Ensconced in a capacious booth, gazing around the high-ceilinged space with its open kitchen as wide as the tractor-trailers traversing Route 4 just outside, I’m wrapping up a third visit to LT Bar and Grill in Hackensack for our first restaurant review in (gasp) a year. What’s strange is how normal it feels. Yes, clear plastic partitions separate tables, and the staff all wear masks (identical black—very chic). But entering the second year of the pandemic, that feels normal, too.
Over the last year in New Jersey, scores of restaurants have closed, permanently or temporarily, for every one that has opened. Among the openings, Laurent Tourondel’s LT Bar and Grill may be the most ambitious. The internationally successful French chef, with 14 restaurants, including two in Manhattan, has created an appealing hybrid, with salads, seafood and sushi riding on a steak-house chassis.
The plate-glass facade lets in a lot of light, even if the view is only of a parking lot. At full capacity, which we won’t see anytime soon, there are 150 seats, mostly in booths, but also in a row facing the open kitchen, where you get the best look at the crew of about 10, quietly prepping and plating meals.
Soon after sitting down, you will be presented with warm popovers that, when torn open, emit a toasty waft of welcome. In an interview after my visits, Tourondel said he first encountered popovers 20 years ago at the Neiman-Marcus café in New York and was instantly smitten. Here, he tops his with an assertive mix of crumbled Gruyère and Emmenthal cheeses and cracked pepper. You will want to smite a few yourself, and the personable, attentive servers will bring you more.
If a chef takes salads seriously, it’s a good bet he or she takes everything seriously. By that measure, Tourondel and his onsite chefs, Julio Rodriguez and Andrew Bazzini, get off to a good start. A black kale and shaved broccoli salad possibly sounds like homework. But with its suave Caesar dressing, crispy shallots, V-shaped English cuke slices (seeds removed), and accents of red leaf lettuce and airy tuiles, this one was a rumpus, and big enough to share.
Equally good was the grilled octopus starter crowned with a thatch of frisée over a tasty fingerling-potato salad, smoky paprika aioli on the side. The crab cake rode in on a delicious tangled slaw of kohlrabi, daikon and celery root. The crab cake was essentially all crab meat, and very fresh. For $16 and barely cupcake sized, it didn’t seem to justify the word jumbo in the menu description. When I raised this point with the server, she listened patiently, then said, “You could always order two.” (Two are $26, a discount.)
Any place that calls itself a bar and grill had better back that up with a decent burger. LT goes beyond decent to thick, juicy and desirable, as it should for $22 (with peppercorns, caramelized onions, mushrooms, raclette cheese and excellent shoestring fries). The bun compresses nicely, which reminds me of a line from the 1934 W.C. Fields movie It’s a Gift. Fields plays a grocer. When a woman comes in and asks him, “What have you got in the way of meats?” he drawls, “Why, nothing. You can get right to them.”
The burger is in the From the Grill section at the top of the compact, one-page menu. The headliners there include Wagyu steaks ($63–$127), a six-item mixed grill for $42, as well as classic filet mignon, New York strip and bone-in rib eye ($49–$57). We had the $34 charred beef short rib, served on the bone. It may not have the status of a steak, but for intense beefiness, appealingly moist and tender (and topped with a tasty black-garlic and horseradish sauce), this is hard to beat. Like all the cuts, the short rib comes with a choice of six sauces. We had the 7 Peppercorn-Armagnac, complex and balanced.
Attention to flavor-enhancing detail extends to seafood. A fillet of Asian black cod, substantial and glistening, with charred edges in a sprightly yuzu shiitake sauce, arrives with an engaging napa kimchi and a soothing celery purée.
Crab cake aside, portions are generous and well appointed. Choose from nine sides that range from hen of the woods mushrooms to truffled mac and cheese. We had the spinach—creamy and tangy with fontina, accented with nutmeg and, unlike many others, not overcooked.
Desserts are as familiar as the Stars and Stripes, but they’re run up the flagpole with panache and aren’t skimpy. The signature Celebration ice cream cake, which feeds two to six people ($24), is a tidy cylinder flambéed tableside. The best thing about it is the chocolatey crumble that separates the layers, creating a vein of intrigue, like a tap dance in a hushed room.Click here to leave a comment
- Cuisine Type:New American
- Price Range:Expensive
- Price Details:Appetizers, $16–$26; sushi, $9–$18; sides, $10–$12; entrées, $22–$127; desserts, $8–$24
- Ambience:Relaxed, spacious, comfortable, modern
- Service:Personable and attentive
- Wine list:Cocktails crafted with house-made syrups; five draft beers (two from Ghost Hawk in Clifton); wine and sake by the glass, lengthy bottled-wine list available