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Think Local

BY Lesa Griffith | February 21, 2017 | Feature Features

Chef Johan Svensson raids the island pantry for one of Honolulu's most recent farm-to-table incarnations, BLT Market.
The crackling pork shank for two appeals to heartier appetites.

The oughts saw a steady stream of prestigious restaurant-group chains arrive in Hawai‘i. Among powerhouses like Nobu Matsuhisa and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Laurent Tourondel arrived in 2009 in collaboration with partner ESquared Hospitality. The pair eventually parted ways on their BLT—short for Bistro Laurent Tourondel—enterprise, followed by a 2012 agreement allowing ESquared to license those crucial initials. And it retained ownership of the BLT Steak holding a dimly lit and sumptuous court in a corner of the Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk. And it has thrived ever since, thanks to a winning steakhouse-gone-chic formula, and chef Johan Svensson kept things lively with the blackboard specials.

Things must have been going so well there that ESquared resurrected its BLT Market concept (the original debuted in The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park, but closed its doors back in 2012) for the recently opened The Ritz-Carlton Residences, Waikiki Beach. As the property’s primary eatery, it offers breakfast, lunch and dinner.

In a smart move, ESquared has installed Svensson at BLT Market, where the blond wood room —a tasteful mashup of Japanese, Scandinavian and midcentury-modern influences—better matches his Swedish roots. Take note that the glorified hallway does overlook the building’s pool, so at 7:30pm, dinner may very well be punctuated by splashes and shrieks of joy coming from below. But the handiwork of Guerin Glass Architects—the firm that also designed BLT Steak—provides sufficient distraction with its splendid decor. I’d say, in fact, that the indoor-outdoor restaurant is one of the sleekest spaces in town, with a gleaming green-and-gray tiled floor that evokes 1960s Italy, and a cluster of illuminated globes that are as enchanting as an art installation. The architectural lines are a visual lead-in to a menu of clean, crisp dishes. In keeping with the high-end resto trend, the emphasis here is on farm-to-table dishes.

As I sat down to dine at BLT Market, I ended up remembering an octopus special Svensson made at BLT Steak—it was outrageously tender and accented with pesto and chorizo oil. Happily his uberdelicate tako is on the BLT Market menu, braised for an hour and a half, cooled in its liquid, then charred and served amid an octopus’ garden of Kahuku corn kernels, corn sponge (kernels are freeze-dried, pulverized, then nuked), corn puree, gremolata and a few leaves of purple spinach from Mari’s Garden in Mililani. (Svensson is regretful that the octopus is from Spain, but says: “Everything else on the plate is local.”)

Photography Courtesy Of: