The restaurant business is as combustible as any, with lucrative partnerships often ending in acrimonious splits. So it is with the BLT Restaurant Group, whose international brand has spawned restaurants in New York, Honolulu, Hong Kong and beyond. Earlier this year the chain lost the chef who cofounded it, continuing to develop new eateries without the “LT”—Laurent Tourondel—on board.
But can a concept thrive without its creator? BLT Bar & Grill, which debuted this summer in the new W Hotel and is the first outpost to open without the French chef involved, doesn’t inspire much confidence. The clone-ready restaurant—a generic New American tavern with leather booths and TV-topped bars on two sprawling floors—is a personality-free zone, and an embarrassment to the man whose initials still adorn the marquee.
The place follows the same basic formula as its precursors, offering a spare menu of French and American standards, and a warm signature bread to kick things off. But while BLT Steak serves ethereal popovers, and BLT Market had, when it opened, the world’s most luxurious garlic bread, at the new spot you get flaccid focaccia topped with lukewarm gremolata. And it doesn’t get any better. The rest of the menu, from new corporate chef Christophe Bellanca (Le Cirque), is as ho-hum as the decor, an odd mix of high and low classics, lobster risotto on the same menu as beer-battered fish—a diner designed with off-duty bankers in mind.
One recent evening, that lobster risotto promised a luxurious start—with butter-poached claw and tail meat draped on top—but the rice was cooked until mushy. Crisp and tender octopus tentacles were more expertly rendered, with classic Mediterranean accents—caperberries, olives, lemony potatoes—but an Alsatian tarte flambe was heavy and bland, the creamy onions and chewy bacon slathered on thick pizza crust.
Even without Tourondel on quality control, you’d expect the new BLT to at least get burgers and steaks right. But our cheddar-and-bacon-topped BLT Burger arrived raw in the middle despite a request for medium-rare, and while a fat $34 New York strip had a beautiful char, it was also tough and chewy. Half a roasted chicken, though, was perfectly cooked—and entirely boring, the dull fowl served atop overly dense potato puree.
Desserts (a sticky lemon meringue tart, a rich chocolate layer cake with hazelnut cream) were pleasant enough. But like so much else here, they lacked personality—a quality that could have made this place a standout in FiDi’s generic restaurant scene. Ultimately, BLT without Laurent Tourondel is like Saturday Night Live without Lorne Michaels. It needs a new visionary to find its footing again.
Drink this: Classic cocktails, like a balanced Negroni ($13), are generously poured, as are wines by the glass, including a fine, meat-friendly syrah-grenache blend from California’s Beckmen Vineyards ($14).
Eat this: Octopus with lemony potatoes, chocolate hazelnut cake
Sit here: Upstairs is more attractive than down, with big picture windows and homey bookshelves lined with a collection of cookbooks.
Conversation piece: With Tourondel out of the picture, the BLT Restaurant Group is moving away from its signature Franco-American slant—Italian and Pan-Asian spots are in the works.