Laurent Tourondel Chats about BLT American Brasserie, Chicago, and Checking Out His Competition

The inside is not quite ready.
The inside is not quite ready. Photo: Nick Kindelsperger

Laurent Tourondel is sitting at a table in the massive former Ruhlman Brasserie space in River North. It’s relatively empty right now, but soon it will be transformed into BLT American Brasserie, his first Chicago restaurant. The design, which started off simply, has grown to be slightly more elaborate, but everything still seems to be on schedule (the same can’t be said about the sister restaurant in New York). Though this is his first restaurant here, over the past decade the restaurateur opened an empire of successful BLT restaurants in New York, before running into some serious problems with his business partner. For the most part, that is all over, and Tourondel is ready to go. We sat down with him talk about the concept, the space, and what he thinks about our city.

First off, tell us a little about what we can expect.
We’ll start with the food first. It’s a menu for everyone. The menu is very diverse, so we’ll have some mini pizzas, some sushi, and steaks. You can come eat here three or four times a week and you will eat something different each time.

Will it have the same menu as the New York BLT American Brasserie?
Somehow, yes. But it will be a bit different here, because I want to incorporate some local products. Whatever I can find. Some good meat, of course.

Is the New York outlet still opening first?
It’s delayed, so I don’t know. I think this one will actually be open first.

Do you have a specific date?
We’re thinking about November.

What made you want to come to Chicago?
It’s a destination for me. This is very interesting, because I think Chicago has become such a food destination. It’s on the map.

Should Chicago know anything about you before it opens?
No. Honestly, I’m impressed about what is going on in Chicago more than anything else. It’s a good thing knowing that there are people doing amazing food around me. I’m not trying to have a great restaurant alone, there are also great people around. That’s a good thing for me. I actually went on a tour last night around town.

Oh, where did you go?
I went to Japanois, and I went to Paris Club.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in town?
I’m too new to have a favorite. But tonight I’m going to do two or three more just to see what is going on, and to, you know, check out the competition. But there was some serious food last night. I’m pretty impressed so far.

What attracted you to this location?
I think I like the overall building. We have an amazing patio outside, which has a huge potential. The space is very grandiose, and there is a great private dining space. It’s good to work with an existing space with an amazing kitchen. It’s gigantic!

As far as the space, what do expect to change?
We will transform what we have but not completely change the whole design. We will add a lounge right when you walk in, so there will be carpet, club chairs, low tables. We’ll also change some of the color of the walls. The bar will be redone, and will have higher chairs.

What kind of pizza should we expect?
More Neapolitan style, but it will be creative. So there will be one topped with fennel sausage, onion, cream, scallion, and another one with fingerling potato and fontina cheese, bacon or pancetta, and radicchio. So, it’s not all like the typical tomato and mozzarella, though there will be that, too.

I’m assuming the crust will be thin.
No, not super thin. Of course, I’m not trying to compete with the Chicago pizza pie — not that thick. But somehow a little bit more doughy than the super thin. It will have some dough, because I like the dough.

How about the sushi.
Only maki. You’ll have the spicy tuna roll, and maybe some more creative stuff.

There will probably be three cuts of steak, a fillet, ny strip, ribeye, with different sauces. You’ll be able to pick out sides. Very basic. We’ll have a couple of fish, and there will definitely be a burger.

What kind of beverage program?
We will have some speciality cocktails, probably seven or eight. We’ll have eight draft beers. And then we’ll have a wine program with a worldwide focus. I’m also a big fan of American wines, so the menu will be bigger on that than the rest of the world. This is an American brasserie.

Ah, that is right. It’s in the name.
Yes it is.

Anything else we should know?
Just that I’m very excited to be here, that’s for sure. For me, it’s a great thing to open in Chicago. It’s always a city I liked, and there is some great talent here. I’m very happy to be a part of it.

Laurent Tourondel Chats about BLT American Brasserie, Chicago, and Checking Out