starred Veritas. His work here has flown beneath the radar, as the original reviews pre-dated his arrival, and I don’t believe any of the critics have been back. The Times never reviewed the place at all, an omission that ought to be rectified.

I think there are better options for your money, but if you happen to dine at BLT Market you won’t feel cheated. Everything is well executed, the service is excellent, and the faux barnyard décor is easy on the eyes, if not especially original.

BLT Market (1430 Sixth Avenue at Central Park South, West Midtown)

Food: **
Service: **
Ambiance: **
Overall: **


Update: BLT Market


Note: Click here for a more recent visit to BLT Market.

We last visited BLT Market on opening week, finding it promising but not yet polished. Since then, the reviews are in, most of them favorable (Platt, Cuozzo, Lane, Tables for Two).

Frank Bruni issued a peculiar dissent, relegating the restaurant to Dining Briefs (i.e., not a full review). He found much of the food very good, but called chef Laurent Tourondel “a slacker” for opening “assiduously promoted, trend-conscious restaurants” instead of making the “real impact on the city’s dining scene” that he’s capable of.

I agree with Bruni to an extent. My meals at the BLT restaurant brood have generally been very good (with a few odd lapses), but you always feel you’re getting something less than Tourondel’s best effort. With his large restaurant family now numbering fifteen, he cannot be spending much time at any one of them.

Nevertheless, you’ll pass a happy time at Tourondel’s latest New York restaurant, BLT Market, though you won’t get out cheaply. On a recent visit, Amish Chicken ($30) was among the less expensive entrées. Rock shrimp risotto ($36) and a pork chop ($38) were both wonderful, but no one would call them bargains at a restaurant this informal. Cocktails at the bar (technically part of the hotel, not the restaurant) were staggering: $16 for a Whisky Sour, $17 for a Negroni.

The menu has been expanded to include separately-orderable side dishes that it lacked before—always a sure way to plump up the bill (though we didn’t bite). At all the BLT restaurants, the menus are printed on thin, cheap paper with a half-life that couldn’t be more than a day or so. So why are the specials printed on a separate sheet of paper, of which we were given only one copy? Surely a restaurant so expensive could get this right.

We were on our way to a show, so I was pleased to find that they got us out in an hour without rushing. The amuse-bouche was the same pigs-in-a-blanket as before, but more enjoyable this time. The garlic bread is still superb.

BLT Market  (1430 Sixth Avenue at Central Park South, in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, West Midtown)

Food: **
Service: *½
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **


BLT Market

BLT Market postcard, based on art work displayed in the restaurant

Note: Click here for more recent visits to BLT Market.

You would have every reason to be a little cynical about the opening of yet another “Bistro Laurent Tourondel” restaurant. In a matter of three years, Tourondel has launched almost a dozen of them, the majority being clones of the very first one, BLT Steak. To date, the best of the brood has been BLT Fish, which earned three stars from Frank Bruni, as well as a Michelin star, which it promptly lost.

Main Menu

Now comes BLT Market, which occupies the former Atelier space in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at the corner of Sixth Avenue and Central Park South. To Tourondel’s credit, this is his first restaurant in quite a while that isn’t a mindless clone of a previous endeavour. The idea of a restaurant focused on seasonal ingredients is hardly original, but Tourondel’s version of it could become one of the better ones.

I walked in on impulse at around 6:30 p.m. on a weeknight. The dining room was booked, but I got an outdoor table immediately with a nice view of Central Park. Typical of a BLT restaurant, the server presented me with several loose sheets of paper: a menu, a specials menu, and a wine list supplement. (I didn’t ask to see the full wine list, but they have one.)

I ordered a cocktail called the Apricot–Mint Caiproska ($14). Like other cocktails I’ve had at BLT restaurants, it was too small, and almost all ice. I felt like I had paid about $1 per sip. I wasn’t shown the full wine list, but the paper supplement showed ten selections by the glass and bottles from a variety of regions. It included eight choices from New York state, something you do not normally see. With bottles priced mostly above $60, there were few bargains to be had.

