I've been to Blue Hill Stone Barns a couple times and have always had a lovely time. Truth me told though, I've always found the actual dishes a bit conservative. The technique and ingredients have always been stellar but I had never found the actual flavors to be as bold as I would have liked. Until Friday.
We arrived for an early reservation at 6 and had a very fresh cucumber puree and gin based cocktail at the bar. Very fresh and light.
We've always told the servers that we had no restrictions or allergies but this time we took it a step further and mentioned that we like everything; cooked, raw, organ meats, etc. We are very glad we did because the tasting menu that followed was among the best I've ever had.
We started with the signature selection of raw veggies from the farm. This course has always been great no matter what season we go in. We then moved to charcuterie and had the best fennel salami either of us had ever tasted (and my wife has lived in Italy for substantial amounts of time). They seem to be masters of pork at Blue Hill and this intense taste showed off their ability to work with rich and 'meaty' meats.
We then moved to veal bone marrow with American caviar. I love bone marrow but often I like it just for the richness but little more. This marrow was complex and subtle and almost craved the salt of the caviar. It was a combination I had never had (or even thought of) and it really blew us away. There was also a piece of asparagus wrapped in speck and coated in sesame seeds served on a skewer. Crunch from the asparagus followed by the saltiness of the speck followed by yet more crunch and nuttiness from the sesame seeds. Great.
Next we had a raw Bluefish dish with olive oil. Very rich and meaty and probably a good entry level raw fish dish despite bluefish's reputation as a 'fishy' fish. This fish was so fresh that I can't imagine the flavor bothering even those who are skittish about raw seafood.
I may be forgetting the order here but the cooked dish was actually blowfish and was served over peas cooked in butter. I see why buttered peas are popular on so many American tables. It works very well but when you combine peas harvested recently and in season with butter from Ronnybrook farms, the dish reaches a new level. The fish was good as well but less rich than the buttered peas. Vegetarians should make sure that peas are included in their tasting menu as they are one of the best ingredients Blue Hill has to offer in the spring. We did the wine pairing as well and this course was paired with a white Burgundy (Chardonnay) that was buttery on its own and a perfect thing with the dish.
We also had a farm egg with speck again I think. For big breakfast eaters, the salty meat with rich egg is probably familiar, but like the dish above, one taste of the dish with better ingredients really drives home the potential this combination has to amaze.
Next came a dish of beef heart with beets paired with a 2000 Rioja which is one of my favorite wine regions. We commented that the dish tasted like a 4 star version of any great Jewish grandmother's cooking. The heart was salted heavily and was cut into small strips that had the texture of perfect pastrami. The beets hinted of the beets and horseradish many of us had growing up and the dish was among the earthiest entrees I have ever tasted. I love to drink Rioja with earthy flavors like mushroom and liver but this took it to another level completely.
For our last savory course, we had a braised lamb's neck. Change the name of the dish to 'Lamb Short Ribs' and the dish would be flying out of the kitchen at Balthazar and any other French bistro. I had never had lamb neck although I've been seeing it at the farmers market lately. It is rich with perfect marbling like the best bite of lamb shoulder you can conceive of putting in your mouth. This is a reason to tell your server you're open to new cuts of meat. As much as I love the pork loin at Blue Hill, it has never approached anything close to the level of complexity that this dish achieved. It didn't hurt that the wine pairing was a 1996 Nebbiolo with perfectly integrated tannins but the dish on its own would certainly have been the highlight of the meal.
We opted for a cheese course of 2 local cheeses paired with a funky local beer and then moved to the first of 2 desserts. I remember the first was blueberry based but I don't remember the dish specifically. It was almost a palate cleanser (welcome at this point!). The dessert was fresh raspberries with cream. Wonderfully light with a real dairy flavor instead of the sheer sweetness that comes with many berry and cream desserts.
This meal was so special. We expected a beautiful dinner but were blown away not only by the freshness of the ingredients but also the creativity of the dishes. This dinner so clearly illustrated the fact that there are great things that come about when great cooks use all of the foods around them and worry less about conforming to a traditional flavor profile. What a special night.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills, NY 10591