This restaurant is closed!
50 Central Park South
City: New York, NY
Phone: (212) 308-9100
Hours: Opening Summer 2007
Site: Visit the restaurant site
Chef: Laurent Tourondel
Area: West 50s
Much is made these days of local cuisine. Every chef worth his or her weight in heirloom green beans has a Greenmarket-driven menu, or sources produce within the locavore’s 100-mile radius. Manny Howard, in this week’s New York Magazine, chronicled his own (hilarious, must-read) story of trying to sustain his family (well, really as it turned out, just himself and an aspiring yet unskilled farmhand named Caleb) on a diet of fruits, vegetables and livestock (rabbits, ducks and chickens) grown and raised in his 55th of an acre Brooklyn backyard. I myself have an allegiance to local food. I shop at the Greenmarket (and, to be honest, at stores that are near the Greenmarket, like Trader Joe’s.) I tend to frequent restaurants where chefs shop seasonally and locally, places like Spotted Pig, Five Points, Cookshop, Tia Pol, Savoy, EU, Hearth, August, et al. (I also tend to eat at restaurants in my local rectangle. Eating on the UWS or in Jersey is not local to me. If I can’t walk there, I really don’t eat there. This, to be honest is more a factor of laziness than any lofty environmental or agricultural goals.)
In any case, the point is, there are a heck of a lot of chefs in this town who are going a long way to protect the family farm and promote regional, local eating, and for this I am grateful and proud. All these men and women are doing their part to cut down on diesel fuels and maintain and support a community of family farms. It’s making a difference to the world, even in a small way. And for those of us who eat at their restaurants, it’s nice to be able to feel virtuous while sometimes spending upwards of $30 on an entrée.
But while I am so proud of all that these locavore chefs do, I must admit that not one of them is doing what Chef Laurent Tourondel is doing at BLT Market. At Market, the latest in his line of urban chic emporium eateries, Laurent is shopping as local as you can get. Specifically, at a street cart peddling honey-roasted nuts outside his Central Park South restaurant. Yes, the nuts on his chocolate feuilletine are what he calls a “New York Street Praline”—a cluster fashioned from the honey-roasted peanuts that fill the city’s corners with a humid wave of roasted sweetness, and in winter give the city an air of Christmas all season long. When you can walk to the sidewalk outside your restaurant to source your mise en place, now that’s local.
But LT is not just shopping at street carts. (Though that might be an interesting Quick Fire challenge.) He’s opened up his kitchen to the entire New York State region, from the City to Long Island and the Hudson Valley, sourcing bread from Sullivan Street, cheese from Mecox dairy, foie gras from Michael Ginor’s Hudson Valley Foie Gras, sausages from Espisoto’s, lamb from Jamison Farms, and so on and so on. His menu not only confines its reaches to the season’s peak produce, it also lists his current players in a sidebar, giving you a roster of seasonal ingredients for your own kitchen. And what’s nice about BLT Market, is that many of the dishes he and his chef de cuisine David Malbequi have created for their self-proclaimed American bistro are the sorts of dishes you’d want to eat in your own kitchen.
How often would I eat a lunch of Laurent’s heirloom tomato and watermelon salad? I’d say daily, at least until summer’s end. The salad, served in a heavy white cereal bowl, is fashioned from brilliantly colorful and lusciously ripe fruit—sweet and tart and juicy—that play up the sharpness of julienned Vidalia onions and the tanginess of lumps of fresh and creamy Westfield sheep’s cheese ($14). It’s simply lovely.
To my daily salad, I’d add his zucchini flowers ($18) that he pipes with mascarpone, Parmesan and mozzarella, breads lightly and fries until barely crisped, and serves propped up like pears, in a dish of zippy green tomato gazpacho, topped with bright pungent fillets of brined white anchovies. Exquisite.
He also pulls a fast one with raw tuna ($18). Instead of presenting yet another (snore) tartare, or another (yawn) carpaccio, he slices a fillet of Big Eye tuna sashimi style and confits half the portion in olive oil, and leaves the other half raw. What results is a yin-yang dish, a subtle contrast of textures in the tuna, and a shower of flavor in the form of green olives, avocado, shaved hearts of palm and a drizzle of tonnato sauce that adds the right amount of salt, acid and pungency.
