Monday, August 03, 2009

Downtown Restaurant Week, BLT Steak

I have mixed feelings about restaurant weeks. I love the idea of getting people to go out and try restaurants they wouldn't normally try because they might be a bit too expensive. I have absolutely no problem with a prix fixe menu, and I even find it okay if there's only one option for one of the courses. What I don't like is how, sometimes, a restaurant will treat the week with disdain and contempt. I've been to restaurants where they feel their name and reputation makes the idea of restaurant week beneath if it's a hassle for them to serve the unwashed masses while they could be making much more money off of their beloved hard-drinking, power-lunching corporate regulars. It is these restaurants that let the quality of their service drop to zero, that don't make available anything else on their menu to prixe fixers, and-should you want to drink any-force you to buy a "restaurant week" bottle of wine at the same price as the prix fixe meal itself (a bottle that likely cost them no more than $0.50). Some of these restaurants also miss the point entirely, and the prix fixe meal really offers no savings over the price of those items a la carte.

BLT Steak at the downtown W hotel really gets what restaurant week should be about. They treat it as a chance to open their doors to a lot of new people who will want to come back for a special occasion if their experience is good. They want to showcase their kitchen rather than begrudgingly churn out their most profitable menu items. The service was excellent, the food was phenomenal, and at no time did I feel that any corners of the normal BLT experience were being cut. I really don't care that our admittedly great bottle of wine was massively expensive, because I had the entire impressive list to choose from. It was the kind of place where you say to yourself "well the wine is how they make money so I's a fantastic place," instead of "these hacks are trying to rob me with squeeze-bottled sauce and a $12 glass of carlo rossi."

The restaurant week dinner menu was $25 for three courses. We were started with an amuse bouche of toast and chicken liver pate.

Smooth and creamy, perfectly seasoned with consumption on toast in mind. The aggressiveness and tang of iron that turns people off of liver was completely gone, leaving only a fluffy, luxuriant richness. It really felt like a gift.

We then got the famous gruyere popovers, and their reputation is well deserved.

Served with unsalted butter and smoked sea salt. These popovers are far better than the famous Judie's in Amherst ones, which are really known more for their massive size and the delicious apple butter that comes with them. The gruyere made a nice frico crust on the popover, without being burnt. They give you a little recipe card, and I'll be trying my hand (and probably failing) at them for sure.

This meal turned into a belated/impromptu birthday celebration, and walking to our table we passed the raw bar and at that point knew I was going to get oysters. I chose to get a half dozen Kumamotos:

Fresh, delicately briny, and melty. My only issue was that I happened to get one which wasn't completely released from the shell, but I'm a big boy who can operate a fork so all was well.

The entree choices were:
Duck terrine with sweet potato chutney

I ordered this and it was rich and good. Speckled with a bit of pistachio, it was a on the salty side on its own (even on bread), but this was calmed down by the sweet potato chutney, which in and of itself was too sweet. Together they were balanced, but the overall effect was off-putting to some of my dining companions. I think it was the weakest of the entrees.

Roasted beets with endive, walnuts, and humboldt fog.

Perfectly cooked beets, nicely prepared/slightly caramelized endive and walnuts concealing a little mound of Humboldt fog, which is one of my favorite cheeses on the planet.

The big winner was Erin, who ordered the Gazpacho Andalou with Tabasco sorbet.

The last time I've had a tomato dish that can equal this one was the tomato and basil gelatin at Cibreo in Florence. Subtle and uncomplicatedly good on its own, the Tabasco sorbet added depth. Outstanding stuff.

The main choices were:
Hanger steak with roasted shallot and herb butter.

Hands down the best prepared hanger steak I've ever had. It was a more than generous 8 ounces, and was perfectly cooked. Nice and peppery on the outside, the herb butter didn't add much but the meat was so good on its own that it didn't matter. The shallot was well roasted and looked beautiful, but everything was overshadowed by the steak itself. This steak's preparation, flavor, and tenderness rivaled much more expensive cuts I've had in other steakhouses, and I won't even get started on some of the rubbery and dry onglet/hanger preparations I've had when trying to get a decent steak frites.
They were served with a side of jalapeno mashed potatoes.

Maybe my favorite part of the meal. I love potatoes. I love spicy things. I love rich creamy mashed potatoes that are also nicely spicy. Enough said.

Garlic herbs stuffed chicken with english pea and morels sauce.

Great traditional english pea and morel sauce, especially the mushrooms. The chicken itself was nicely seasoned and well cooked.
Horseradish crusted scottish salmon, cauliflower and horseradish sauce.

Delicious. I normally don't like to order fish in restaurants because it's inevitably drowned in something that kills (sometimes deliberately) the taste of the fish. This salmon was cooked through, but not a second too much. Great natural flavor, all the accompaniments were well cooked and appropriately understated.

I also got a side to share: Gorgonzola and grits.

Phenomenal. Creamy and delicious, coarser ground grits with a perfect amount of gorgonzola. It was crusted with another cheese, maybe gruyere that was nicely broiled to toastiness and had a bit of tomato coulis on top. Excellent steakhouse side that should be adopted at places outside the south.

Whew...still with me? I was feeling pretty heavy at this point too, but luckily there was a good break before dessert came out.

Carrot cake with ginger ice cream:

Liked it, but for my taste the ginger was a bit too subtle and the rest of the dish a bit too sweet.

The break was on account that these guys had just been popped into the oven, then needed to cool: Georgia peach and blueberry cobbler with chamomile ice cream.

Winner. The fruit wasn't oversweetened/seasoned nor overcooked. The peaches still had just the right amount of bite while being pleasantly warmed through. I'm still not sure how such a good crust was achieved...imagine a croissant...then imagine the best shortbread you've ever had. Then imagine that you had infinitely thin layers of that shortbread making a croissant, and that this was then placed on top of a cobbler.
The subtleties of the chamomile ice cream were completely lost on me at this point.

And a nice surprise with my red velvet cake with coconut cream cheese ice cream:

A birthday candle and a song. The red velvet cake was moist and rich, the frosting a nice balance between tangy and sweet. The ice cream was the weaker part of the plate. The ice cream itself was nice, maybe a bit too sweet, but I was distracted by the coconut. I would've preferred to have the coconut be toasted, because the texture of the untoasted dry coconut was a bit too much to get through. Good overall though, and it was nice that they made the plate up like they did.

With the bill came petits fours, a hybrid brownie/cookie thing which had a crisp cookie-like exterior that gave way to a fudge-brownieish interior. I don't even remember it at this point. I remember it being rich, but at this point I was pretty delirious.

After it was all done, the staff was nice enough to take some pictures, validate our parking and send us on our way. As I write this I'm still massively full. I was about to burst as we left:

Notice my distended gut casting a shadow over the bottom part of my hipstery ensemble.

On one hand, I'm a bit envious of people who get to eat like this regularly. On the other, tonight was incredibly special because I felt invited into an experience I wouldn't have been able to take part in otherwise, and the fact that I was able to share it with so many good people (who let me steal off their plates) made it unforgettable. I feel life would be more depressing if a fantastic restaurant's food was no longer a joyful surprise for my palate. What impressed me most about BLT Steak, especially during restaurant week, is that they managed to make every plate of food coming out of the kitchen feel like a gift, not an obligation.

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