WITH THE surfeit of steakhouses in L.A. right now, I find myself wishing my grandfather, a Nebraska cattleman, were still alive. It would be great fun to take this die-hard meat 'n' potatoes guy around and get his reaction to L.A.'s new breed of steakhouse. I'm pretty sure he'd approve of the prime steaks at the latest entry, BLT Steak in West Hollywood, from New York's Laurent Tourondel.
OK, I'd have to do some explaining as to why one of New York's top French chefs was doing a steakhouse, but that's a story that can be boiled down to three words: Steakhouses make money.
While he would have no trouble understanding anything on the menus at the classically inclined Palm or Arnie Morton's, or even the modish Mastro's for that matter, I can hear him now, puzzling over some of the first courses at BLT. Tuna tartare with soy lime dressing? Roasted beets with Gorgonzola? (The men in our family could never be considered adventurous eaters.) His desires would surely run more toward the jumbo shrimp cocktail vein, a perfectly good choice here.
What's great about BLT Steak is that the menu accommodates pretty much everybody's tastes. My grandfather could enjoy the most traditional of steakhouse meals (with the exception of a massive baked potato with all the fixings) while his granddaughters could opt for something more contemporary. Or even fish.
The whole place might seem a little, well, bright and wholesome to this erstwhile cowboy who had a tendency to disappear for a couple of days into dark back rooms to play poker and smoke cigars. But I think he'd fit right in with the old Le Dome crowd if he gave it a chance. He liked the ladies and wasn't averse to a little outré glamour or the allure of bright lights, big city.
And BLT Steak, the sixth in Tourondel's stable -- which includes half a dozen other restaurants (BLT Fish, BLT Burger and so on) in New York, with more to come in other cities -- surely does exude a high-energy big city vibe.
At the curb, the head valet wears a suit and tie (name tag too). Walk in, and the phalanx of managers and junior managers at the door assures that no VIP goes unnoticed or unacknowledged. Or has to wait too long on one of the comfy sofas and chairs that make up the informal waiting area. They'll be seated promptly and presented with the VIP amuse -- a hardwood tray with neatly sliced salame, bresaola (air-dried beef) and chorizo, along with the non-VIP amuse, a French canning jar of warm chicken liver mousse pâté. It's not mousse exactly, more like a freshly made chicken liver crostini topping, earthy and delicious.
NEXT, WHY not order a little something from the raw bar? The shrimp cocktail is a classic, each shrimp meaty and very fresh, laid out on ice and served with a sharply focused scarlet cocktail sauce. Little neck clams on the half shell arrive snuggled in a platter of ice with lemon wedges and micro-bottles of Tabasco sauce tucked between. The clams are chilled and briny, just the way they are in Cape Cod. There's also an extravagant seafood platter that includes some clams but adds oysters, crab claws, half a lobster and more to the mix.
But most people seem to be going for the more elaborate appetizers, which include updated, up-market sashimi. Matchbook-sized slices of bluefin toro on creamy avocado slices are garnished with slivered celery, the pale celery leaves and sliced hearts of palm in a whole-grain mustard sauce. A little of that intensely flavored sauce goes a long way. Kampachi is paired to interesting effect with baby farmers market artichokes and embellished with a piquant kumquat confit. Onion rings are listed as a side: Order them as an appetizer instead. And don't be afraid: Tall as bracelets, they're beautiful and just greasy enough to be truly delicious.
Ladies who lunch should find favor with the fresh salads, though for some oddball reason, they're served in bowls so small it's like conducting an excavation to get at all the ingredients. Lobster Cobb salad looks less than spectacular crammed into that bowl, but as you polish off the layers, encountering first the lobster claws, then a spiral of crisp pancetta, the avocado and the greens, it loosens up and gets prettier. Still, it's a better lunch dish than a prelude to steak.
And here the beef comes in all its carnivorous glory. The BLT cut is a 32-ounce bone-in double sirloin, presumably for two. (That's what the menu says.) And though it is very good, I think the Porterhouse outshines it. The latter, again for two, weighs in at 40 ounces, and at $79, i.e., under $40 a person, is priced lower than some others around town.
The cooking from chef de cuisine Noah Rosen, a veteran of Wilshire and Mélisse, is spot-on. Order your steak charred, medium rare, and it comes out exactly that. The thick 16-ounce New York strip is excellent too. But the real bargain is the hanger steak, 10 ounces of flavorful beef for a modest $24. That's without sides, of course.
There's not much to say about the rack of lamb, chicken or veal chop other than good quality products, nicely prepared, but nothing memorable. A double Berkshire pork chop, though, with red wine sauce, a special one night, stands out for its flavor and texture. Fish lovers should go straight for the Dover sole, which is firm and very fresh, sautéed in butter with lemon and capers and as simple and satisfying a piece of fish as you're likely to find anywhere for $45. What about that fried red snapper "Cantonese style" the waiter is showing off to the table across the room? Standing on edge, crisp as anything, it looks irresistible. Resist: The fish itself gets dried out in the process of getting it crisp.
Besides, who has room after devouring one or more of the giant cheese popovers that are BLT's signature? I'm telling you, go easy there or you'll be leaving with a well-filled take-home bag, and at the very least won't make it to dessert.
Sides more or less follow the format laid down by Craft (which opened in New York before BLT Steak). Items are divided into categories such as potatoes, vegetables, mushrooms -- in all, a dozen and a half choices. Grilled asparagus and especially the hash browns, served in a small cast-iron skillet, are first-rate.
The wine list is a comprehensive list of bottles that makes sense with the menu, yet all in all, given the mostly safe choices, is not as thrilling to explore as it could be.