Never before have dining expectations been exceeded as they have for me at Blue Hill @ Stone Barns.
My wife and I took the train from Grand Central to Tarrytown last night...and was picked up by my parents and sister to celebrate my birthday. Getting a table at Blue Hill isn't the simplest feat, and thus my birthday dinner was a month after the actual date. Its true then...what they say about "all good things..."
The train ride out was quick - 45 minutes or so. The ride from the Tarrytown trainstation to BHSB was a nice, quiet, 7 minute drive through some windy turns in a residential area of fine homes.
Driving down Rt. 448, you can see the restaurant/farm some distance off of the road. The entrance is clear and easy to detect but not obtrusive. Understated but noticeable. The drive to the restaurant bisects extensive grazing land for the resident animals. The valet attendants were bundled up in matching down jackets - both of whom were pleasant and welcoming.
The walk, past some gardens and into the courtyard of several buildings (mostly attached) is a great tease. You know, just from this walk, how far removed you are from any dining experience in the city, and also how good you are about to have it.
The entrance to the restaurant is on the right, with a few flickering lanterns on the ground and a sign that says Blue Hill. We walk in and check our coats. In doing so, I look to my left (in the direction of the lounge and beyond that the main dining room) and come face to face with Sen. Hillary Clinton, who is casually pacing the lounge - feeling remarkably comfortable about herself but also anxiously awaiting someone. I'm a bit star struck (it was Oscar night afterall) - she notices, and smiles back, then goes about her business.
We move to the lounge, ordered some drinks. I had a glass of the Schneider Cabernet Franc 'Le Breton', North Fork, New York 2002 and have to say that it wasn't that great. This needs to hold for at least another year. Very grassy. Very immature.
And then we see Ms. Clinton excited at the arrival of Chelsea and three of her girlfriends. They are about to sit in the lounge but are told their table is ready. Ours is soon ready as well, so we make our way into the dining room...a renovated barn with modern but clean and simple appointments including new exposed beams, unobtrusive service counters in the corners, a large central table for waitstaff to place water carafes and utensils and the like as well as a large floral display with colors echoing the farm this time of year. The back wall has a large farm/Westchester scene (regrettably, I only took a quick look at the back of the room - so this is not completely accurate) mural that seemed to go the width of the room.
The ceilings are very tall, which allowed the noise level to be large, but again, unobtrusive. It was loud, but we had no trouble hearing each other. The voices of others seemed to rise to the rafters making it a very acoustically pleasant experience as well.
On to the food. We chose to have 4 courses each, and in doing so, I was able to at least try almost everything they had to offer. I will list all of the food we had as a group and then will describe the items we had. For those that don't know how the menu works, I'll quickly describe it. There are 4 sections of the menu. Tonights were: "Greenhouse", "Seasonal (Mushrooms)", "Handmade Pasta" and "The Pasture". You can order anything at any time. So for example, if you want to order something from the Pasta menu first, then the pasture then the greenhouse and then the seasonal...that's fine. However...the first dish you order will be small. The second bigger. The third bigger still, etc. So here goes.
STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS Artemis Napa 2001
A very nice wine. We got two bottles which worked just fine for our dishes.
Bread and Butter
The bread was in the shape of individual "books" with several "pages". Unique presentation that allowed you to take a page out of the book to eat at a time. The butter was good, but nothing to really wright about. Perhaps I expected more from it?
Chickpea puree with syrian pepper flakes
Served in a shotglass, perfect temperature and a terrific blend of chickpeas and very flavorful pepper. Not your average chile pepper flake.
Maine Crab (with ferona beets, panther soybeans and lime sorbet)
Baby Romaine Lettuce (w/pine nuts, soft/fried egg and warm pancetta vinaigrette)
Parsnip Soup (apples and American caviar)
The maine crab dish was small, but later on I'm glad it was. The panther soybeans, which were to the side of the main dish, had a slight crunch to them, adding a different texture to the very fresh crab, delicate beets underneath and the lime sorbet that crowned the dish. A simple but complex dish that I did question at first...but wished there was more of afterwards.
The Parsnip soup, by two accounts, was fabulous. I unfortunately didn't get a taste.
The salad's big winner was the egg. The egg, most likely laid just hours earlier, was encrusted with panko and lightly fried. It tasted like no other egg, but how god intended eggs to taste like. So fresh, so big and so full of "fresh egg" flavor. I can only imagine what breakfast would be like at BHSB.
