BLT Steak At The W Hotel – Downtown, Atlanta, GA [First Impressions]

Hot on the heels of Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Tom Colicchio, highly acclaimed Laurent Tourondel has come to Atlanta to plant his flag.  BLT Steak, Tourondel’s entry into this market, arrived with a great deal of fanfare.  BLT Steak serves as the flagship restaurant at the W Hotel in downtown Atlanta.  Supported by Drinkshop, the ultra chic bar just around the bend, BLT offers those of us not staying at the hotel a taste of the bling life.

Despite the name, you won’t find any bacon lettuce & tomato bargains here (BLT actually stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel).  This place has expense account written all over it.  So it is no surprise that opening night came and went for me. I reluctantly sat on the sidelines and waited for an invite.  Last week, that invite came in the form of a lunch date with pops and a friend of the family.  WOOT!

High-end chains are all the rage these days.  Operated by big name chefs, these high-profile eateries all seem to come with slick digs, high quality food (at least in theory), and an elevated price point. These restaurants demand a lot out of their customers and so we, as customers, should demand a lot of them.  Good won’t cut it at a place where the majority of lunch entrées run in excess of $25.   This place needs to be perfect. As I’ve said before, pomp and circumstance have their place … and that place is BLT Steak.

I rolled in a bit early for our 12:45 reservation.  I wanted to scope out the restaurant without the distraction of delicious food.  The bar sits immediately to the right of the street entrance and is covered with a large selection of liquors, two TVs, and mirrored glass.  I decided to wait there; but, since I had to get back to work after the meal, a glass of their finest Chateau Chattahoochee was in order.  Though his name eludes me at this time, the barkeep was a lot “looser” than I would have expected.  He spent his time tossing bottles, chatting with the two other gentleman sitting at the bar, and checking with me to see if a menu was in order.  A pleasant start to the experience.

I spent my wait examining the wine menu and studying the décor.  The first thing that struck me was the intimacy level.  While the bar had ample seating and standing space, the dining area was much smaller than I had expected.  In that respect, the word bistro is well utilized.  As my eyes continued to run rampant, I noticed the raw bar, the open kitchen, and the muted color scheme that is employed at nearly every high end restaurant of this ilk.  Shortly after my attention returned to the wine menu, the rest of my party arrived.

Hugs and kisses all around, and then we were promptly and courteously shown to our table.  From there, we were greeted by a pleasant server.  Throughout the meal, she and her team provided strong service.  A smidge of hubris came with prompt attention, courteous discussion, and attention to detail.  Perhaps I am a bit careless to identify the enthusiastic description of the menu as a sign of hubris; however, my grasp of the English language leaves me stumped.  But I digress, the point here is that the service was top notch and at no time bordered on overbearing.

BLT had a good sized lunch crowd though it was not packed.  Most of the customers fit in with old world Atlanta and/or the biz person crowd.  This was distinctly different than the two times I peaked in during a dinner service.  I would say that the old guard moves out for dinner only to be replaced by Yuptastic fans of The Scene.  You know, the type of people that have made way too much money way too early in life. Still, that type of a crowd isn’t a reason to stay away.  A few of my dear friends find themselves in that crowd and I must say: Life would be boring with out variety!

As we stewed over the menus, a complimentary order of gruyere popovers arrived.  These have been talked about, studied, and cooked by many a folk.  I was happy with them, but nowhere near ecstatic.   That said, they showed well and were soft on the tongue.  The gruyere undertones played well with the side of butter.  I think I would have liked these more if they were piping hot.

About this time, my father made a couple of keen observations.  First, the free-standing tables were too small.  At a restaurant that encourages à la carte sides with each order, table space should not be at a premium. Second, it appears as if their the utensils and placemats can be found at a number of other restaurants (and my dad’s house).  Finally, the placemats were entirely too large for the table.  All four of them overlapped, and they leave you feeling like you are a bit on top of your neighbor.  The reality is that none of those shortcomings is very important.  However,  I’ve known interior designers who were dismissed for far less of an offense; I was surprised to see mistakes of that level work their way into the experience.  None of us at the table could care less if the thatched placemats overlap with another one; but, looking at this for what it is – it is something that needs to get fixed.  You have plenty of room to yourself, but a crowded table top will leave you feeling otherwise.  When you combine these problems with the table extensions that kept falling down on my knees, you begin to get a little curious.  What’s up?

