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On the House Special: The Origins of the BLT Empire

On the House is our regular column written by the owners and operators of the great food and beverage establishments of New York. Today, your proprietor is, via his paperwork, Mr. Laurent Tourondel, the LT of the BLT empire of restaurants.

2006_09_onethehouseA.jpgThe following concept statement was sent over to us by an undisclosed insider at the Laurent Tourondel empire and we've confirmed its authenticity. Written in 2002, after the close of Cello, it's the first time LT put to paper his plans for BLT Market (initially, it seems, to be called simply "BLT"), the restaurant he just opened in the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Central Park South. Interesting to note, before we dive in, though ultimately he would open a bistro, steakhouse, seafood restaurant and burger joint all first, this similarity this statement bears to the current reality is impressive. Do read especially the empire-focused bit labeled, "Roll-Out Potential." Also, if Tourondel was talking about a market-restaurant hybrid in 2002, he does get credit, at least on paper, for getting out in front of places like Borough Food & Wine and Market Table.

BLT: Bistro Laurent Tourondel
Concept Overview

The Concept
Bistro Laurent Tourondel (BLT) is an innovative dining concept that combines the elements of a bistro with an épicerie fine in an elegant setting catering to Tourondel’s loyal clientele while bringing in a new cadre of diners. Tourondel’s considerable skills as a chef will be brought to bear on a lighter, more casual menu of reasonably priced bistro fare served in a cozy yet decidedly modern atmosphere. The bistro will also house an épicerie, or traditional French specialty shop, selling gourmet goods, many of which will be imported from overseas, such as condiments, sauces, pastas, and exotic honeys. Customers will not only be able to purchase hard-to-get gourmet foods, but also BLT china, and, significantly, signature products developed exclusively for BLT by Laurent Tourondel.

Atmosphere and Décor
BLT will have an atmosphere at once elegant and casual. It will be modern, yet with references to time-honored French tradition. It will be the sort of place where a diner feels comfortable immediately upon walking in, yet it will have a fashionable élan that will bring back repeat diners.

The interior will be bathed in light streaming in from the soaring windows on all sides. Sleek, clean lines in the architecture will suggest modernity and refinement. Diners will enter the space and come upon a wide counter holding a cash register where épicerie goods are rung up – the first sign that this is not an ordinary restaurant. They will be greeted by a maitre d’ hotel who will point out the bistro seating on one side, and the selection of products at the épicerie on the other.

The mood will recall a Parisian bistro where elegant diners meet regularly for an informal meal served by waiters in traditional bib aprons. This is a place to see and be seen.

Every detail has been attended to: Tables are covered with white paper and set with signature bistro china [that will be available for sale at the épicerie]. Clipped to each plate with a wooden clothes pin is a white paper bag printed with the bistro menu. A relaxing color scheme of pale smoky green and auburn runs through the space.

The Menu
Tourondel has created a restaurant to tempt every palate, from discerning diners to casual grazers. BLT’s menu combines favorites from France and the US, deftly brought together by the precision of the chef’s finely tuned French technique. The one-page menu will be organized under straightforward headings: Appetizers, Fish & Meat, Vegetables, Cheeses, Desserts. Yet these unassuming names belie the complexity and exceptional quality of the dishes. His signature “B.L.T” will be a panini, or grilled sandwich, stuffed with house-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and foie gras. The standard macaroni and cheese will be elegantly reinterpreted as Macaroni and Lobster Gratin. Irresistible side dishes will include Garlic Rice, Pommes Frites and Collard Greens. A selection of cheese plates will offer a nice alternative to dessert, though resisting Tourondel’s dessert selection will prove challenging: Melted Chocolate Cake with minted crème Anglaise; Coffee-Cardamom Crème Brûlée, and Long Island Cheesecake with Cherries Jubilee.

The wine list has been personally compiled by Tourondel and presented in three parts consisting of French, American and World wines. World wines represent vintages from Spain, Italy, Chile and Australia. Wines will be offered by the glass as well as by the bottle in a wide price range from $27 to $400 for a bottle, to accommodate a variety of tastes and occasions.

At once innovative and traditional, cozy and stylish, BLT will truly offer something for everyone.

Épicerie Fine
Housed within the bistro, the épicerie fine will carry a variety of non-refrigerated high-end products, many of which are difficult to source elsewhere. Products will be handsomely displayed on shelving within customers’ reach for easy label reading. Some products will come directly from small shops in Europe or be created in limited quantity by artisanal producers for gourmet shoppers. Tourondel will be incorporating some of the products into the dishes served at the bistro so customers will be able to purchase for home consumption the products which they had tasted during their meals.

Products: The BLT Line of Gourmet Condiments and Desserts
Tourondel will be creating signature products bearing the BLT label. These will include a variety of gourmet sauces, cookies and condiments. The BLT product line will provide an excellent marketing opportunity for the bistro.

Roll-Out Potential
B.L.T. is a concept that would translate well in a range of metropolitan centers. Its focus on expertly prepared bistro fare with American accents makes it accessible to a wide dining audience. The addition of an épicerie will be particularly welcome in cities where gourmet dry goods are difficult to find.

The fact that Laurent Tourondel, an acclaimed, three-star chef is opening a high end bistro will be of great interest to the food and lifestyle media. His melding of a bistro with an épicerie will further galvanize the press. The uniqueness of the concept, the critical acclaim received by the chef, and the rigorous approach to quality makes for a concept with enduring interest.

Laurent Tourondel, 2002