Sunday, October 21, 2007

BLT Market

1430 6th Ave (Central Park S)

We have a sneaky habit of arriving in advance to restaurants where we were only able to secure a late-night reservation. Often, even when OpenTable had said there was nothing available, we are able to be seated and fed right when we arrive. At BLT Market, Laurent Tourondel’s new cuisine-specific outpost in the Ritz-Carlton, early arrivals are pointed to the bar at the Star Lounge, just outside the restaurant’s door. This is the sort of spot where city bartending legend Norman Bukofzer charms gents and ladies alike, and a cocktail-for-a-crowd called the 1k will run you a cool $1000. Old-school class pervades. With this as our starting point, the chaos within BLT Market was all the more striking.

BLT Market serves tasty local, seasonal fare in an atmosphere so loud that I’m not sure I would go back. But I’m getting ahead of myself; first, the food. After we were seated, magical tongs placed a long, narrow white paper bag on our table, next to the small pot of rosemary that served as our centerpiece. Inside lay a delectable baguette, each segment spread with butter, garlic, and parsley. As our 9:30 reservation had refused to budge a moment earlier, we were starving and most appreciative of this flavorful beginning—or, frankly, anything edible placed before us.

I started the meal with the heirloom tomato and watermelon salad with Vidalia onion and Westfield sheep milk cheese. I am a total sucker for any salad with watermelon, particularly combined with creamy cheese, and these two were well matched. The sheep cheese had a flavor and consistency much like that of goat cheese, and the watermelon was perfectly crimson and delicious. The tomatoes appeared in farm-fresh shades of yellow, red, and greenish, and varied in their ripeness. Gourmando, as I’ve decided my husband shall henceforth be known in these parts, started with the soft shell crab with grilled local corn and date salad and pickled ramps (wild leeks). I’ve never been one for ordering exoskeletons myself, but I’ll have a bite if someone else does, and these weren’t bad. Fear-nothing Gourmando said they were the best he’d ever had (sample size: four or five), juicy and fresh. I do feel qualified to comment on the corn, which was sweet and lovely.

The langoustine arborio risotto with basil broth, zucchini, and Wisconsin Stravecchio cheese was offered in two sizes. I was prepared to order the smaller one, but sought the counsel of our waiter, to get a sense of what I was in for. He assured me that the smaller size was “very small.” Me: “How small?” Him: “A couple bites?” Come on. Really? So I took his advice and ordered the large, which came in at $38 to the small’s $24. It was good, although I couldn’t help thinking that my Italian forebears, if I had any, would plotz if they knew I was eating cheese and seafood together—or, worse still, that a restaurant had offered it that way! When we traveled to Italy, this was underscored as a universal no-no. The risotto ended up being quite filling, and I asked to take my leftovers home, feeling a bit cross at not having followed my initial tummy-capacity instincts. A couple minutes after my plate was taken away and ostensibly packed up for me, our waiter came back to ask if I had gotten it back yet. When I told him I hadn’t, he appeared uncertain as to whether my risotto still existed and went back to check on it. I eventually got a box with risotto in it, but discovered the next morning that the piece of langoustine I had left on my plate was not there. So either someone in the kitchen got hungry or another diner didn’t finish their risotto. I’m trying not to think about it.

For his main course, Gourmando had the 7-pepper-crusted, grass-fed New York strip steak with chanterelles and sauce vin de paille. This was a hulking, beautifully cooked piece of meat, well paired with the pepper crust. Gourmando informed me that, while the fat in much grass-fed beef is tough and chewy, this fat was flavorful and wholly edible. This grossed me out, but I do like to see him happy.

My dessert was a peach Tarte Tatin with frangipane, black currant, and frozen almond milk. I like to think of myself as something of a Tarte Tatin connoisseur (sample size: embarrassingly large), and I found the black currant an unfortunate addition to an otherwise respectable dessert. The flavor was unnecessary and got in the way. The almond, on the other hand, went well with the peaches and the overall Tatin ethos, if you will. Gourmando was excited about the rhubarb, raspberry, and blueberry cobbler with Vermont fromage blanc sorbet, and I about tasting it, but the kitchen was all out of it (another problem with 9:30 reservations). He had the chocolate feuilletine with New York street praline and coffee cointreau creme glacée. The only sense I can make out of “New York street praline” is that the little nuts on top looked something like the sugary confections sold at the Nuts 4 Nuts stands all over the city. The feuilletine was decent, but didn’t blow us away.

So back to the ambience. We were surrounded by large parties, and as I looked around the restaurant, I was surprised to see how few tables for two there seemed to be. Gourmando favors the term “bridge and tunnel” to account for the raucousness of our surroundings—no, certainly not the bridge or tunnel we now must cross to reach Manhattan—but in Midtown, it’s hard to tell who’s from across a river or a sound, who from across the country or the world. The noise and the lengthy wait between courses wore on us, although for different reasons. “I want to leave,” I said sometime before dessert. “Me too,” said Gourmando gleefully, “so I can sync my iPhone.” The Apple store is only about a block away, and we’d paid a visit before dinner. We considered whether BLT Market might be a good place to eat with a group of our own design. I even tried wailing like an infant, to gauge whether having baby-toting friends with us would be a problem. Nobody looked up. So, if you’re ready to repeat everything you say to anyone at your table, bring your friends, your family, your pack of well dressed coyotes. BLT Market serves up the best of the season with few missteps and plenty of energy.

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