On a recent night, dressed in freshly pressed chef whites, Laurent Tourondel stood in the middle of his new restaurant in North Dallas, BLT Steak (for Bistro Laurent Tourondel). His fists rested on his hips, his brown eyes darted across the room, and his cuddly baby face turned serious. The 41-year-old chef oversees BLT Restaurant Group (BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Prime, BLT Burger, BLT Market, all in New York City, as well as BLT Steak in Washington, D.C., and San Juan). But that night he was focused on his latest creation. His Dallas BLT appears to be the victim of a bad real estate deal, a high-end steakhouse hidden in an obscure strip mall behind the Galleria. Judging from his sour demeanor, Tourondel was realizing that his problems didn’t end with his location.
I knew just how Tourondel felt. Three previous visits to BLT had yielded a wild ride of highs, lows, and oh-nos. Prices on the menu differed from those on my bill. Each time, seafood options on the raw bar menu, such as lobster or stone crab, were unavailable. And service, at times, was downright snooty. When we questioned why they served three strips of double-cut bacon as an appetizer (for $8), our waiter, from New York, snapped, “It’s a common steakhouse side dish.” I had to bite my napkin to keep my mouth shut.
Earlier in the day, I’d interviewed chef Tourondel by phone. He sounded distracted and offered curt, bland answers. But he mentioned he was going to be at the restaurant for a few days. (Daily kitchen duties are handled by chef de cuisine Thomas Lengnick.) I decided to give BLT a fourth try.
That night I sat front row center on a bar stool, watching the staff perform like trained animals in a three-ring circus. While noshing on an outrageously overpriced stone crab ($14 for one medium), I wondered how this chef was going to pull off a steakhouse with a French twist in Dallas, Texas. So far, things were not tres bon, y’all. I leaned on the bartender for dirt.
As he concocted a delicious red apple spiced mojito, the bartender told me that Tourondel had met with the staff earlier in the day, and he’d already made changes based on their feedback. First came the salads. Customers had complained that the portions were too large, so Tourondel immediately cut their sizes in half.
I applaud the move. On my first visit, each one of our foursome ordered a salad, and when they arrived, we gasped at their ginormity. One bowl was filled with two handfuls of spinach, bacon, and Maytag blue cheese. You couldn’t help but knock a third of it off the plate each time you dipped a fork through the mass to get a taste of the vinaigrette puddled on the bottom. Same for the chopped vegetable salad, which technically wasn’t chopped at all. But the best of the bunch, the Caesar, was not only manageable, it was spectacular. Two slender cross sections of romaine were dressed in a regal blend of Dijon, garlic, egg, olive oil, and heavy on anchovy, a sign that Tourondel refuses to dumb things down to satisfy timid palates.
[inline_image id=”1″ align=”r” crop=””]The meat also seemed to benefit from Tourondel’s attention. Twice before, I’d grilled waiters on the steaks: were they Prime or merely Certified Black Angus? On both occasions, the only Prime cuts available were from the Kobe section of the menu that offers three cuts of American Wagyu (rib-eye, top cap, and skirt steak) alongside authentic Japanese Kobe sold by the ounce ($26 per ounce, with a four-ounce minimum), a lovely find. The rest of the a la carte steaks were Certified Black Angus.
However, during those two visits, the preparation of the steaks was so far off the mark that the grade of meat didn’t matter. A strip steak was delivered charred and dry. The 2-inch bone-in rib-eye was a mangled mess of gristle and fat. Both were served so cold that Tourondel’s signature pat of herb butter on top of the steaks remained congealed.
While the menu never touted the steaks as Prime, the prices certainly suggested they were. Example: when the 16-ounce New York strip was later replaced with a Prime cut, the $42 price remained the same.
Chef Tourondel admitted, “I had trouble getting the right product [for the Dallas BLT] at the right price.” But he assured me that the situation was resolved. That may be the case, but it made me wonder how you could open a high-end steakhouse without first taking care of that detail, a source of Prime beef. Chef Tourondel didn’t seem to be in the mood to elaborate.
[inline_image id=”2″ align=”r” crop=””]When the meat and service did align, as they did on my fourth visit, there is a lot to be said for the BLT appeal. This ain’t your boyfriend’s steakhouse. The cozy, modern dining room is feminine sexy—ebony tables, walnut floors, suede and leather banquettes, and golden lighting. While the prices look high, each diner is treated to generous extras: with cocktails comes a pot of duck liver pate with reduced port wine gelee, served with thin baguette toast points and fist-sized fresh popovers with a crunchy crust of Gruyere and sea salt. Chances are, if you’ve been in before, the computer has flagged you as a VIP, and your table will also receive a complimentary charcuterie platter with slices of prosciutto, chorizo, and bresaola. Dig deep into the soft butter with a shiny Christofle butter knife as baby boomer-friendly rock-and-roll—CSN, Supertramp, Fleetwood Mac—rocks your soul. Would you like fresh pepper? The server will show you the marks on the pepper grinder, and you choose the coarseness you desire. And when the kitchen gets the steaks right, they’re thick and served sliced in cast-iron skillets, the dark edges charred black, the soft, pink centers almost glowing in the dark.
Not in the mood for a steak? There’s real Dover sole—firm, thick, delicate, and sweet. Never liked Brussels sprouts? At BLT each bud is gently blanched and sauteed with chestnuts and prosciutto in butter, garlic, and honey. Are you strictly a meat-and-tater Texan? With the exception of the baked and mashed offerings, I tried them all: Parmesan gnocchi (yes), leek hash browns (yes, please), french fries (hash browns, please), gratin (no, thanks), and, the best abused spud around, the baked, fried, and sauteed mass of potatoes with chunks of bacon and Gruyere, each bite with a different taste and texture.
The real stars at BLT are the desserts, in particular the peanut butter-chocolate parfait: a delicate chocolate and peanut butter mousse between two crunchy layers of feuilletine (a flaky blend of chocolate and hazelnuts), covered with rich chocolate sauce and a dollop of house-made banana ice cream. Perhaps after chef Tourondel’s visit to Dallas, his mood, like his restaurant, has improved. 5301 Alpha Rd. 972-726-9200. $$$.
Update: BLT Steak has closed.