Specials Menu

The menu is focused and not unduly long. There are seven appetizers ($12–25), one soup ($12), two pastas ($14–24 as appetizers; $23–38 as entrées), six entrées ($26–43), six desserts ($10–11), and a cheese course ($14). A sidebar lists all of the vegetables and fish that are in season. The specials menu added an additional appetizer, two entrées, and one dessert. While the prices are obviously expensive, they are all-inclusive, unlike the other BLT restaurants, where the side dishes cost extra, and drive up the bill considerably.

I wasn’t that hungry, so I ordered two appetizers. Grilled Octopus ($18) came with a fresh cranberry  bean salad and bergamot dressing. The octopus was nicely charred, and thick enough to have the consistency of a steak, but it upstaged the accompanying salad, which was dull. Raw and Confit Big Eye Tuna ($18) came with a tonnato sauce, garnished with avocado and fresh heart of palm. This was a lovely dish, attractively plated. The raw tuna was especially good, but the confit version seemed not as flavorful.

The amuse-bouche was a riff on “pigs in a blanket”—a small slice of frankfurter wrapped in a pastry shell with a mustard and relish dressing. It was a cute idea, but a bit messy to eat, and the hot dog didn’t seem fresh. The bread service was spectacular: a long hot garlic bread, served in a paper bag. Say what you want about Tourondel, but the breads in his restaurants are great.

The space is a bit more elegant than the other BLT restaurants, but with many informal touches. Tables are bare wood, with cloth napkins but paper placemats. Servers wear striped aprons, but the captains wear suits. The artwork, which I understand Tourondel selected himself, consists of large pastel paintings showing fruits and vegetables, such as the tomato still life shown at the top of this post.

Service was friendly, but slow, with a rather long gap between my first and second appetizer. The amuse and bread courses left my placemat festooned with crumbs, but they didn’t replace it until after the meal was over. I wasn’t smitten with BLT Market, but the restaurant shows promise. With the menu still technically in previews, I assume there will be refinements, and some of the service glitches will be smoothed out.

BLT Market (1430 Sixth Avenue at Central Park South, West Midtown)

Food: **
Service: *
Ambiance: **
Overall: **


BLT Prime

bltprime_inside.jpgI previously awarded three stars to BLT Prime, based on two earlier visits—especially my first visit (the second wasn’t so impressive). Three stars for a steakhouse? Was that irrational exuberance?

Recently, I sampled the BLT experience yet again. Do Laurent Tourondel’s steakhouses kick ass? Yes, they do. Does that accomplishment warrant three stars? Probably not.

We visited on Mother’s Day at around 7:00 p.m. without a reservation. The restaurant was perhaps a little over half full. That fact signals BLT Prime’s limitation, for though the food is excellent, its heavy-handed informality is a deterrent on special occasions. (On most other nights BLT Prime seems to fill up easily—that’s my unscientific observation based on periodic OpenTable scans.)

Some aspects of the service remain incomprehensible. Given that the menu is a loose sheet of paper that obviously must be reprinted frequently—probably daily—why must the specials be printed on a separate piece of paper? And why drop off two copies of the menu, but only one of the specials? And why is the menu also displayed on large boards in a corner of the restaurant where perhaps only 20% of diners can see it?

bltprime01a.jpg bltprime01b.jpg

The BLT restaurants are a carb-o-phile’s dream. First come two slices of country bread, with a terrific pâté to spread. Then come the legendary popovers with soft, creamy butter. At this point, anyone with a normal stomach is already feeling half-full, and the appetizers haven’t even arrived yet. Knowing this would be the case, we didn’t order appetizers and went streat to the steaks.


