First Impression: BLT Bar & Grill

What does BLT stand for anymore? (Besides bacon, lettuce, and tomato.) I wondered that as I walked over to the new BLT Bar & Grill in the W New York Downtown, at Washington and Albany, just below Ground Zero. With brands such as BLT Steak, BLT Fish, BLT Burger, BLT Prime, and BLT Market—in San Juan, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Charlotte, and many other cities—BLT Restaurants certainly believes BLT signifies something; without founding chef Laurent Tourondel, however, it’s unclear what, at least to me. One thing is for certain: “Bar & Grill” is there to attract men.

Indeed, the room—or “rooms,” given that the restaurant is on two floors—is fairly butch, with neon signage, dark walls, leather booths, brown-paper place mats, dishtowel napkins, and adult contemporary/classic rock and soul on the sound system. The second floor has an extremely high ceiling, with windows galore—the ones facing north and south have interesting views, while the westward ones look at a brick wall. Spritzes of character show up in the white paintings and quotes on the walls—there was a Tom Robbins one above my seat—and bookshelves lined with cookbooks. (Implying what, exactly? That the chef looks to them for inspiration?) Glance upward and you may think you’ve teleported to a lightbulb store: The filament-bulb trend may have reached its apotheosis at BLTB&G. Walk to the second-floor bathroom, meanwhile, and you get a bit of the old W Hotels magic in the form of a wave of danging LED drops. (See photo at bottom.)

The menu (click to enlarge)

Anyway, BLT Hotel Restaurant might be a better name, given the hours (breakfast starts at 6:30 a.m.) and the something-for-everyone menu (pizzas, pastas, sandwiches, fish, steak, and so on). I was surprised that there wasn’t a chicken club, that hotel-menu mainstay, and disappointed that the restaurant doesn’t offer a BLT. If not here, where? I ordered the heirloom tomato salad, because it’s a way to gauge ambitiousness: BLTB&G’s version was labor-intensive, with bits of cantaloupe, watermelon, avocado, onion, olives, and ricotta salata, as well as a few baby romaine leaves, all resting in a pool of watermelon gazpacho. Whether the tomatoes needed the gilding is another question, but you have to applaud the effort. Then I had the eggplant-and-Taleggio sandwich, and it was a gutbuster: I removed the top slice of bread and the fried onions, and I only regret I didn’t remove more. (The menu isn’t really designed for vegetarians. There are some pastas but I already eat a lot of pasta, and as a general rule I only order pizza at restaurants that specialize in it.) The fries had a double-fried crust that, having had similar ones last night at Plein Sud, I think I’m over. But that’s me.

This is probably sounding more negative that it should. The restaurant seems to be thoughtfully designed and well-run, and if I lived in that neck of the woods, I’d be thrilled about it—especially because people from the neighborhood can sign up for the free VIP card that gets them 15% off through September. (Everyone gets 10% off through Labor Day.) I just wish BLTB&G had more soul, but maybe that’s too much to ask. You don’t go to a chain restaurant looking for soul, do you? You go looking for reliability. And that, in the end, might be exactly what the BLT promises.


1 Comment

  1. Whoa! That sandwich looks hard to handle.