As you might have deduced by now, the prices here come straight out of NYC.  My eyes popped as I struggled to find anything under $15.  The sides are, as are a couple of apps … but dang folks!  Well, that was alright with us since food priced this high has to be spectacular …

As I studied the menu, I desperately wanted to see Tourondel’s French roots come to life. Instead, what I saw was a fairly straightforward steakhouse menu with a few minor twists and turns.  Again, there is nothing wrong with that. I just expected more originality.  After a good bit of discussion, we all comfortably arrived at a decision.

My father went with the 12 oz. strip steak at $33; the lovely lady at our table selected the special lamb sandwich that came in at $16; and, I had the seafood sampler for $23.  In addition, my father added a single Jonah crab claw for $8.  Those four items along with an order of tea put us safely into the $90 range BEFORE TIP.  Keep that in mind.

The steak came topped with a serving of blue cheese and in the middle of a cast iron pan.  In keeping with what others have said, I’m pretty sure the cheese was Roquefort; but, I’ve been wrong before.  Inserted into the steak was one of those stupid little “medium rare” plastic signs.  FAIL!  Again, nothing that would ultimately tip my opinion in one direction or the other; BUT, for a place that offers up nothing less than a $30 cut of meat at lunch – it’s a bit gimmicky.  In the taste department, here was the best part of the meal.  The steak was appropriately marbled and had a bold flavor.  Nothing that lit my culinary desires on fire – but a strong showing nonetheless.  As for the cooking temperature, this meat was spot on.  The juices were present and the meat had that bluish tint I look for.  Unfortunately, the steak sat out a little too long; it arrived just a bit too cold.

As we move around the table, we see that the quality of the meal disintegrated and did so rapidly.  The lamb sandwich came with a towering cone of fries and some ketchup.  The fries were what one would expect for a traditional European pommes frites.  They had a nice buttery flavor and were a relative success.  The sandwich was passable, but given the price point – a total disappointment.  The lamb did little to shake my groove thang.  The toppings of pesto and feta melded well with the meat; however, the quality of the ingredients and the execution did little to make me think this sandwich should have cost $16, let alone $8 (and I’ve had a lot of sandwiches lately!).

By this time, we get to my seafood platter.  For $23, I received two gulf shrimp, two shucked clams, two Jonah crab claws, and an amuse-bouche sized serving of baby scallop ceviche.  Surely, with that great big raw bar on display – this would take the cake.  Wishful thinking on my part.  Where to begin?  The gulf shrimp were chewy and tasted like B-grade level seafood one would dine on at The Steamhouse. The in-house cocktail sauce I dipped in was sweet and properly executed.  I have no quarrels there; though my preference is for something with a kick.  Over to the clams … and now moving past the clams! (Don’t ask!)

This was my first taste of a Jonah crab claw.  I must say, they were well cracked. While I do enjoy getting down and dirty with my shellfish at a local dive, I very much appreciate well cracked and shucked seafood when I’m sporting a button down.  As I have now learned, Jonah crabs come from the East Coast of the U.S.  While they are amongst the largest breed of East Coast crab, they are a good bit smaller than the more popular stone crab claws.  These came with a side of mayonnaise-based mustard sauce.  The sauce was fine.  I’m am confident that it arrived at our table as the chef had intended.  That said, I would have preferred they utilized less mayo.

The claws are another story.  They were watery and not good.  I find that these were like the ugly step-children that want to hang around with uncle stone crab.  Unfortunately, no matter how cool their company – these just ain’t getting past the velvet rope.  Though not rotten like my clams, these were undesirable to say the least.

Maybe the ceviche would salvage some respect.  It did!  A good ceviche utilizes citrus flavors to spring board your palate into high gear.  This execution was perfect.  I tend to gravitate toward the larger form scallops for my meals.  However, the choice of baby scallops here was spot on.  The citrus flavor of the sauce was amplified by the unusual inclusion of diced granny smith apples.  Mmmm…good!

