It’s Saturday night at BLT, and the pizza on my table is staring up at me with anemic slices of waterlogged tomato. Beside it, there’s a California Pizza Kitchen–grade Caesar salad tossed with crumbles of hard-boiled egg. And above my table, near the very busy bar, the TV is turned to the reality show Cops. On the screen, a shirtless drunk is yelling at the police. He didn’t do anything, he insists. Why are they treating him like this? He’s innocent!
I know exactly how he feels. I came to BLT an innocent eater. I had heard of Laurent Tourondel (BLT stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel), of his many BLT restaurants in New York, Washington and Los Angeles, and of the torrid breakup with his business partner, Jimmy Haber, who now operates many BLTs without chef LT. But I entered Tourondel’s first Chicago venture with no side in this fight. I had never eaten at a BLT restaurant. I was excited to do so.
Why, then, was I punished with a veggie burger so wrought with what I assume was cayenne pepper that I could take only one bite? Why did my phenomenally flavorless French dip sandwich arrive without the dip? Why was I victim to the riddle that is this restaurant’s Negroni, which, having neither gin nor Campari, tastes nothing like a Negroni? Why was my blooming onion so overly fried that the coating fell from the onion, making it impossible to eat? And what is a blooming onion doing on this menu anyway? Or sushi, for that matter? Though of the very few inoffensive things I ate off BLT’s absolutely nonsensical menu, a vegetarian sushi roll was one of them. The Caipiroska—sort of a caipirinha with cucumber and vodka—was another. A third was the meatballs, a fourth a puffy crêpe soufflé. But, honestly, these dishes might only have shone in comparison to the other food I was served. The proteins in the more proper entrées were all cooked with skill and precision, but this fact was overshadowed by the dishes’ flavors, or lack thereof. A supple piece of salmon is little consolation when the only thing it tastes of is smoke. Ditto when a perfectly rare tuna only tastes like the salt-and-pepper rub on its exterior.
And just when it seems as though the disasters are being cleared from your table, another one arrives. This one is called spiced chocolate cake, and the issue is textural. It’s chunky. Bits of unidentified waxiness float in the batter. In all likelihood you have never committed a crime that deserves this kind of punishment. But at BLT, you pay the price anyway.—David Tamarkin