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I guess we are supposed to feel grateful that BLT Steak, yet another high-end New York City restaurant, has deigned to allow residents of Washington, D.C., this backwater town, to savor its food and pay its outrageous prices. Thank you most kindly, but no thanks. Maybe it’s just that we’ve reached a steakhouse saturation point in D.C., which leads newcomers like BLT to feel they must differentiate their fare from every other beef joint that’s already here — and the variations fall flat. Or maybe it’s that the high prices and the heartfelt service at BLT — the waiters really try hard — are just not matched by the quality of the beef or the overall ambiance. A restaurant this expensive does not need to have white tablecloths and candelabras, but really — plastic woven placemats that you could find at any Holiday Inn breakfast nook? And a noisy bar barely separated from the dining room? Or perhaps I’m just annoyed that even though BLT has been in D.C. since November — on I Street near Farragut Square — it still is not even mentioned on the BLT Web site, as if its foray south of Manhattan is an embarrassment. No, what sticks in my craw the most is the $81, 10-ounce steak I ordered — and did not like. (Note to my boss: I paid $81 for a steak so our readers don’t have to, freeing up their cash to renew their subscriptions to Legal Times.) One way BLT Steak — the acronym is for Bistro Laurent Tourondel, named for the executive chef in New York — has distinguished itself from other steakhouses is by offering fabled Kobe and Wagyu beef on its menu. Those are names for the pampered Japanese-style beef that is known for its deep marbling and deep flavor. But with the legend goes the price. At dinner one Saturday night, I passed up a Japanese Kobe strip steak because it went for $26 per ounce, or $260 for a mere 10-ouncer. Instead, at the waiter’s recommendation, I saved $179 (see how frugal I am?) by ordering an American Wagyu Top Cap steak, for the aforementioned $81. PEPPER TOP Top cap, the waiter told me, is the tender outer rim of a rib-eye steak (though research later suggested that top caps can come from a different part of the steer). But when it arrived, my steak was simply not tender. Somehow it got tough, even though it was astonishingly fatty. But its main downfall was an angry coating of pepper that masked whatever flavor it might have had. A cup of BLT’s own steak sauce did little to help, but maybe some of the other sauce offerings — bearnaise, perhaps — would have softened the taste a little bit. But shouldn’t a steak that expensive shine on its own? My companions fared better with their entrees, though price still loomed as an issue with at least one of them. A sauteed Dover sole was well-prepared, but at $45 seemed far too dear. A rack of lamb was tender, flavorful, and priced at $36, which is not outlandish. But the best choice was a 10-ounce hanger steak, for a mere $24. Hanger steak is a very tasty cut of beef traceable to French butchers, first introduced to the D.C. area by Les Halles — another New York City export that is much more welcomed. So that’s one tip for beating the high prices at BLT Steak: order the $24 steak that is easily better than the one that was more than three times as expensive. Here’s another bit of advice: Before you order at BLT, take into account all the freebies you get that will fill you up. Huge gruyere-tinged popovers arrive at the table unbidden at both lunch and dinner. And at dinner we were also served a warm crock of pate, perfect for spreading on the crusty bread that came with it. Once you wolf those down, the only other dish you need is a hanger steak, or better yet something from the raw bar. Many of the sides and salads are successful, including the trademark stack of onion rings, if you like your onion rings with a puffy beer batter. A hamburger at lunch was sadly dried out. At dinner we persevered through dessert and found one star on the menu: a warm raspberry bread pudding, with some sublime vanilla ice cream on top. If you plan carefully, it’s very possible to have a very good meal and good service at BLT Steak. But don’t let its arrogant New York roots lure you to the top end of the menu. Let chef Tourondel know that we have some discernment in D.C., even if we don’t live in the self-proclaimed center of the civilized universe.
Legal Times Supreme Court correspondent Tony Mauro has also reviewed restaurants for nearly 30 years. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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