BLT triumphs at Trump's


POSTED: Wednesday, December 30, 2009

You don't have to be rich to be a snob. The bourgeois, with the most to gain by tearing down the elite, can be the snobbiest. Just ask Tiger. Those gains more often take the form of moral or aesthetic superiority than material or social currency.

I'm a snob because I learned early that money doesn't buy refinement or creativity, so from my humble perch I have little admiration for the nouveau riche who can't quit their flashy McMansion dreams.

I was looking at the Trump project as an extension of The Donald, whose trophy wives and boastful demeanor register as classic nouveau riche. In that light I regarded BLT Steak, the restaurant associated with the new Trump International Hotel, with more curiosity than great expectation.

For one thing, the economy is forcing everyone to go back to basics, and if you haven't noticed, steakhouses are popping up all along the Waikiki beachfront. Do we really need another? In connoisseurship it's hard to beat Wolfgang's Steakhouse.

But where service is considered, BLT excels, and that goes a long way toward appreciating the entire experience. My estimation of The Donald grew by association. The BLT experience was so exceptional I'd place it on par with the best restaurants in New York and Las Vegas.

And by exceptional, I don't mean service was fawning or cloyingly polite. I hate that embarrassing spectacle. Instead, it was friendly but not overly familiar. Nor was it overbearing, pushy or rushed in the way that makes you think servers are waiting for the next seating or thinking about what they're doing after work. Save for the typically cute but airy hostess, I felt as if I had left Hawaii. It didn't surprise me when I phoned up later and confirmed they'd flown in some of their best people from across the country to open the restaurant. I hope they're planning to stay.

FOR THOSE who do care about history, a primer: BLT stands for Bistro Laurent Tourondel, a French chef who is set to conquer the world by remaking America's steakhouse and the French bistro to incorporate flavors of Asia and Latin America. He opened BLT Steak in 2004, and in less than five years his empire has grown to include fish, market and burger restaurants from White Plains to Hong Kong. In 2007 he was named “;Restaurateur of the Year”; by Bon Appetit magazine. And, he has an Italian concept slated to debut in Washington, D.C., in 2010.





        Trump International Hotel, 223 Saratoga Road » 683-7440

        Food ;*;*;*;1/2

        Service ;*;*;*;*

        Ambience ;*;*;*;*

        Value ;*;*;*;*

Hours: 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sundays to Thursdays; 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays


Cost: About $120 for two without drinks


Ratings compare similar restaurants:
        ;*;*;*;* - excellent
        ;*;*;* - very good
        ;*;* - average
        ;* - below average


He must be doing something right, and, in addition to the impeccable service, that is serving accessible, quality fare for the average diner, with just enough exoticism to prevent foodies from yawning. They are two very different audiences, and BLT Steak bridges the gap nicely.

For me it was delightful all the way, from the arrival of savory cheese-topped popovers (not your typical French bread or dinner rolls) and rather heavy “;amuse”; of chicken liver pate with toast (wow, so generous and hospitable; restaurants don't usually try to fill you up before you order!).

Chef de cuisine Johan Svensson, who honed his skills at New York's Aquavit, Bond Street and Riingo, as well as Nobu, London, presides in the kitchen.

For a steakhouse the menu is extensive, giving non-red-meat-eating S.O.s and friends many options. Just when you think you've studied the entire menu, you find there's also a raw bar menu with sushi, sashimi and shellfish. It's too much temptation for one evening, making return trips inevitable.

I started with a salad ($13) of roasted beets with field greens, endive, walnuts and Mauna Kea goat cheese. Naturally, there are a lot of sides ($7 each), so I had to save room for those. Sides like jalapeno mashed potatoes, potato gratin and creamed spinach with nutmeg tend to be weighted more toward fat and carbs, so you might find it useful to order from the salad menu, as well. That didn't stop me from trying the pillowy gnocchi pomodoro, the tomatoes giving it the comforting taste of a savory lasagna. A leek and potato hash brown impressed visually, arriving as a big golden puff in its own little skillet. It was more potato than leeks, though.

As for the beef, on the low end you'll find a certified black angus hamburger with fries at $16. The splurge is 10 ounces of American wagyu skirt steak at $52, or 40 ounces of porterhouse for two at $85. I went with the 14-ounce New York strip ($37), which was a little overdone. The remedy is the restaurant's red wine reduction, which came highly recommended. It was a tough decision because other sauce choices include three mustards, bearnaise, horseradish, Roquefort, peppercorn, chimichurri and BBQ.

I went against recommendation and opted for the chimichurri, only to find that each steak already comes finished with herb butter, rendering the parsley-flecked Argentine sauce somewhat redundant. I hate it when they're right.

To balance the steak, I tried the Pacific Moi, two fillets stacked and served Grenobloise style topped by a colorful, neatly spread tian of chopped veggies and capers. Moi doesn't need that much work, but the extra effort was appreciated.

With all that food, most diners tend to opt for dessert that's light and refreshing. Sorbets fit the bill nicely, at $7, or sliced fruit and berries, at $10. Fruit and sorbet are combined in a Maui pineapple sundae ($10) with pina colada, coconut and pineapple sorbets topped with crushed pineapple.

There remain so many more dishes I would like to try, such as an Acacia honey-marinated black cod ($32), a side of Hen of the Woods mushrooms ($14) and seven-spice duck breast with foie gras and Maui pineapple mustard ($38). I wish I could have sampled more, but I'm satisfied that staffers here care about food and hospitality and leave nothing to sniff at.


Nadine Kam's restaurant reviews are conducted anonymously and paid for by the Star-Bulletin. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).