I should mention that when it came to ordering, Kiri, Jen and I had trouble navigating the menu only because it is the sort of collection of dishes that makes you feel like calling several more friends to join so that everything can be ordered. Laurent has a knack for creating food that evokes intense reactions—like those giant cheesy popovers, the blue cheese tater tots, the doughnut-sized onion rings that grace the menus at BLT Prime and Steak. You gotta have ‘em. He’s a chef who’s quite serious about his food (you don’t open restaurants at this rate if you aren’t), but also likes to have a good time with it. When he cooks, even if he doesn’t have a smile on his face, he has one in his heart. (Sorry, I know that was cheesy, but it’s true.) If you’ve ever hung out with LT (and in full disclosure, I have), you know that as successful as he is, he’s also just a big kid. And I feel like his food is a reflection of his personality. Yes, it’s crafted from beautiful ingredients and cooked by a team of chefs under his tutelage who are young masters of the craft, but it’s also just fun to eat.
Try not to smile when you eat his rigatoni ($14/$23)—perfectly al dente, tossed in a simple sauté of summer squash peppered with hunks of spicy sausages from Espisito’s. You won’t be able to frown. I was practically giddy while eating the Chatham cod, a thick silky fillet, pan-seared until brown and buttery and then served in a deep enamel pot in a green coconut curry with eggplant, with a side of lightly crisped basmati rice cakes ($30). It made Jen suggest that Laurent’s next concept be BLThai. (He’s got pizza on the brain lately. So I’d say it will have to wait until after BLT Pizza.) While the curry was killer, I was particularly impressed with those rice cakes, silky rice on the inside, and gently crunchy on the outside, that reminded of the crispy bits of rice I scrape from the pots of Persian rice my Bibi makes. (Those of you who have Spanish family will liken this to the bits that come off the paella pan.)
Laurent’s meatballs, browned to give them a slight crust, were also amazing. Made from ricotta cheese, pork and veal and served in a pulp sweet tomato concasse, they quite frankly rival those delicious orbs made by John LaFemina down at Apizz. And that’s impressive work from a French chef.
The only lackluster dish was the roasted Jamison Farm’s lamb with a minted fava bean puree, artichoke hearts, and tiny little pan-seared gnocchi ($43). While the meat was executed perfectly—pink and juicy—I found the dish to be rather salty, and sort of clumsy and forgettable in comparison to the other dishes we tried.
Unlike the super posh setting which BLT Market finds itself, the restaurant feels homey and comfortable and quite unlike a spot in the Ritz Carlton in 10019. A small white-washed grocery store up front acts as a hostess area and boasts large circular loaves of bread alongside vintage scales and assorted antiques, jars of pickles, bottles of olive oils and infused vinegars, and pots of mustard. Up a few steps is a dining room reminiscent of the seashore on Martha’s Vineyard, with its white wainscoting, sprays of jubilant sunflowers in oversized vintage tin buckets, and weathered cedar-plank floors. Walls are hung with vibrant paintings of the season’s peek fruit by artist Marilyn Sommer, and gallery-quality black and white portraits of BLT Market’s purveyors by photographer Quentin Bacon. The details on the tables are quaint and make you feel as though the restaurant faces acres of wheat and potatoes, not Central Park South. There are clothespins that fix the menus to the neatly folded white linen napkins, glass milk jugs filled with tap water for the table, and steamy baguettes, split down the center and wonderfully assaulted with roasted garlic and herb butter, then presented in a long white paper sleeve. If you can leave even just a fifth of that bread behind, I applaud you. As for me, my fingers—green and greasy—kept reaching back into that sleeve for more. I am weak, not strong. I know this.
I feel remiss that I have not yet mentioned how every meal at BLT begins because in this case, perhaps the beginning of this story is more important than the end. While you look over your menu and sip on a seasonal (duh) cocktail (the apricot mint caiporoska ($14) is the current summer choice), you’ll be served a complimentary amuse bouche that’s signature LT—it’s one that gets you to smile and be happy. He serves pigs in a blanket, but in this case the blanket is puff pastry and Gruyere and the pigs are Shaller and Webber’s beef and pork dogs. The swaddled piggies are topped with a hit of sauerkraut and Raye's brand garlic wine mustard. I asked if the kraut was housemade or from some old-time local purveyor (it was great), and our waiter shook his head and smiled “No, actually it’s not. I think he gets it from the street vendors outside.”
Review By: Andrea Strong