So it is neat that their daily specials are delivered on what they call a blackboard – though it’s just a piece of paper.  In NYC, BLT employs an actual blackboard.  On the back of that menu, you are treated to an in depth dissection of the moo cow.  Don’t worry, it’s kid friendly and does nothing more than diagram all the different cuts of meat [Seems like a good time to mention this post].  Add in the take-home recipe card and you have some nice touches.  Ultimately, they do little to save the experience and might be a bit too gimmicky (you’ve heard that before).

The seafood was a failure at any price point.  Even if that was an aberration, this food is not even in the same ballpark with the price tag it carries.  I’m going to have a hard time convincing myself to return so that I can do a full review – it’s just too darn expensive for what they showed me.

Granted, I’m far less lenient on a place like this because of that price point.  The logic follows that these are corporate run juggernauts.  They come to life as well oiled machines.  You don’t go here for intimate charm … you go to BLT Steak for a knock your socks off meal.  That price tag comes with a responsibility: You better do what you do, do it every day and every night, and do it as soon as you are willing to open your doors.  Call me cynical, but I expect more from Mr. T.

ATLANTA BLOGGERS ON BLT STEAK:

BLT Steak Restaurant Address & Information:
45 Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd, Atlanta, GA 30308 // P: 404.577.7601 // BLT Steak Reservations // BLT Steak Website // BLT Steak Generic Menu (PDF – not specific to ATL)
BLT Steak on Urbanspoon

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  • Katie

    You are quite the tough critic! Fair, but tough. I agree that customers have a certain responsibility to hold restaurants to high standards (and standards should differ according to the price point) and that restaurants have a responsibility to adhere to those standards. With that said, though, do you not think the more well-known chefs are held to an even higher standard than a lesser known chef? I just wonder if you had this exact experience at a different place if you would have had the same impression.

    My culinary knowledge doesn’t extend much beyond the Food Network, so this is isn’t exactly a savvy observation …. just my two cents!

  • Adam Harrell

    Quick note — the scallops were most like bay scallops; not baby scallops.

    Scallops are either Bay, Sea or Diver. Bay being the smallest (70/120 per lbs). Sea being a good bit larger (10/40 per lbs). And Diver being the big boys that are harvested by hand by deep sea divers of course(10/30 per lbs).

    The bay scallops are smaller and live shorter lives. Many fish mongers recommend them for their slightly sweeter flavor (star provisions, I’m talking about you). Nantucket bay scallops are often highly prized. They’re considered especially great for ceviches, but their small size makes it difficult to develop a proper crust when pan frying. That’s why most often you’ll see diver scallops used in that application at higher end restaurants (or my house).

  • @katie: I would suspect that *most* people hold celebrity chefs to a higher standard. However, I also think those chefs have an easier time getting rave reviews. The question I most ask myself is “What is the restaurant is trying to accomplish?” Sure, I take note of who the chef is and what they have to say … but ultimately it’s not about who is in the kitchen.

    @Adam: baby scallops would punch you in the face! I think they were baby scallops that had been diced, but you are probably right!

  • jonnymack

    I think your experience is not exclusive there. From what little I’ve gathered this sounds like a place that isn’t bad but doesn’t cut it for the prices they are trying to charge. For my money I’ll stick to Rathbun Steak (freaking awesome) and Bone’s (can never go wrong here) when I want a high priced, perfect meal. I, personally, don’t think you are out of line to demand spectacular when paying those kinds of prices so this review seems very fair to me.

    *Should I insert some kind of insult here to keep up with the normal comments you receive?

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  • Jam

    Thanks for the review. Headed there today for lunch. Will let you know how it goes.

  • Jam

    ahh, it was okay. Nothing special. They have changed the lunch menu since your visit and now only have one item over $20. The desserts are priced at $10 which I think it absolutely outrageous. The service was top-notch and very attentive. My husband and I burger. It was well prepared, correct temperature. I agree that the meat temp sticks are tacky.

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