Striped bass (w/ organic maitake mushrooms, caramelized cauliflower, almond and caper vinaigrette)
Poached Cod (w/local musrooms, braised leeks, toasted pumpkin seeds and squash sauce)
Dad had the poached cod and wouldn't share. He isn't the sharing type but did share his enjoyment for the dish. I had the striped bass, and make no mistake, the other dishes are all fantastic, but this might have been my favorite of the night. The hen of the woods (maitake) mushrooms were great and blended well with all of the other textures in this dish. A remarkably savory dish. So powerful but not forceful. Great depth in this dish and truly recommended for everyone. An incredible dish.
Chicken Soup (w/rosemary dumplings, garden vegetables, fregola)
Cavatelli (w/guanciale, broccoli puree and italian parsley)
Braised chicken leg (with chestnut pasta and mushroom consomme)
Both the chicken soup and cavatelli were a bit salty, and this coming from my wife who loves salt. I have to agree. The chicken soup, which our waitress informed us has been written up about quite often (yet I haven't seen a word on it yet) was very salty. It almost seemed to keep reminding you of the salt content even afterwards. It almost tasted like it had a gelatin in it, because I felt like I had a salty "soup moustache" on my upper lip. Of course I didn't, but it really lingered on your mouth. Not necessarily in a bad way, just an odd way. My wife, who was not feeling well during the train ride out, was, mysteriously, feeling much better after she had this. No joke. The chicken meat in the dish was also quite tender, but perhaps awkward. It needed cutting (just a bit too big) and using a knife in soup seemed too strange...so we managed with our spoons.
The braised chicken leg looked wonderful. I wish I got to try this. The chestnut pasta apparently stole the show from this course.
Grass Fed Beef (with farro with roasted carnival and kabocha squash)
Cured Bacon and Roasted Berkshire Pig (with red ace beets, braised red cabbage and cotechino)
Baby Lamb (braised and roasted, amaranth crust and brussel sprout leaves, horseradish broth)
Crescent Duck (w/beet greens and sticks, stew of napoli carrots with toasted spices, fromage blanc spaetzle
I had to get the beef after our waitress' description. Apparently, BHSB rarely offers beef. Apparently a farm upstate grass fed some beef specifically for the use of Blue Hill and her guests. Yes. It was delicious. Cooked medium rare (closer to rare), it was incredibly tender, with a wonderful red similar to tuna sashimi and perfectly cooked. The farro added a great taste and texture as did the squash. An attractive dish in both visual display taste.
Pork, as it has been mentioned before, is not my favorite dish, unless it is in the form of Bacon. So I got chance to try both as well as some cured sausage. This was very good. Much better pork than what was offered at Lupa (see recent review on Manhattan board). But perhaps not enough for me to embrace pork the way others have. The bacon, which was served thick lardon style was nice and crunchy but also chewy.
The lamb came two ways and was also very tender and delicious. The amararynth crust was a nice compliment to the horseradish broth. I would have liked to have tried more of this.
The duck, I think, might have been the best dish of these four. I was in no mood for duck tonight for some reason. Which, when I think about it, is a silly approach for this restaurant. But in the end, I tried my wife's and can only say that it was the best duck I've had to date. It was breast meat cooked to perfection with such a rich, velvety flavor and texture. The spaetzle, served in a mini cast iron skillet on the side, was also a winner and made perfect sense as an accompaniment. Every dish of the night offered great balances of textures, this was no exception. The stew underneath added flavor but brought out the best in the duck as well. Yum.
Roasted Jerusalem Artichokes
I'd never ordered these before and felt that the time to do so was now. Excellent starch, served warm (not hot) in a mini, oval cast iron skillet and roasted with butter(?) and I believe parsley. Very flavorful - allowing the vegetable to speak on its own behalf.
Unsure, but on the house. Very nice finishing touch
Chocolate covered sesame seeds. Crunchy, milk chocalatey and delish.
Service was very good but not great. Our waitress was very good. She knew her dishes, was accomodating, explained the menu well and was overall a pleasant host.
The table service however, was quite sloppy. Spoons were given to the wrong people, plates never reached the table at the same time (although they tried to...just never got it right), we were sat a good half hour late and thus needed to skip dessert in order to get the train back to the city - but we were stuffed, so that's okay this time :)
The coat check girls were less than pleased to be doing their job and even put my sister's jacket downstairs (no room left upstairs)...which by the frigid temperature of her jacket on leaving, seemed to be the equivalent of being put outdoors. That is unforgiveable and I regret tipping her.
But alas, having dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns is not just having dinner. It is a full on experience that will, in my case, never be forgotten - sort of like the first time you fly first class. I cannot wait to return in the spring, for a new experience...or maybe I'll just have to head up on a Saturday for one of their classes...to give me a fix until then. I can't imagine anyone having an experience other than the one I've described. It really is a great place and reaches, if not exceeds anything I've been to in the city (or anywhere for that matter). I will accept 90% in service if it means getting 110% in food. That's the case here. Thanks, MM