Here they come, the New York restaurateurs, installing clones of their flagships in expensive dining rooms in the meat of the Westside: Craft, Simon, Bond Street, City Bakery, STK, even Nobu. Not the least of these is Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Steak, newly opened in the old Le Dôme space on the Sunset Strip, a mammoth dining room remodeled to resemble a cheerful, mutant cross between a Houston’s and a Parisian brasserie. Between the old Le Dôme regulars and the flock of agents who seem to have adopted the place as a clubhouse, shots at the bone-in double sirloin, the garlicky clams casino, monkey-skull-sized popovers and Japanese Kobe beef at $26 per ounce are already difficult to snag.
Tourondel is one of the best chefs of his generation. CT, the Brazilian-accented French place he ran with Claude Troisgros on East 22nd Street, was one of the defining New York restaurants of the mid-1990s, and at the Palace Court at Caesars Palace, he took Las Vegas dining to a level the city had never even sniffed at. Cello, on the Upper East Side, was a Jaguar saloon car of a subterranean dining room where he reinterpreted modern seafood cooking for a clientele of bankers and U.N. diplomats. Some of the best fish I have ever eaten was at Cello. But fine dining is a hard sell even in New York, and when Cello’s owners abruptly closed the restaurant, Tourondel moved on to found the BLT chain — Bistro Laurent Tourondel — which essentially paired his brand of updated French cooking with a fairly orthodox menu of seafood or steaks. (I’ve always thought that Wolfgang Puck’s Cut exploited a similar formula brilliantly.)
But the ability to run one brilliant restaurant is different from the ability to run 20 brilliant restaurants. And the strength of the first BLT Steak, the elevation of steak-house cuisine to a refined level, seems to have become a weakness — there is no way steak-house cooks can consistently execute a menu of BLT Steak’s complexity, and even where the restaurant should excel, at least after its first few weeks, it tends not to. Expensive side dishes of English peas and fava beans were starchy even in the first days of spring, when they should be at their tender best; first-of-season halibut was overcooked and underseasoned; and a $62 rib-eye pepper steak, ordered medium rare, managed to come out from the kitchen simultaneously burnt and raw. There are many ways to eat potatoes at BLT Steak: The gratin, essentially a block of sliced potatoes suspended in a sea of molten cheese, may not be classically correct, but people like them a lot. 8720 Sunset Blvd., W. Hlywd., (310) 360-1950.