By Jeanine Zelkas
Executive chef and prolific restaurateur Laurent Tourondel, who made his first grand splash in New York several years ago at the beloved upscale seafood restaurant Cello, has gone on, after Cello closed its doors, to create his BLT empire. The BLT (an acronym for “Bistro Laurent Tourondel”) family includes BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Burger and BLT Prime. And I love them all just as I loved Cello. Tourondel is one of those talented chefs with a passion and talent for creating memorable dishes using the best raw ingredients while maintaining a laid back approach often with a sense of humor and playfulness resulting in mass appeal.
The atmosphere of his BLT establishments personifies these characteristics as well. The newest addition, BLT Market, located on the ground floor of the Ritz-Carlton, has a casual and comfortable feel while maintaining elements of sophistication that would be expected of a high-end restaurant. It is from within this welcoming setting, replete with charming rosemary trees adorning the tables and a fairytale vista of horse-drawn carriages set against the backdrop of Central Park, that diners enjoy an expertly crafted menu of peak and locally-procured selections. The menu rotates monthly focusing on seasonal ingredients available at nearby farmers’ markets. Other items, such as fish, meats and cheeses, are supplied by local purveyors and specialty producers. The wine list, with over 700 varied selections, includes wines by the glass that are either biodynamic, organic or sustainably farmed.
All this thoughtful procurement of products and ingredients is evident in the finished dishes that emerge from the kitchen. The decadently delicious and locally-sourced Hudson Valley foie gras, nicely displayed over a disk of toasted bread, was enhanced by an excellent sweet and sour pairing of quince puree and grapefruit vinaigrette. Spectacular seared Nantucket bay scallops were served over a bitter salad of watercress and endive highlighted with savory blue cheese and sweet crunchy caramelized walnuts. The contrasting tastes and textures of this seemingly simple dish joined together harmoniously. Rock shrimp Arborio risotto with cauliflower, black truffle and a fun white foam topping was bland in color but high in taste and sophistication, while the not-to-be-missed homemade pappardelle with venison Bolognese, kale and aged pecorino was another standout.
The complexities and refinement of flavor combinations of our starter dishes were so impressive that they outshined the simplicity of our entrees. The stew-like braised veal cheeks and wintertime vegetables in a subtle broth was a tasty dish with the pure flavors of extremely tender and perfectly cooked veal, turnips, celery root, rutabaga and fingerling potatoes with few additional flavors to overpower the taste. The same can be said for the Alaskan black cod entrée. Not a superstar, but a reliably good, straightforward dish. Acacia marinade gave the fish a delightful sweet glaze and the silky celeriac puree layered atop fresh wilted spinach was flawless. While I appreciate the adorable country bistro spirit of the little cast iron pots in which each of our main courses was served, it was an awkward task trying to dive vertically down into these pots with a fork and knife. It would have been easier to enjoy these dishes from a plate.
With BLT outposts now located in various cities across the country, Laurent Tourondel’s main presence remains here in New York, and I am one New Yorker who is happy that he continues to shine brightest locally and continues to open phenomenal restaurants for me to try.