We ate at BLT Fish (upstairs dining room, not the downstairs fish shack) for the first time last night and had a wonderful meal.
We checked in at the desk downstairs and were promptly escorted up the elevator to the third-floor dining room (I believe they operate a private function room on the second floor). The room is a large, rectangular space, with windows overlooking 17th Street on one end and an open kitchen on the other. The kitchen, although small, is bustling with a remarkable number of workers, all of whom manage to remain calm and keep out of each other's way as they very seriously go about their work. The dining room has a retractable roof (!), but because of last night's rain, the roof was closed, which resulted in a fairly loud dining room: the waiter assured us that the room was quieter when the roof was open, but this probably is not the place to go for a quiet meal.
The menu that was presented to us was identical to the one available on menupages.com, supplemented with at least one special entree (salmon with scallop mouse and truffels steamed in romain lettuce, if I remember correctly; there may have been others, but I don't recall), and a couple of special vegetable selections. We found the menu to be a little confusing, in particular which of the whole fish served one person and which were appropriate for two. Once the waiter clarified this for us and shared his own recommendations, however, we quickly abandoned our initial choices (I had intended to order the Atlantic bluefin tuna, which looked spectacular when served to an adjacent table) and decided to share the crispy red snapper "Cantonese style." We also shared the spicy tuna tartare appetizer.
The meal started with a tapenade-topped anchovi puree served with toasted country bread, followed by magnificent chedder and chive biscuits served with sea salted butter topped with maple syrup. (The biscuits were accompanied by their recipe; I'd be happy to post if it anyone is interested.) Next came the tuna tartare, which was sublime: a small round tower of tuna served on top of a base of avocado and topped with caviar, served with homemade potato chips. I preferred to eat the tartare without the chips so as not to mask its wonderful flavor in any way.
The fish was served shortly after we devoured the tuna. A beautiful whole red snapper was presented to the table, and then fileted. The flavor was wonderful and remarkably light, notwithstanding that the fish had been deep fried, creating a crisp, but not at all greasy, skin. The fish was topped with a sweet, Cantonese-style sauce and shredded asian vegegables.
I didn't spend a lot of time studying the wine list, but a quick review revealed a good selection of decently priced wines. With the help of a very friendly and helpful somelier, we quickly settled on a half bottle of Gaja chardonnay (who knew that Gaja made a chardonnay?), which, while overpriced at $102 (not necessarily the restaurant's fault: all of Gaja's wines are overpriced), was delicious and complimented our meal perfectly.
When time came to order dessert, we tried to be disciplined and not order one, but that did not keep them from serving us a large jar full of green apple cotton candy (yes, cotton candy; you can see them making it with an old fashioned cotton candy machine in the back of the kitchen) and a platter of small cinnamon donuts and hazelnut truffles. DO NOT MISS THE COTTON CANDY -- IT'S AMAZING.
I try not to be hyperbolic in my reviews, but other than the noise level, and tight seating, I couldn't find anything to complain about. This was an absolutely wonderful meal with great service in a beautiful -- albeit loud -- room. Keep in mind that the downstairs fish shack features an entirely different menu and a separate kitchen, so one's experience downstairs will be entirely different. But I definitely will be back upstairs soon. (By the way, I had no difficulty making reservations on opentable.com about two weeks in advance.)