We were both drawn to the five-pepper crusted bone-in New York strip ($42), one of the daily specials. The mineral taste from dry aging was superb, and the steak had a beautifully charred exterior, with just the right fat content. This was about as good a preparation of NY strip as they come. Horseradish sauce (one of nine offered) complemented the steak nicely. Potato skins ($8) were competently done, but a tad too dry.

bltprime03.jpgTwo small petits-fours after dinner were a bonus not normally expected at a steakhouse, though we hardly needed any more calories at this point.

As it was a Sunday evening, we didn’t order a whole bottle of wine, but I noted there were no bargains to be had on the list, and wines by the glass didn’t come cheap either. We each had a glass of the house pinot noir ($14).

With Laurent Tourondel constantly opening new BLTs, he can’t be paying much attention to the existing ones. I’ve paid about nine visits in total to his various restaurants, and they can be maddeningly uneven. Brasserie Ruhlmann, the only kitchen he runs that doesn’t have his initials in the name, is an embarrassment. But at BLT Prime, he left a solid management team in place. It’s a “BLT” still worth visiting, even if Tourondel is busy elsewhere.

BLT Prime (111 East 22nd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, Gramercy)

Food: **½
Service: **
Ambiance: *½
Overall: **


Brasserie Ruhlmann

ruhlmann_outside.jpgBrasserie Ruhlmann got on my “ought-to-try” list after I heard that Laurent Tourondel had taken over the kitchen. Perhaps I ought to have been suspicious.

Laurent Tourondel has spread himself thinner than goose liver pâté. He has four other Manhattan restaurants in his BLT franchise (BLT Steak, BLT Prime, BLT Fish, and BLT Burger), a fifth opening this summer (BLT Market), and BLT Steak outposts in two other cities. He’s built up that empire in just a shade over three years, so he can’t be spending much time in any of his kitchens.

Brasserie Ruhlmann was a quick rescue job. The restaurant opened in January 2006 with another executive chef, and Tourondel was named to the post just three months later. I assume Tourondel got a tidy consultant’s fee to design a standard-issue French brasserie menu that he could hand over to a chef de cuisine, and never think about again. His name is on the menu and his cookbook prominently displayed, but there’s none of the inspiration that make the BLT restaurants so impressive. (Update: Tourondel has yet another offspring: BLT Steak in the Westchester Ritz-Carlton.)

Brasserie Ruhlmann is named for the art deco furniture designer Émile-Jacques Ruhlmann. Owner Jean Denoyer is a Ruhlmann collector himself, and he spent $5 million building out the spectacular space on Rockefeller Plaza, where the art deco theme is always at home. Denoyer knows a little something about restaurants too, as he also owns the Michelin-starred La Goulue on the Upper East Side (among other places).

Alas, the kitchen just goes through the motions. You’ll have a satisfactory meal at Brasserie Ruhlmann, but nothing you can’t have at many other French brasseries around town, or indeed at La Goulue, where the food is better, and the atmosphere feels far less like a tourist trap.

We arrived at around 8:00 p.m. on a Saturday night, with the restaurant nearly deserted. It seemed like a nice evening, so we decided to sit outdoors. Drinks—a sidecar for me, a whiskey sour for my girlfriend—took twenty minutes to arrive. The manager explained that they’d never heard of a sidecar, and had to look it up. After all that time, they served my girlfriend whiskey straight-up, rather than a whiskey sour. We sent it back.

ruhlmann01.jpgBy now, it was 8:25. Though we had only just started sipping our cocktails, naturally they were keen to take our wine and food order instantly, but we were having none of that. When we finally did order, the wine came promptly, but the waiter struggled to uncork it. After a minor skirmish, he managed to push the cork into the bottle. With a sheepish look, he disappeared.

Meanwhile, the rains had come, so we headed inside. A short while later (it was now 9:00), he returned to our new table with the wine in a decanter—“very well filtered,” he assured us.

Complain all you want about Laurent Tourondel, but the bread service is always superb at his restaurants. Gougères (above, right) were perhaps the most original item we had at Brasserie Ruhlmann.

Country Pâté (left); Beef Shortribs Bourguignonne (right)

Country Pâté ($12) was competently prepared, although fairly ordinary. Beef Shortribs Bourguignonne ($28) were served in a generous portion, though the sauce was a bit heavy. (The photo doesn’t do it justice—beef seldom photographs well.)

After the comic mishaps with the drinks, the rest of the evening’s service was just fine. On principle, we thought that the drinks should have been comped—but they weren’t. The restaurant was nearly empty while we were there. It is probably busier and livelier at lunch, as at dinner time there’s usually no reason to be in the area. So far, it doesn’t look like Brasserie Ruhlmann will change that.

Brasserie Ruhlmann (45 Rockefeller Plaza, 50th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Rockefeller Center, West Midtown)

Food: Satisfactory
Service: Mediocre
Ambiance: Good
Overall: Satisfactory


BLT Fish revisited

The raw bar downstairs at BLT Fish

Note: BLT Fish “closed for renovations” in July 2014. We shall see if it ever re-opens.


My last visit to BLT Fish left me so utterly disgusted that I vowed to take a long break before I would visit another BLT restaurant. The fish was excellent — how could it not be? — but the service was risible.

In the meantime, Laurent Tourondel continued to expand his BLT empire, with the widely panned BLT Burger here in New York, the forthcoming BLT Market in the former Atelier space, and clones of BLT Steak in several cities. BLT Fish lost its Michelin star this year, confirming the generally held view that Tourondel was too over-extended to mind the store.

Despite all of that, I decided to revisit BLT Fish the other night with my mom, who is visiting from Detroit. This was, by far, the most pleasant of all my visits to the various BLT establishments. The food was superb, and we were blessed with a four-top table set apart from the noisiest part of the restaurant. Service was solid, though this must be taken in the context of the comparatively low grade of service in Tourondel’s restaurants.

bltfish01a.jpg bltfish01b.jpg
The bread amuses at BLT Fish

We began with a couple of bread courses. First came crackers with a delicious tuna spread. As usual, the number of crackers was about half as many as needed—a fairly consistent screw-up at the BLT establishments. On the other hand, they are so justifiably proud of their luscious warm bread rolls that they even provide the recipe (see the little “BLT” brochure in the photo).

Grilled Sardines / Caponata / Aged Xeres Vinegar / Basil

The waitstaff at the BLT restaurants are black-belt masters of plumping up the bill. Our server advised that the whole fish we had ordered would take about 25 minutes, so she strongly urged us to order an appetizer to tide us over. Grilled sardines ($12) came perched on crisp toasted bread, but for a dish so likely to be shared, why were there just three of them?

Sea Salt Crusted New Zealand Pink Snapper

The menu offers a number of whole fish, most of them suitable for sharing. They are priced by the pound, which means you really don’t know how much you’ve signed up for until the end. We chose the Pink Snapper grilled in sea salt. After dinner, we were put out of our suspense: it weighed 2.188 pounds, which at $35 per pound came to $76.58. Aren’t you glad you asked?

The fish was presented tableside, then whisked away to be filleted. I would have preferred to watch them do it, though given the tight spacing of the tables, perhaps this would have been impractical. Any of my numerous complaints about the restaurant were completely erased once we started eating: it was simply the most sweet, succulent, tender fish imaginable. Two wonderful sauces came with it, which I’m afraid I can’t recall, but they were pitch-perfect accompaniments.

A two-pound fish is a lot for two people to eat, but when it’s this good you find a way to finish it. Had we bulked up on appetizers and side dishes, as our server advised, the snapper might have sufficed for three. When we thought we were done, the server returned to serve the tender, delicate “cheeks” from the fish head. It was an impressive encore.

