Blue Hill, Big Thrill.

17 Aug

For the past three years of my life, I’ve been waiting to eat at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  Every year had its own excuse for why I couldn’t get there: once we had to cancel a reservation because my family wanted to watch the Superbowl (come on!); the next year it was not a priority in the family budget, and I didn’t have a driver’s license yet; and the next year…it just didn’t happen.  So when my mom and I visited the Stone Barns Center farmer’s market, we made a pact to go this summer.

Time went by, and I could not get my parents to settle on a date for our dinner at Blue Hill.  I kept checking Open Table and nagging them about waiting too long–up until only sketchy timings remained available.  I remember making a long distance phone call from Spain a month ago just to say “LISTEN MOM AND DAD!  WE ARE GOING TO BLUE HILL BEFORE I LEAVE FOR SCHOOL…YES WE HAVE TO MAKE A 9 PM RESERVATION!…IF WE HAD BOOKED EARLIER…”  Ultimately, citing the pact my mom and I made, I overcame the inertia that had impeded my parents’ ability to make a reservation for the past three years.  They agreed that at 9:00 on August 15th we would go to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for dinner.  Finally.

So, last Sunday, we got in the car and drove up to Pocantico Hills.  Although traffic, rain, and the Tappan Zee Bridge stood between us and our meal, we forged onward.  Although said perilous obstacles delayed us a few minutes, the Blue Hill staff received us warmly when we arrived.

Our table was not yet ready (sigh), but we sat at the bar and enjoyed a few drinks before the host brought us into the main dining room.  The bar area was beautifully decorated like the rest of the restaurant, and I enjoyed listening as the bartender poured out his “mixknowledgy,” beet infused vodka, and craft beers.  After about a half hour at the bar (a bit long if you ask me, to wait for such a late seating), the host brought us to our table and apologized for the wait, assuring us that our drinks were on the house.  While the wait was lengthy, the staff did their best to make up for it.

We started with Blue Hill’s deluge of amuse bouches, enjoying tastes of tomato water gazpacho and fried squash with sesame and pancetta; “corn dogs” (battered and fried baby corn); an array of small vegetables that tasted lightly brined; and tiny, perfect tomato burgers–small toasted buns sandwiching a sort of tomato tapenade.  All of these bursts of flavor were delicious and satisfying.  Seemingly, Blue Hill is the most generous restaurant with regards to amuse I’ve ever been to.

tomato burgers

Our first course, a gazpacho with fig leaf sorbet, was fabulous.  The velvety soup, accented with small diced vegetables, was the perfect balance between sweet, spicy, cool, and luscious.  A perfect addition, the floral, fruity fig leaf sorbet added depth as well as another dimension of temperature to the dish.  Having that gazpacho first was like seeing an amazing band open for someone I’ve never seen live: I was so impressed, yet I wondered how anything could surpass the gazpacho’s greatness.

gazpacho

And yet, at this concert of sorts, the following bands–I mean courses–rocked just as hard.  After the gazpacho, we ate amazing veal bone marrow topped with creamy, briny caviar.

veal bone marrow

Note the presentation: each bone arrived on a wooden board, secured with bolts.  I seriously doubted the plate was merely decorative–if I could ask Dan Barber one question, I would ask, “Is the bone marrow bolted to the platter because you don’t want diners to pick up that delicious bone and just suck out as much remaining marrow as possible?”  My theory makes sense, but if you doubt me, just go to the restaurant and try the bone marrow.  You’ll want to sneak the bone home in your purse just so you can try to extract every last morsel from it in a private setting.  That, I believe, is why the bone is bolted to its plate.

Next, our waitress talked to us about Blue Hill’s sustainable charcoal-making initiative, presenting to us some homemade charcoal produced with natural matter from the farm.  This lesson preceded our onion cooked in charcoal overnight.  The waitstaff brought each of us a piece of onion left to cook down in smoldering charcoal overnight.  Unseasoned and unmodified, the onion was sweet and complex.  With the four condiments–olive tapenade, beet spread, vegetable puree, and blueberries, the onion was beautiful.  Although the blueberries fell a little flat (they were subtly sweet but not juicy or tart enough), the rest of the condiments were fantastic.

onion!

After the onion, our waitress brought us an assortment of fresh nightshade plants to illustrate her educational prelude to our next course.  Explaining that eggplants, tomatoes, and potatoes are all related, she assured us our next course would put this vegetable family in the limelight.

We received mullet over a ragout of the aforementioned vegetables.  The fish was perfectly cooked and had an assertive, delicious flavor.  Over the bright tasting ragout, which was amplified with fresh herbs, the mullet was perfect.  So many times, great restaurants tend toward serving mild white fish and using it as a textural canvas for other flavors.  However, here, I was pleased to taste a fish that is proud to taste fishy (while fresh) paired with gorgeous vegetables.

mullet

Following the fish, we had the most beautiful egg ever.  Snuggling with an assortment of beans in a tangy curry sauce, the egg lay under a topping of breadcrumbs.  The yolk was cooked until just so–it was custardy enough not to melt into the sauce, but it was far from solid.  The beans were creamy and delicious, cooked to perfection.  Any chicken on the farm would be proud to say they had laid that egg.

delicious egg

And now, our last savory course.  I was very glad when I saw a plate celebrating the pig.  A few slices of pink loin and a few pieces of belly were in good company: accompanied by radicchio and sauced with pickled plum puree and mustard, they screamed “eat me!”  The loin, unlike sad, pale loin we get from enemies Hormel and others, had a nice rim of fat along one side.  The belly, a fatty delight, was a thing of beauty.  I am a fat enthusiast, so I enjoyed eating the loin in whole, scoffing at the idea that many cut off its precious fat.  Altogether, the dish was great, and tasting such great pork brightened my view of where our protein world is headed.  With restaurants and farms pushing the real stuff as Blue Hill does, there is hope.

pork

Dessert time!  We probably could have rolled away from the table satisfied at this point, but the desserts were very good.  A modern approach to the sacher torte, with a glazed apricot and blueberry sorbet, was very delicious.  Also, the corn cake with raspberry sorbet and corn ice cream was exciting and tasty.

sacher torte

corn cake and raspberry

Blue Hill’s mignardise was fresh apricots and sugared currants, a welcome step away from the mignardise norm.  While the currants were delicious, I have to admit that the apricots were a bit mealy and dry.  Oh well–normally, ending on a lower note is not so great; however, after eating such a great meal, I was not disheartened.

apricots and currants

I can’t wait to go back to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for (hopefully an earlier) dinner.  Dan Barber and his team do a wonderful job of educating their customers about the farm, its produce, and sustainability.  Furthermore, the fresh ingredients and high level of skill in the kitchen make for a knockout meal.  And in such a beautiful setting, what more could anyone ask for?

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: