As a brilliant burnt-orange sun sets over the verdant fairways, an uncomfortable silence lingers inside BLT Prime, located just off the Trump National Doral Miami's palatial lobby.
There's a reason for the hush in this staid 300-seater. Staff members have been instructed not to discuss their comically coiffed overlord. But on a recent weeknight, one server cannot resist. "He's a moron," the middle-aged man says with an angry grimace, "and you can see what's happened — a lot of people have canceled their reservations."
Donald Trump has become a national laughingstock since bashing Mexican immigrants while launching his presidential bid in June. Univision declared him persona non grata and refused to air his Miss Universe pageants. Then, early this month, he made dubious comments about a Fox News host's menstrual cycle that set off a GOP firestorm.
The New York and Palm Beach billionaire reportedly paid a fire-sale $150 million in 2012 for the 800-acre Doral property. His visage, oft seen on his reality TV show The Apprentice and in Republican debates, hangs in the lobby alongside ornate gold sconces and glittering chandeliers.
The restaurant opened in March 2014 at the tail-end of the property's $250 million renovation. It's named after Bistro Laurent Tourondel, even though the celebrity chef only licenses his name to the property and has no hand in the menu. Despite the overhaul, the decor maintains the trappings of old money. Heavy, high-backed leather seats encircle lacquered dark-wood tables. Recessed ceilings reflect stark-white walls, while square dark-wood columns help break up the monotony. The best place to sit is in the patio's wicker chairs overlooking the golf course. There's also the circular bar, where at lunchtime you can belly up with sun-scorched golfers for a Scotch and a steak sandwich draped in fontina cheese.
The kitchen here is overseen by Dustin Ward, who previously worked at the Butcher Shop in Wynwood and has cooked in the kitchens of superstars José Andrés and Gordon Ramsay. The food, however, leans away from global modernity.
Some of the brighter spots include an amuse-bouche of chicken liver mousse accompanied by thin toast painted with olive oil. The mousse — which includes heavy cream, duck fat, and brandy tempered with a bit of red-wine vinegar and a sweet cap of port wine gelée — is a welcome, rich start. Unfortunately, a server snatched it from our table before it was gone to make way for a tiresome tuna tartare. The firm cubes of ahi tossed in a soy-lime dressing before being pressed into a cube and served with paper-thin potato crisps were serviceable but not mind-blowing.
The kitchen excels where it should. A thick 22-ounce bone-in rib eye arrives in a cast-iron skillet cooked to a just-bloody-enough medium-rare with a glorious, crunchy char. Some steaks here are dry-aged up to 28 days and come with a price tag to match. Even the humble ten-ounce hanger will set you back $29. Management has also tried to find a middle ground in pitching guests the ultra-tender, ultra-pricey beef often mislabeled Kobe. Rather than admit it's Wagyu or Akaushi or some offshoot of the sacred breed, BLT declares it "American-style Kobe," offered as a $92 rib eye.
You might pine for that succulent, costly meat after trying some dried-out roast chicken. The beautifully crisped skin with preserved lemon is, unfortunately, wrapped around a chalky breast. Thankfully, the fatty thigh offers a juicy respite. Skip the traditional steakhouse sides and opt for the ruffled hen-of-the-woods mushrooms sautéed with butter, shallots, and thyme. The earthy clusters are gorgeously crisped at the edges but maintain a rich, meaty bite that offers the same satisfaction of potatoes and vegetables in each mouthful.
Such simple pleasures are common at great steakhouses. That's why Prime One Twelve remains among the nation's richest and newcomer Quality Meats Miami Beach became a fast favorite. BLT Prime faces a unique challenge, though. Dozens of restaurants are planned for Doral as mega-retail projects get underway.
Can BLT fit into the new landscape? With a little polish on peripheral parts of the menu — and continued emphasis on doing the big things right — the answer is probably yes.