For our inaugural read in the new book club that I joined, Rick Bragg's national bestseller,"All Over But The Shoutin," was chosen. This autobiography depicts the author's rough upbringing in the South (there is a happy ending, but so far, this is all I've personally read). The first chapter in the book describes a Southern meal in precise salivating detail, making me hungry for some made-from-scratch food, but with an upscale and "New York-ish" twist. So it was only fitting that I ask our club's president, Teddi, to join me for lunch on Saturday, March 29th, at BLT Market!
From my window, Saturday looked gorgeous and sunny. I decided to walk to BLT, which by mid-way there, I realized was a horrible mistake. The air outside wasn't too cold, but the wind was blowing so hard, that it became extremely uncomfortable and almost unbearable. Grabbing a cab or subway would be ridiculous at this point since I was almost there, but I sure was tempted. So as I approached the restaurant, I felt a sense of excitement and a sudden faux sense of warmth.
I arrived at BLT twenty-minutes shy of our 11:45 a.m. reservation, and decided to grab a glass of French wine at the hotel's bar just outside of the restaurant (for those of you that didn't know, BLT is located within the Ritz Carlton hotel on Central Park). It felt so nice to sit down, de-thaw and take-in the restaurant's fantastic atmosphere. Perched on one of the most fabulous corners in the city, BLT's floor-to-ceiling windows overlook serene and picturesque Central Park. The physical space is reminiscent of a larger-scale version of what I'd imagine Paula Deen's kitchen-turned-restaurant to look like. Unpolished wood planked floors, glossy white-painted walls, thick crown molding, peppy paintings of fruits and vegetables and wooden baskets of ripe green and red apples were paired with "New York chic" elements such as modern wrought-iron chandeliers, ornate oversized mirrors and some of the most gorgeous floral arrangements I've seen, thus far. Natural light from the two full walls of windows brightly illuminated the entire restaurant. But my most favorite aspect of the restaurant had to be all of the goodies, including Laurent Tourondel (the chef/owner) cookbooks and various jars of sweet and savory dips and sauces that served as a make-shift mini-grocery and artistic back drop for the host's stand.
Teddi arrived just as I sipped my last drop of wine. Perfect timing! We informed the hostess of our presence and were led to a cozy corner banquette where we were seated and presented with menus. After briefly catching up, we perused the lovely array of offerings. It was tough to make a decision amongst all of the outstanding-sounding dishes, but I ended up choosing the Nantucket Bay Scallop salad and Teddi went with the Rock Shrimp Arborio Risotto. Neither of us ordered anything else to drink besides iced water.
Seconds after we placed our entree orders, a baguette loosely wrapped in white paper and a plate of BLT's famous amuse bouche, which is an upscale take on the classic "pigs in a blanket," arrived. The homemade, crusty French bread was stabbed with deep slits that were stuffed with a vibrant pureed spread incorporating basil, olive oil and garlic. Each bite of the warm loaf melted in my mouth and provoked my taste buds to dance, making it painful to only limit myself to one slice.
Pigs-in-a-blanket reminds me of a bad, white-trash wedding reception. I'm not saying I think they're nasty, but they're just a humorous, pint-sized version of a regular-sized dog. All jokes aside, I was very excited to taste Laurent Tourondel's haute French take on this classically cheesy American cocktail food. A bite-sized piece of hot dog was enveloped in a thick, perfectly baked croissant shell. Each morsel was topped with a small dollop of bright yellow mustard and sauerkraut shreds. While I've never been much of a hot-dog fan, I must say that this was the richest and most decadent take on the tubular processed meat that I've ever had. I found this amuse bouche to be cute, uniquely shabby-chic and honestly, quite delightful.
Twenty-minutes later, our entrees arrived. Though a bit on the small side, my gorgeous salad was composed of a melange of greens, sweet and buttery caramelized walnuts, sliced figs and pear, finely chopped baby chives, and three hockey-puck sized sea scallops finished with a subtly sweet balsamic dressing. I loved tasting the trinity of sweet, salty and sour components in my salad. The scallops were plump, meaty and fresh with a perfectly pan-seared crispy exterior. Teddi enjoyed her entree, as well, which I was lucky enough to have a bite of. Her creamy risotto was laced with small chunks of shrimp, steamed bits of cauliflower, truffle essence and a salty "mushroom foam" reminiscent of the ocean.
BLT Market exceeded all of my expectations and I look forward to returning...Hopefully for brunch! Teddi and I found the prices to be reasonable; for $25 per person (including tax and tip); we enjoyed a 5-star lunch at a diner's price. Another good morsel to point out is the fact that the restaurant is very conducive to conversation...Perfect for us two bookworms!