The dining room of BLT Steak cuddles up with the lobby of the W Hotel Downtown — yet another high-profile restaurant from New York opening in conjunction with a hip, popular hotel chain (Starwood Hotels).
The room has the markings of a great Midtown Manhattan restaurant. It's small, with the kind of slick decor that settles just this side of manly but comes off as female-friendly, too. The David Beckham of dining rooms. Round, oversized lighting fixtures dangle above ebony tables (no linens — too fussy); curled and twisted wood sculptures line a banquette that separates the kitchen from the dining room. A marble raw bar sets a dramatic stage between the bar and the main dining area.
Glancing over tables, I see everything one would want to see from a French-American bistro-steakhouse hybrid created by French chef Laurent Tourondel (BLT stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel): fat juicy steaks, pretty signature cocktails, towers of perfectly fried onion rings in tiny cast iron skillets and waiters affably milling through tables as if ice skating. But what I want — what I love most about BLT Steak — I can't find: BLT's famous gruyere-laced popovers, brought to each table as a pre-meal puff party.
Crestfallen, I manage to make it through a drink order and a preliminary glance at the wine list before I finally burst out the question (did I just shout?). My tag team of waiters gives a wrist pat of reassurance — popovers will be brought out shortly. Oh, thank goodness. Now I can enjoy the rest of my evening.
Think I'm overreacting? These popovers are like smack. Milk, eggs, flour, salt and a heap of gruyere cheese combine into soft tufts of steamy goody of which, despite being a somewhat smallish person, I find no problem eating every last crumb. They have become such a signature of BLT Steak (there are seven other BLT Steaks, plus BLT Fish, BLT Fish Shack, BLT Burger and BLT Prime in New York and beyond) that the Web site boasts a close-up of one — popover porn — exposing every nook and cranny. And the staff will gladly, no proudly, give you a copy of the recipe on your way out.
Of course, there's a lot more to the menu than popovers. The focus is steak — prime, American Wagyu and Japanese Kobe — though the emphasis on all this is far less focused in Atlanta than it is at the New York mothership. Blackboard specials here are actually printed on a daily menu — unlike NYC's, where they are printed on a ... blackboard. The blackboard here only offers a chalked-up teacher's version of beef and what it means to you.
What it means to me is fat, juicy, semi-charred steak, and that's easy to find at BLT. Ribeye and strip steaks are best, adorned with sauces of béarnaise or peppercorn; perhaps chimichurri or Roquefort. They're overkill. The steaks don't need them. Braised short ribs paddle happily around in a red wine reduction, succulent to the last pull from the bone.
Beyond beef, grilled lobster, brought in a very large cast iron pot, performs nicely with a broth of ginger and scallions, and sides of onion rings, stacked in towering transcendence, create a lot of post-popover fun. So do buttery hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and baked, fried and sautéed potatoes smothered with gruyere and bacon. One false note is gnocchi with tomato sauce and finely grated cheese that recalls Chef Boyardee.
Before beginning the above journey, diver scallops over a puree of cauliflower with umami-laden hon shimeji mushrooms and a well-seasoned chicken broth show off some of the understated French finesse the rest of the menu lacks.
Desserts follow through with the bistro part of the menu, too — simple, delicate offerings of tiny-sized Meyer lemon meringue tarts paired with a smear of blueberry compote and a refreshing ruby red grapefruit gratin, broiled with brown sugar and served with a fluffy sabayon.
Expect New York prices, though the wine list is approachable, yet extensively procured and affordable.
BLT STEAK ATLANTA
Food: American steakhouse meets French bistro
Service: Excellent, even before they figured me out by the second visit
Price range: $$$$
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express, Discover
Hours of operation: Open daily for breakfast, 6:30-10:30 a.m.; lunch, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, 5:30-10 p.m.
Best dishes: Duh: popovers. Plus strip and ribeye steaks, sides of onion rings and potato gratin, diver scallops, lemon meringue tart
Vegetarian selections: Lots of side dishes, but this is really a meat eater's kind of place.
Children: Why not?
Parking: Validated for three hours through the hotel, then $8 dollars
Wheelchair access: Yes
Noise level: Medium
Address, telephone: 45 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd. N.W., inside the W Hotel Downtown; 404-577-7601
Web site: www.bltrestaurants.com
KEY TO RATINGS
Outstanding: Sets the standard for fine dining in the region.
Excellent: One of the best in the Atlanta area.
Very good: Merits a drive if you're looking for this kind of dining.
Good: A worthy addition to its neighborhood, but food may be hit or miss.
Fair: The food is more miss than hit.
Restaurants that do not meet these criteria may be rated Poor.
PRICING CODE: $$$$$ means more than $75; $$$$ means $75 and less; $$$ means $50 and less; $$ means $25 and less; $ means $15 and less. (The price code represents a meal for one that includes appetizer, entree and dessert without including tax, tip and cocktails.)
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