By Amy McCarthy
By Scott Reitz
By Scott Reitz
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Alice Laussade
By City of Ate
There's something to be said for loose paper menus. Unlike the leather-bound ones, they're easy to manipulate. You can fold them and slip them into your coat or purse without arousing suspicion. They're easy reference points that can be consulted again and again—as the food arrives, as you eat, as you challenge a word in the descriptions. "This shrimp tastes like lobster." Did the chef change something out?
Baby wedge salad/Maytag dressing/apple wood-smoked bacon. This is the sum of words describing the classic "wedge" on the butcher paper menu at BLT Steak. "Wedge" seems too coarse a word for this delicate cross-section of lettuce with loose folds, specs of bacon in the channels and pebbles of blue cheese in the chambers. It looks like a set of concert shells or a cleaved nautilus. Shame to eat it. Few wedges look like this. Or taste of such grace.
You can date these loose paper menus, scratch notes on the margins. At the top: "December 16," written in full holiday fume. "Dense, deep red, cindery slab in cast-iron pan, chewy. Dab of herb butter pools and drools. Slightly." This is written next to the "American Wagyu rib eye, 12 oz., $92." "No lust," I wrote too. It's rare that Kobe or Wagyu beef fulfills its promise. The odes to the extreme marbling borne of disciplined breeding and pampering and rich, measured feeding mostly don't hold up in the mouth. Where's that fleshy dollop of crème fraîche sensuousness wisped with bone marrow? Most Kobe lacks the primal scream, the impulse that scrubs thoughts of health and planetary welfare from the mind with sanitizing efficiency. You feel like you're tasting a strict upbringing instead of freewheeling, corn-fed debauchery.
Baby wedge salad $12
Tuna tartare $16
Shellfish risotto $15
Brussels sprouts $9
Au gratin potatoes $8
Wagyu rib eye $92
Veal chop $36
Venison loin $38
Dover sole $45
Lemon-cassis pie $10
Our server says as much. Dallas Kobe/Wagyu sourcing came up wanting. So the beef is FedEx'd from New York. "Is BLT Dallas' first air-express steakhouse?" This is written next to the Japanese Kobe strip, $26 per ounce, average size 5 ounces. An air-worthy price.
Flip over BLT's menu and you'll find a diagram of a steer, 1,200 pounds, courtesy of the American Angus Association. The average Angus steer yields 500 pounds of retail cuts from a 750-pound carcass, it says. Twenty-two percent of it is steaks. The rest is roasts (22 percent), ground beef and stew meat (26 percent), and fat, bone and shrinkage (30 percent). Meat cuts are called out in red and placed in little bubbles that point to a specific section on the animal (courtesy of the National Cattleman's Beef Association): T-bone, porterhouse, skirt, eye of round, etc.
On one visit our server brought a wood charcuterie platter sprawling with bright red fleshy flaps, folds and segments—ruffled pinches of prosciutto, slices of coarse salumi with beady fat pockets as big as viper eyes, disks of chorizo, and shriveled purplish flakes of bresaola, air-dried and aged beef eye of round.
Yet it's when you depart from all of this mammalian flesh and blood that the BLT reveals its grace notes. There is a glass crock of goose liver pâté, smooth as whipped butter, with toast points. But you'll be compelled to smear it on everything, most especially the popovers, big steaming mushroom cloud pastries made from eggs, flour and grated Gruyère. They're delivered with a huge metal salt shaker, a shake from which punches up the cheese.
Huge milky hooks of shrimp are bedded down on crushed ice and strands of gloomy brown seaweed (not edible, an odd shame) that look like frayed kelp bed remnants. Tuna tartare is a precisely layered cube of avocado and tuna with a crown of crispy shallots and micro greens in a honeyed soy-mirin pool.
BLT is an abbreviation of Bistro Laurent Tourondel and is French chef Tourondel's interpretation of the American steakhouse, elevating it, as it were, with his own signatures. Flush with his Big Apple success, Tourondel expanded his steakhouses to Los Angeles, San Juan, Miami and Washington, D.C. He expanded in New York with BLT Fish, BLT Prime, BLT Burger and BLT Market. Might we see BLT Pizza?
The design is a calculated change from the masculine beef libraries that have been the stubborn hallmark of American steakhouses seemingly for centuries. Instead of dark, high-back leather banquettes, seating is formed from butterscotch suede set in low curves and slopes. Fabric chandeliers—rectangles and hat boxes—flush the room with a soft, buttery glow. Surfaces are mostly hard, though the sound level stays reasonable in the sparsely populated dining room tucked in the Village on the Green development across from the Galleria off the Tollway. The sound system pumps an odd holiday soundtrack: "Whip It" by Devo, "Rock Lobster" by the B-52's, Fleetwood Mac's "Rhiannon," Celine Dion's version of "O Holy Night" running into "You Sexy Thing" by Hot Chocolate. There's not a Sinatra or Bennett or Connick tremolo for miles.
Yet the grace notes keep coming. A simply sautéed Dover sole fulfills the buttery marbling promise of Kobe beef at a Kobe beef price ($45). It's delicate and briny, yet rich. Roasted lemon rosemary chicken in a cast-iron pot drips with long, simmering juices. Spiked with a low crackle of lemon, shellfish risotto laced with fennel and pancetta is slightly coarse and creamy with thick, ropy chunks of shrimp below the open clamshells planted on the surface. There's a crusted pink veal chop, clear juices flowing from its peppery tenderness. Specials, on a separate piece of paper, include the richly racy—not too much, though—venison loin crusted with pistachios in cranberry sauce with a side of juniper jus that goes from hinting at sweetness into actual sweetness.