Liz Hatton finds her foodie utopia in the heart of Manhattan
I had a rare experience in New York. Simply put, I adored BLT Prime; I have raved about it, dreamt about it, and made plans to return ever since my experience there.
BLT stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel, the name of the chef and owner. Tourondel is an experienced restaurateur with all the passion and skill of a French trained chef and all of the guts and street savviness of a New Yorker. It is clearly a combination that works. He has three restaurants in Manhattan – BLT Steak, BLT Fish and the subject of my adoration, BLT Prime.
When this ‘steakhouse’ was recommended to me, I expected a typical New York, rough-’round-the-edges, red plastic boothed steakhouse that you see in the movies. (Forgive me: it was my first time to New York). What I actually found was a super-stylish, very high-end, serious restaurant, with not a booth or Formica-topped table in sight. Though, despite its slickness and style, it still has its fair share of cheesiness and I like that – it shows that they don’t take themselves too seriously. 80s pop tunes blared (just loud enough) and there were enough frat brothers and soriety sisters propping up the bar to fill an entire Ivy League campus. And suits galore. Romantic this place is not. But it is definitely fun.
BLT Prime is a carnivore’s dream. And the dream begins as soon as you walk through the doors, with the impressive and imposing glass-walled dry ageing room taking over a huge portion of the ground floor, opposite the bar. So you can sit there, sipping your tamarind-spiked margarita whilst admiring the cut of the businessman’s Armani suit on your left and the marbling of a carcass of meat on your right. It’s not for the faint-hearted and would be an experience wasted on your lily-livered vegetarian friends.
We avoided the ogling of the carcasses – both alive and dead – and went straight to our table where we were fawned over by the super-helpful, charming staff bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm. Yes, Americans can be a bit over the top in their ‘Have a nice day’ service philosophy and yes, I suppose it could be seen as rather false, but frankly, I don’t care. I would far rather someone be polite to me and not mean it, than be rude and mean it. I love the levels of service in America and here at BLT Prime was no exception.
We were brought a delicious chicken liver pâté to start – their version of an ‘amuse bouche’. But a gentle, amusement of the mouth this was not. We hadn’t even started our meal yet and already we were experiencing a full-on assault of the senses. The richness and intensity of flavour of the rustic pâté was stunning and when we polished off the lot in a matter of moments, we were asked if we wanted more. This is my kind of place. Then they brought us ‘popovers’ and I knew I was falling in love. Basically a Yorkshire Pudding, with Gruyère on top and grilled to a crisp. Stodgy, naughty, comforting and delicious. We’d barely begun!
The menu is written on a huge blackboard on the wall – very 80s wine bar/British gastropub, but it works here. The kitchen is open plan, which I always think is an excellent sign of the confidence of the chef and his staff, and the décor is very muted – all beiges and dark wood. Nice and simple. Like the food. There are chicken and fish options, but why on earth would you? The selection of steaks is extensive, as is the list of sauces to accompany your meat (the exceptional béarnaise is a must) and the potato selection (eight varieties). The sides are also kept simple, but there’s lot of choice. We opted for grilled asparagus (great), baked potatoes (huge, floury and great) and grilled tomatoes (not so great).
We shared a dry-aged porterhouse and the Kobe beef with smoked sea salt. And this was the reason we were here: I had asked the hotel concierge to find us a steak house that served Kobe beef. Not American-reared, I wanted straight-off-the-plane-from-its-first-class-seat, genuine article, Japanese Kobe. Kobe beef comes from a rare breed of cattle called Wagyu and is widely acknowledged to be the finest beef in the world. We know that farmers in this part of Japan have been breeding the cows for generations and the cattle has excellent genetic characteristics but there is more to it than just exceptional breeding. Whilst each farmer will have his own closely guarded, methods of raising their herd, rumours abound about just how far some of the farmers go to ensure their beef is the best that money can buy. Wagyu cows are raised slowly – it seems only right that they lead a longer life than your average Jersey, given the fact that they have a life most humans can only dream of. They are fed with beer, have soft music played to them and are massaged daily with sake. Food, booze, massage and snooze. It’s a cow’s life.
Kobe beef is usually seared like tuna due to its delicate consistency but in this case it was a huge, 12-ounce fillet and I asked for it medium rare. All meat at BLT Prime is grilled (or ‘broiled’ to give it its correct American term) at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is perfectly charred on the outside and, in this case, a pink, juicy inside. The beef has an extraordinary tenderness and flavour and is densely streaked with fat. Where beef is concerned, fat equals flavour, and the Kobe beef was positively riddled with the stuff. The rich, intense flavour (improved in my opinion by the smoky sea salt) and the incredible tender, velvety texture will stay with me for many years to come.
The dry-aged porterhouse was also excellent and on any other occasion, without the Kobe beef to compare it to, I would have no doubt raved about that too. But no slab of beef will ever be the same again for me. I apologise for sounding corny and clichéd but this is what clichés were made for: melt-in-the-mouth and mouth-watering are two of the most over-used restaurant critic phrases that just have to be used here. Superlatives abound and yet I still cannot express the quality, flavour and perfection of this slice of cow.
Because of our protein-packed main and because the beef was so intensely savoury, despite the fact that we were full (as in undoing-our-waistbands-full), we were craving something sweet. Peanut butter chocolate banana cream pie was as sweet as the steak was savoury, and it was also as rich. Sickly, naughty, and utterly delicious. It took a two-hour walk around the Union Square area of Manhattan and a digestif in the nearby W Hotel for the meal to subside.
There are plenty of people that this meal and this restaurant, wouldn’t suit. Vegetarians, weight watchers, those after a cosy, romantic evening, those wanting over-complicated, over-clever cooking and those with shallow pockets (our bill came to over $400 for two of us). However, for people like me – people who want ingredients of the highest quality and perfectly cooked by talented professionals – this is the ideal restaurant and my experience there was something I will treasure.
BLT Prime, 111 East 22nd Street,
near Park Avenue South, New York City
Tel: +1 212 995 8500