At BLT restaurants, vegetables and starches are always à la carte. Our sever advised ordering two or three of these, which at $8–9 apiece can quickly add up. I was prepared for this bad advice, based on past visits. Although the side dishes are uniformly terrific, you almost never finish them. One is normally enough. We had the Sautéed Garlic Spinach ($9), which was just right.

bltfish04.jpgAfter dinner, the server brought a small plate of petits-fours. But why only three of them, for a table of two people? A large clump of green cotton candy was too cloyingly sweet to be tolerated for more than a couple of bites.

Many other aspects of the service remain peculiar. The menu is a cheap, loose sheet of paper, which I’m sure doesn’t last much more than a day. So why must there be a separate sheet of paper listing the raw bar selections and daily specials? And why is only one copy of that sheet distributed, when there are two diners? We observed this at other tables, so I know it wasn’t just a mistake.

About the wine list there can be no complaint. Here, as at the other BLT restaurants, they take the wine program seriously. We were perfectly happy with a $45 bottle of Beaujolais, which was served (as it should be) slightly below room temperature.

With a critic installed at the Times who positively abhores traditional formality, I suppose Laurent Tourondel has perfectly captured the mood of the age. Even Frank Bruni couldn’t quite forgive the conceit of sacrificing a restroom for an open kitchen, one of the more boneheaded restaurant design decisions of recent years. But Bruni was smitten with the food, awarding three stars. For food alone, that is the correct verdict. You have to be willing to put up with some annoying conceits, but on this occasion it was well worth it.

BLT Fish (21 W. 17th Street between 5th & 6th Avenues, Flatiron District)

Ambiance: ½
Overall: ½


BLT Burger

Note: BLT Burger closed in April 2014. Long before that, the chef Laurent Tourondel had severed his relationship with the restaurant and all of the other “BLTs”. As of May 2014 the space was a Mexican restaurant called Horchata.


The Bistro Laurent Tourondel empire keeps growing, and this week Tourondel added another offspring to the brood: BLT Burger. If first impressions are any guide, the new outpost will be just as successful as the first three (BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Prime). An eGullet post mentioned that the place was packed on a weeknight just a day or two after it opened, but I had no trouble getting a table at 12:30 on a Sunday afternoon.

The restaurant doesn’t much resemble the other BLT’s, except for the chocolate brown upholstery on the banquettes. The prices certainly set it apart. Unlike the other BLT restaurants, BLT Burger could actually be called a bargain.

In addition to the “Classic Burger” ($7), there’s the “BLT” Burger (two patties, $11), a Kobe Burger ($16), Lamb Burger ($10), Turkey Burger ($7) or Veggie Burger ($7). All burgers come with tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, ketchup, mustard and mayo. Cheese is an extra $0.50, other toppings (such as bacon, avocado, portobello mushroom, chilli) are $1.50. A “combo” of the classic burger with fries and a milkshake will set you back all of $13.

There’s a variety of sandwiches ($10–15), salads and appetizers ($9–14), sides ($2–5), and desserts ($3–6). The whole back page of the menu shows an impressive array of drinks, including nine kinds of milk shakes ($5), five kinds of floats ($5), four kinds of alcoholic milk shakes ($9), house cocktails ($11), twenty-seven kinds of beer ($3–10), and six wines by the glass ($6–9). Sodas are $2 or $2.50. Tap water (free) comes in a beautiful tall glass caraffe.

I had the classic burger with cheddar cheese ($7.50). The burger was enjoyable, but nothing special. I would have preferred a thicker patty. The “BLT” Burger, with two patties, is always an option, but I thought that would be too much of a good thing. Onion rings ($4) were delicious. I especially admired the lightness of the batter. A strawberry-banana milkshake ($5) was plenty of fun. Service was friendly and efficient.

You have to wonder if Laurent Tourondel can keep up the quality as his empire grows. Ominously, BLT Fish was stripped of its Michelin star, and I must admit my last visit to that restaurant wasn’t stellar. At least two more BLTs are on the way: BLT Market in the former Atelier space, and BLT D.C. But for now, Tourondel is happy to go downmarket, and at these prices BLT Burger is sure to be a hit.

