We try three—oops, make that two-and-a-half—new hotspots at the Trump International.
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He copied a well-known chain—“No name I’m going to say.” The syntax of the menu will seem familiar: everything à la carte, starters, meats, sides, desserts. “There was good meat everywhere,” he said, “but bad appetizair, bad desserts. Why not good appetizair, good desserts?”
At BLT it takes awhile just to get to appetizers. The first thing that arrived was a duck liver pâté, touched with cognac, sweetened with Port. It was served in the bottom of a canning jar, an awkward container because you have to scoop it out from the depths. That’s one of the ironies of a restaurant with $52 entrées and $29 appetizers pretending it’s casual; you have to lay on these little homey touches.
Homey touches like popovers, which also arrived unbidden. Tourondel was once a pastry chef. But popovers? “Why not?” he said. Evidently, people love them, served with unsalted butter and a large, rustic-looking shaker of kosher salt. The shaker, he confides to me, was originally intended for powdered sugar on Belgian waffles. Another casual touch.
There’s absolutely nothing casual about the appetizers, however. My friend couldn’t decide between the ceviche and the lobster salad. I volunteered to order the one she didn’t. She got the finely diced onaga and avocado in lime and cilantro. (“They were cutting it too fine,” said Tourondel. “I fixed that when I got here.”)
That’s why I ended up with a massive bowl of greens topped with avocado, half a hard-boiled egg, pancetta and chunks of lobster, redolent with fresh herbs, especially tarragon. It was good, but it was enough for dinner.
“You as full as I am?” asked my friend. Full enough to be stunned at the size of my 22-ounce rib-eye steak, which arrived dark and sizzling on a platter, complete with a head of roasted garlic and a marrow bone.
All steakhouses have good meat. BLT sources top-grade Wagyu beef from the Midwest. The rib-eye arrived at the table thoroughly charred, all around.
“I like the char,” said Tourondel. “Some people complain, but do you like it?” As a matter of fact, yes. The steak was heavily marbled, gnaw-the-bones delicious, even if I did have to finish half of it the next day.
It also came with both a large round of herb butter and the world’s richest Roquefort sauce—a clear case of gilding the lily. I took the sauce home, too, and ate it with celery sticks.
My friend fared more reasonably in the portion department, having on my recommendation ordered a fish that she’d never heard of, Dover sole. Tourondel seemed shocked she didn’t know sole. “It’s the best fish, so delicate. I sell 40 to 50 plates of it a night in New York.” But it’s an Atlantic, not a Hawaii fish, I point out.
“It’s fresh, I like to get fish from lots of places,” he said. He’s crossed out the words local snapper on the menu and written in opakapaka, throwing in an extra hyphen. “We do have some local fish, some Mediterranean fish, some Pacific fish.”
Actually, the sole was virtually perfect, in a white wine-caper butter with a touch of shoyu. “I didn’t want to be cooking fish with pineapple, papaya and coconut,” he says. “But soy sauce—you call it shoyu here?”
In addition to the entrées, we’d ordered three sides. A skillet full of roasted Hamakua tomatoes. A bowl of very creamy (in other words, very French) mashed potatoes touched with some very unFrench jalapeño pepper. Finally, one of the best vegetable dishes I’ve eaten in a steakhouse—fresh wax beans with cipollini onions and Hobbs bacon (Hobbs is an artisanal bacon maker in Northern California).
The reason I ended up taking home half my steak, outside of its gargantuan size, was we intended to make it to dessert. Nalo Farms, in partnership with a beekeeper, has started selling honey, so I ordered the Nalo Farms honey tart topped with Mandarin orange slices—all of which added up to something pleasant, if not outstanding. (My reaction was milder than Tourondel’s. When he tasted it a few days later, he decided it was bad and changed the recipe. For all I know, it’s better now.)
The dessert that seemed to epitomize the cross-cultural ripplings of BLT Steak was a stylish little peanut butter mousse topped with a rich dark chocolate, with banana ice cream on the side. “I wondered about the banana ice cream,” said my friend, “but it’s a perfect pairing.” American flavors, French style.
Which sums up the restaurant, except that the portion size—despite BLT’s attempt to lighten up the steakhouse—remains American. Dinner was excellent, and it had better be for $300, with tip and two glasses of wine apiece. BLT is not an average steakhouse, but it’s still a steakhouse, prices and all.