"What a quaint, old time general store," you think, waltzing into the new BLT Market, admiring the cute bottles of $10 vinegar, $14 dollar mustard, and bright red and yellow fresh heirloom tomatoes neatly arranged on spotless blond wood shelves. Then you notice the well-dressed, affluent looking crowd chatting in the airy dining room connected to an open-air terrace overlooking Central Park, and you realize you're in the latest restaurant in Laurent Tourondel's successful BLT franchise.
You will be quick to sense Tourondel's focus is on fresh, seasonal ingredients, especially wild and locally grown items. Though every five-star chef in the city has his or her favorite local specialty purveyors, BLT Market concretely expresses this theme via the Disneyland-esque, country store décor and casual, relaxed ambiance. BLT Market's menu rotates monthly, and blackboard specials are updated weekly with first-of-the-season produce.
As you are shown to your table, you will note the tiny pot of blooming rosemary in place of the more traditional flowers, and a quaint clothespin attached to your prettily designed paper menu. A clothespin! Perhaps it's simply a prop to underscore the reality you are not in yet another slick, Manhattan restaurant space. You are in the country, the clothespin seems to say, where everything is farm fresh. These folksy touches continue with the chef's "home style" amuse bouche of upscale "pigs in a blanket," in which the bread is filled with a mix of pork and beef instead of the traditional hot dog.
Garlic bread, brought to you piping hot in its own baguette bag, sets the tone of excellent service and appetizing cuisine. Raw and confit big-eyed tuna with avocado and fresh heart of palm ($18 appetizer) was served like a composed, plated salad, beautiful to look at, quite fresh and tasty, and gone in two bites. Slightly more substantial was the basil crusted halibut with heirloom tomato water ($32) served in a very large, deep pot. By contrast, the enormous seven-pepper crusted grass fed NY strip steak ($39) was so large three people could easily make a meal of it.
Wine lists are a personal passion, and BLT Market has some interesting choices from all points of the globe. Always eager to check out a potential new trend, I allowed myself to be talked into the Pinot Noir-based Domaine Marc Morey rouge ($70), though the region, Chassagne-Montrachet, is traditionally known for its Chardonnay wines. After switching to the Domaine Fernand Lechéneaut et Fils ($95) from the more traditional Pinot Noir region of Morey St. Denis, one can see that the Romans had the right idea a few thousand years ago when they firmly declared certain regions best for Chardonnay, and others better for Pinot Noir.
Great cuisine is to be expected in all BLT restaurants, and most top Manhattan restaurants in general, so the freshness of the offerings is as expected. What's most delightful about BLT Market is the lively, open space and upbeat vibe of the place itself. Tourondel, it seems, has figured out who his market is: affluent neighborhood locals and Ritz-Carlton guests who don't mind paying top dollar for healthy, seasonal cuisine and excellent service in an easy-going, informal environment. It's a fun place with great food and excellent service that motivates one to return again and again.
1430 6th Avenue (at Central Park South)
New York, NY 10019