The guy leaning up to the bar at BLT Steak can’t wait to be sat to place his drink order. It’s 9:50 p.m., 10 minutes before the kitchen closes, and “Jones” here, as his companions are calling him, has just arrived at the hostess stand and announced, “There’s seven of us, we don’t have a reservation.” Without waiting for a response, he turns to the bar and barks, “I’ll take a Grey Goose, splash of cranberry and some lime.” (Clearly his time hanging out with sorority girls has influenced his taste in beverages.) “Roberts!” he says to one of the other Bluetooth-adorned, square-jawed balls of machismo in his party. “You need a drink?”
Groups of these men make up practically every table at BLT Steak, Laurent Tourondel’s eponymous high-end steakhouse that first opened in New York in 2004 and now has outposts in L.A., Miami, Hong Kong and four other locations.
Tourondel aims to bring French sensibilities to classic Americana, and in New York BLT Steak is highly acclaimed, one of the city’s best-loved steakhouses. In Atlanta, BLT has found a home in the new downtown W hotel. The space exudes confidence, both manly and homey, exhibiting all the right shades of brown, accented with oil paintings that lean to art’s safe side.
Apart from the swank man-friendly location and décor, the main reason cabernet- (or cosmo) swilling CEO types populate BLT is because they’re the only people who could possibly afford to eat here. In the hierarchy of Atlanta’s current ignore-the-recession, über-expensive restaurant trend, BLT wins top spot. Entrees, which are served a la carte and meant to be ordered with sides, hover between $30 and $45. Appetizers are mainly in the more-than-$15 range. It’s mighty hard for two people to get out of here for under $250.
Judged without price in mind, the experience, revolving around big, bloody prime steaks and assuredly seasoned sides, is rife with pleasure. The restaurant’s signature popovers, huge muffin-shaped poofs of bread laced with Asiago cheese, tempt you into ruining your appetite before the meal’s even begun. And who could deny the gratification of a hulking rib eye, perfectly aged and seasoned, nestled alongside a roasted head of garlic and a fat marrowbone full of gelatinous marrow for spreading? Add a side of roasted Brussels sprouts, made smoky and slick with copious amounts of bacon, and what you have is one manly, classic meal.
Even some of the more ladylike dishes are flawless: Dover sole has all the delicate flavor and texture you could hope for, punctuated by the time-honored combination of butter and capers. A lobster cobb salad appetizer marries crisp freshness with decadence, the fat lobster claws playing off of rich pancetta and egg.
But there are slip-ups as well, and in my mind, too many at this price point. On a couple of occasions, I found the popovers too dry, not stretchy enough. One evening, everything from the raw bar (other than the oysters) tasted overpoweringly of soap. The small jar containing chicken liver pâté that arrives as an amuse-bouche is sometimes earthy and rustic, and other times so salty it’s inedible. In fact, I found salt to be an issue in a number of dishes, from sautéed spinach to leek and potato hash browns (which are otherwise delicious — the outer crisp offsetting the creamy starch and melty leek interior).
I’m sure if I’d mentioned any of these problems, they would’ve been corrected expeditiously. I received some of the best service I’ve had in Atlanta at BLT, most notably from a waiter named Neal who was both smart and knowledgeable about everything from the (varied but pricey) wine list to the delicate balance between theater and professionalism. How he puts up with these hoards of demanding, wealth-flaunting boy-men is beyond me.
Which is kind of what it comes down to. Not just that the customer base makes this restaurant a tad unbearable, but the question of whether the entire experience is worth the cost. I loved the chopped salad, full of hearts of palm and expertly flavored accents, but the $15 price tag ruined it for me.
As for the star of the show, these may well be some of the best steaks in town. But there are others that are almost as good and far less expensive — to me the end doesn’t justify the means. Unless you’re footing the bill (and your secret cosmo habit) with your company’s well-earned bailout money, I might be inclined to steer your dollars elsewhere.