My boss took me here for lunch the other day, and I thought I'd share my thoughts because I had quiet a lovely (albeit pricey for my companion) experience.
The weather was sunny but not quite warm enough to sit outside, which was a shame because BLT Market is located in the Ritz-Carlton on 59th street, just across the street from Central Park, and the flower-lined al fresco dining stretches out to a wonderful view. Thankfully, the surroundings also be appreciated from within the bright, sunny interior.
Upon entering the restaurant you are pretty much assaulted with the whole “franchise” vibe, as shelves of products and Touruundel cookbooks surround the hostess stand. True, it’s called BLT ”Market,” and the products are locally produced, but you have to wonder how much of a cut the farmer is getting from a twelve-dollar bottle of raspberry vinaigrette. This is not to say it’s cheesy. Rather, the space is lovely, the jars of goodies are somewhat charming, and clay pots of fresh rosemary sit atop each table and infuse the air with a wonderful scent. It’s just that between the “stuff for sale” entrance and the BLT Restaurants website with endless links, it’s a bit off-putting. In an environment with so many commercial undertones, it’s hard to take seriously the “homage” to locally grown and seasonal foods.
That said, the restaurant definitely takes its mission seriously. The décor features antique farming tools, potted plants, and the waiters hustle around in white aprons. The menus are attached to the napkins with clothespins, giving it a real “country” feel.
The menu changes monthly, and in-season items are listed alongside the current menu. We obviously ordered off the “May” menu, which means most of what I describe will soon be unavailable, but I’m confident the food will be as spectacular in June.
In keeping with the theme of the restaurant I expected the amuse bouche to be something like organic asparagus soup, or a pan-seared snow pea. Rather, our waiter brought out the most unexpected and charming offering: a fancy version of pigs in a blanket, topped with sauerkraut and a dot of yellow mustard. It was delicious, and fun to eat something so unassuming in an establishment that felt anything but. Kind of a cheeky choice and I appreciated it.
A long baguette of fresh garlic bread sprinkled with parsley arrived shortly after in a paper bag.
We started with Maine diver scallops (um, is Maine local?) with caper-brown butter and artichoke, and warm white asparagus with mustard vinaigrette and poached egg. Both were fantastic, in fact the scallops were some of the best I have ever had. The asparagus proved to be a very nice dish, my only complaint being that the asparagus were quite stringy towards the base and therefore difficult to eat. I ended up simply shredding most of them with my fork.
For main courses, we ordered the honey-marinated black cod with celery root puree, and the maple leaf duck two ways (pan-seared breast and braised leg), with spring onion and red currant.
I only tried a taste of the cod, but thought it was very good. I also found the presentation amusing, as it was brought to our table not on a plate, but in what looked like a Le Creuset cast iron pot. Quite the "country" fuss for a small piece of fish, but given the principle behind the restaurant, I guess it made sense.
The duck was a great spin on high-end comfort food. The duck breast was cut thick, with the skin perfectly crispy and the meat very tender. The leg tasted like it was slow-braised, very flavorful, and fell apart under my fork. It was almost like duck brisket, and the red currants were a nice accompaniment. Not to mention, it was such a generous amount of food, I couldn't finish it.
We didn’t have room for dessert, which was fine with me because by that point, I was happily stuffed and had to get back to work.
The restaurant is definitely over-priced, but in my humble opinion the food is good enough that you don't feel ripped off.