When chef/restaurateur Laurent Tourondel first hit the New York dining scene with the opening of Cello on the Upper East Side, he was an instant hit. His many accolades there, for superior quality seafood and poised and elegant service, earned him three stars in the New York Times as well as Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 1998. Not long after, a new partnership would lead to the creation of the explosively popular BLT restaurants where he was revered for his steaks and modern French-American “bistro style” of food and service, and it was constantly a challenge to secure a reservation at the midtown location where Tourondel first introduced his popover breadbasket.
Popovers have always been a weakness of mine. When Tourondel separated from his partner Jimmy Haber and went off to open his first LT Burger spot in Sag Harbor (where I first tried fried pickles; his were spectacular), I lamented the loss of his popovers. So when the news was out that Tourondel partnered with the TAO Group and was planning to open Arlington Club in the former Payard location on the Upper East Side, I was overjoyed. I felt strongly that this combination would lead to superior fare and an excellent vibe. And as an Upper East Sider, I’ve been thrilled to see the return of great chefs and restaurateurs to the area. We’ve most recently been treated to the return of Cesare Casella with Salumeria Rosi Parmacotto on Madison and 73rd, Payard has re-opened with FP Pâtisserie on Third and 74th and Sirio has opened at The Pierre on Fifth Avenue.
Once I heard Arlington Club was getting ready to open, I gave Tourondel a congratulatory call and asked if the popovers would also be making a comeback. Upon getting the confirmation, I squealed with delight and made a beeline for the Lexington Avenue location. Upon entering the space I was amazed at how well ICrave had transformed it. It’s warm, inviting and vibrant, and you feel cool just being there. My eyes went straight to the upper level to a metal and glass ceiling reminiscent of the grand European train stations, evoking an airy and freeing sensibility. At 6 p.m., the place was already filled with crowds of happy people sipping martinis and perusing the terrifically appetizing menu.
If you’re someone who gets excited just from a menu’s listings, be warned, you’ll probably want to order one of everything off the menu, which has something for every mood and appetite. A creative and signature selection of raw and cooked sushi include original creations such as a tasty crispy Kobe beef and truffle sushi, a spicy tuna Osaka style with Kempi-Sriracha and crispy shallots and a crispy curried peekytoe crab with mango, avocado, mint and curry-lemongrass. A remarkably fresh fluke ceviche from the raw bar section is brightly flavored with yuzukoshō and Thai chili that tingles on the tongue.
The prime 28-day aged steaks come in several premium cuts. I tried the American Wagyu skirt steak—rare of course—which was succulently juicy and full of flavor, and paired my choice with a bevy of irresistible sides like addictive Potatoes Arlington with sea salt, zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta, lemon and herbs, and truffled gnocchi that melted on the palate. Had I not eaten my entire popover and everything else that graced our blessed table I would have probably thrown myself on the Côte de Boeuf for two with bone marrow (another weakness of mine).
There’s no doubt in my mind that I will be going back for that and many other dishes like the Dover sole and lobster salad, both of which caught my eye as I strolled out of the restaurant and joyfully walked home.
—Karine Bakhoum, The Iron Palate. Follow Karine on Twitter at @KBIronPalate.