Tag Archive for Downtown

The Future of BLT Steak DC?

BLT-STEAK_logotwitter_reasonably_small

The recent departure of Chef Victor Albisu appears to have left a huge creative void at the DC restaurant and lots of confusion as to what lies ahead, according to a BLT Steak insider who spoke to Forking DC on the condition of anonymity.  According to the former employee, Albisu left because he was asked to sign an agreement stipulating that all recipes he created for BLT were the exclusively property of BLT.  Such an agreement, while not necessarily uncommon, is usually negotiated before a chef comes on board, not after he’s been in the kitchen for five years and served as executive chef for the last two. The insider noted the diminished confidence in the restaurant and its corporate management that resulted from the way thing “went down” with Albisu and led to the departures of the sous and pastry chefs and many front-of-the-house staff members within two months of Albisu’s departure.

A spokesperson for BLT’s parent company,  ESquared Hospitality, denied the former employee’s statements, stating that this was not the first time Albisu was asked to sign an agreement, BLT’s failure to obtain his signature earlier was an oversight, and the agreement — which protected recipes used throughout the BLT Steak family of restaurants — excluded any recipes Albisu created himself.  Albisu, through his publicist, declined to comment on this story or Esquared’s statements.

While there appear to be conflicting stories, the BLT Steak restaurant group has dealt with a similar issue during its prolonged and unsuccessful legal battle with Laurent Tourondel, the group’s partner and creative talent.  BLT tried to claim Tourondel’s recipes were BLT’s property after the chef parted ways with the restaurant in 2010.

According to the Washingtonian’s 100 Best Restaurants 2012, Albisu “continually ups the culinary ante” at BLT.  It was Chef Albisu’s talent that appeared to keep BLT on many food critics’ lists of top DC restaurants even after the split with Tourondel.  Whether it was through his political burger board, competing in a local cooking competitions with other notable chefs, or holding cooking classes, Chef Albisu seemed to constantly promote BLT Steak.

The restaurant, now forced to train a whole new staff under the leadership of a new General Manager and new executive Chef Jon Mathieson, also appears to be facing criticism and possibly diminishing loyalty from regular patrons as well.  According to the insider, regular patrons are disappointed not only with the departure of Albisu, but also with other changes that are perceived as hurting BLT’s status as a power restaurant, just blocks from the White House, where lobbyists, businessmen, and politicians regularly dine. For example, in the past year, BLT has relaxed the dress code and started offering a 5 for $5 happy hour menu, thereby appealing to a broader clientele.

Maybe it’s too early for a final verdict on the new executive chef, whose previous tenures as executive chef at several area restaurants ended when the restaurants went out of business. Yet, the former employee points to recent kitchen woes as an indicator of where things are headed. For example, there have been one too many problems executing the regular menu items at the quality and consistency one would expect from a fine dining establishment. On several occasions, the restaurant has also run out of popular items on the menu.

While it seems unlikely that BLT will suffer the same fate as its recently defunct sister restaurant, Casa Nonna, only time will tell what BLT’s future holds. Will the new kitchen staff continually “up the culinary ante” or will they simply stick to the BLT-corporate cookbook?  I hope for everyone’s sake that good times are ahead for BLT.  I used to frequent the restaurant not only because of its convenient location, but also because I could always find some of my favorite things there — a comfortable, jostle-free seat at the bar, an excellent dirty martini, a stellar popover, and the best bacon appetizer known to man.  It just doesn’t seem the same anymore.

 

Fujimar or Lima redux?

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My good friend and I tried out the newly opened Fujimar.  It used to be Lima, but Lima still exists.  Let me try it this way: Fujimar occupies the second floor of Lima, but the ground floor and underground level are still the old Lima.  Are you with me? To make matters more confusing, there’s no sign to alert visitors that there is in fact a restaurant within Lima or where that restaurant may be.

Fujimar looks different from the old (second-floor) Lima. It reminds me of South Beach.  The first section, decorated in black and deep red, contains a small bar and lounge-type table seating.  As you move towards the back, the color scheme changes into an icy blue-white.  The LCD screens lining the walls display a computer-generated fire.  Then, you’ll pass a few cocoon-like chairs that line the small hallway leading to the far end of the restaurant.  Apparently, these chairs have dual functions: aesthetics and sound insulation.  The latter will probably prove quite useful during more lively times of the week when you need a little peace and quiet to make a phone call . . . or just hide.  The far end of the restaurant contains a sushi bar and a separate regular bar as well as several tables.

As you may have surmised, the place is visually stimulating, but what about the food you ask? Fujimar offers Japanese-Latin inspired cuisine including sushi and ceviche. Hawaiian fish dominates the menu. Our waiter explained that the fish is flown in from Hawaii several times a week.  I have to say I find that a little hard to believe.  Isn’t it cost-prohibitive? How long can a restaurant really afford to do that?

My friend and I ordered a few snacks: Red Pepper Barramundi ceviche, Hapu’upu’u nigiri, the Ebi sushi roll, and platanitos. The ceviche was nice, but overdressed with a rather thick red pepper puree.  If you don’t like the taste of raw fish, then it’s perfect.  I personally prefer a lighter dressing on ceviche. The Hapu’upu’u was light and fresh. The Ebi roll and platanitos were the best of the items we tried.

Overall, I didn’t see anything that made me eager to come back.  I think Fujimar will be of limited use to most patrons.  For example, for those that are still participating in events known as “big nights out,” then Fujimar might be a nice place to pre-game — that is, grab a few drinks and a snack while looking fabulous.  And, hey, nothing beats the short commute to the dance club two floors below.  I’m not sure how much fun Fujimar will be during the week. My friend and I pretty much had the place to ourselves on a Thursday night.  Maybe that’s because people couldn’t find it.

Fujimar 
(a/k/a Lima's second floor)
1401 K Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
PH: 202.789.2800
EMAIL: info@FujiMarRestaurant.com
DINNER:
Mon-Thurs: 6-11pm
Fri-Sat: 6pm – midnight
Sun: Closed
SUSHI BAR:
Mon-Thurs: 6pm–1am
Fri-Sat: 6pm–2am
Sun: Closed

The Hamilton: A little of everything

Gnocchi (courtesy of The Hamilton)

The Hamilton sounds too good to be true.  At 37,000 sq. ft and three floors, this ambitious new venture from Clyde’s Restaurant Group that occupies the old Borders space at 14th and F St. NW, seems to do it all. It’s open 24 hours, has a live music venue, and several bars and dining rooms.  Its menu seems to have been cobbled together using menus from diners and Korean, Japanese, Italian, and BBQ restaurants.  Its late night menu offers pancakes, burgers, and everything in between.  I’m tired just thinking of all its attributes.

The question is with such a huge menu and varied cuisines, can the kitchen really master any of them?  And moreover, does it have to? The answer to both questions is no.  While some dishes were better than others, nothing was outstanding and nothing was offensive.  So while the “kitchen sink” approach to cuisine seems inherently offensive to me, I can see how a little of everything, even if mediocre, can often times be good enough.  This is especially true when you’re with a group of people who can’t settle on one type of cuisine or when you “need” that late-night, post-drinking grub.  I also imagine the Hamilton will be a favorite among restaurant industry folks who need to unwind after working a long shift.

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