BLT Burger (470 Sixth Avenue between 11th & 12th Streets, Greenwich Village)


Return to BLT Fish

Note: Click here for a more recent review of BLT Fish.

I returned to BLT Fish last night with one of the two colleagues who joined me there last May.

Andrea Strong reported yesterday that Laurent Tourondel’s next venture is a branch of BLT Steak in Washington, D.C. Based on last night’s performance, Mr. Tourondel needs to spend more time minding the store back home. Two years into the experiment, the BLT schtick is starting to wear awfully thin.

I believe BLT restaurants aspire to serve three-star food, and there is at least a colorable argument that they do so. Why, then, are they so determined to dumb down the ambiance? Naturally, the noise level is almost deafening. The menu is printed on loose sheets of paper, plus a separate loose sheet itemizing the raw bar, plus a separate loose sheet with “highlights” of the wine list, plus the wine list itself in a leather-bound book.

All of those loose sheets are obviously printed cheaply, and not meant to last. So you’d at least like to think that they are up-to-date, but alas, they are not. The waiter recites a long list of specials. It is black truffle season, and several of the specials include that ingredient, but it’s more extra information than I can keep in my head, so I order off the printed menu. (I also presume, given the BLT franchise’s propensity for upselling, that those truffle specials are more expensive than the rest of the menu, but our server doesn’t mention prices.)

To start, we ordered a pound of Alaskan king crab legs to share. For the entrée, I ordered the Alaskan black cod with honey glazing, while my colleague ordered a Chatham cod special that the server had mentioned. We also ordered two side dishes (mashed potatoes and brussels sprouts).

A long wait ensued. My colleague saw a tray of crab legs on the kitchen counter. He thought, “Surely those must be ours.” Ten or fifteen minutes went by, but those crab legs remained on the counter, unclaimed. Finally, we asked our server what was going on. A team of BLT staff now descended on us with the crab legs, our entrées, and the side dishes—all at once.

But it gets worse than that. Instead of an order of the Alaskan black cod and the Chatham cod, the kitchen had prepared two orders of the Alaskan black cod. My colleague pointed out the slip. After a conference, the staff announced that they were all out of the Chatham cod—a daily special, I remind you—but would he like the halibut? Well, what could he say? I ate my Alaskan black cod, and he snacked on the crab legs, while they prepared the halibut. Later on, he ate the halibut while I watched.

You’d think they couldn’t mess up anything more, but they managed it. The server forgot to offer us a bread service. The crab legs came without the usual miniature forks for prizing the meat out of the shell. The side dishes arrived without serving spoons. The amuses-bouches came with disposable wooden forks—they can’t run the dishwasher?

Earlier on, they had taken my coat, and promised to return with a claim ticket. The claim ticket never arrived. When I left, we had to turn on the bright lights in the check room and rummage around for my coat. Luckily, the place wasn’t packed. And luckily, I had a distinctive scarf that set my gray wool coat apart from the many others like it.

To their credit, the staff was aware of the more egregious of their sins, and tried to make amends. We were served dessert wines for free, and my colleague’s entrée was taken off the bill. But of other sins the restaurant is apparently out-of-touch: the cheap outdated paper menus, missing/wrong utensils, and so forth.

For all that, the food was great. I would happily eat the honey-glazed Alaskan black cod every day. The side dishes were wonderful, as they always are at BLT restaurants. Dessert (bread pudding) was excellent. The sommelier was knowledgeable, and recommended a terrific pinot noir.

But service and ambiance count, and the lapses here were too many to forgive. Laurent Tourondel’s cuisine deserves a far better setting.

BLT Fish (21 W. 17th Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues, Flatiron District)

Food: ***
Service: *
Ambiance: Fair
Overall: **