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Green bounty at Blue Hill

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Green bounty at Blue Hill

squid-kun | May 2, 2004 07:09 PM

Saturday was reopening day at Blue Hill, which had been closed since April 11 so the management and staff could ready their new place up near Tarrytown. My wife and I had a splendid dinner, full of fresh spring flavors. Evidently they hadn't forgotten how to cook during the hiatus.

But they may have forgotten how to manage the front of the house. We had a 9:30 reservation; we weren't seated till 10:30. In between we got free drinks, a nicely fried asparagus stalk with bacon and sesame, and earnest apologies. Still, we had to hang around the bar for an hour. That was the bad news.

The good news was on the menu, where spring has finally sprung. Some popular holdovers such as the poached duck remain, but most of the dishes are new for the season. The spotlight is on lettuces and other greens, asparagus, ramps, rapini and other spring produce.

(Actually we'd gone in leaning toward the tasting menu, which came recommended by hounds, but didn't feel like lamb, which was Saturday's tasting menu entrée. Other courses, likely to turn up again in coming days, were asparagus ravioli with herring caviar; pasta with Maine shrimp, clams, squid and rapini; rhubarb soup with fromage blanc sorbet and mint ice cream; chocolate bread pudding with pine nut caramel and vanilla ice cream.)

Two standout dishes showed off the bright tastes and colors of the season. Ravioli with spring greens ($10 for four) were filled with a deeply flavorful vegetable puree and topped with braised romaine and green garlic shoots. Unable to tease out individual vegetables, I eventually gave up and just enjoyed the intense flavors (our server said this ever-changing recipe can include chard, watercress, leeks, cauliflower and other ingredients).

Wild striped bass ($26) was roasted and set atop a soupy green pistou with asparagus, baby fave, broccoli tops, parsnip and chives. Basil and other herbal flavors remained in the background; this dish was mainly about the delicious vegetables and the generous portion of beautifully cooked fish.

My wife, taking a different, more exotic route, tried the Maine crab salad ($14) with avocado, mint and coconut milk, topped with a scooplet of lime sorbet and a scattering of grassy amaranth; and poached cod ($25) with asparagus and baby ramps in a citrus sauce. I especially liked the latter, which balanced Meyer lemon sweetness, grapefruit tang and almond richness against mild, deftly cooked cod.

To backtrack, we began with wild striped-bass tartare ($10), one of two raw-fish starters on the menu. There was brininess from mussel juice and a welcome salty accent from herring roe, but the striped-bass flavor was elusive. This reinforces my impression that most seafood crudos don't taste much like seafood. The seasonings vary, but the fish too rarely comes to the fore. (Another example is the red snapper starter at Hearth, a restaurant I like: beautifully presented, tastefully seasoned with lemon, olive oil, red pepper and sage, but the fish flavor is subtle to the vanishing point.)

I'd love to be proved wrong about this. The other raw-fish offering at Blue Hill is Spanish mackerel in a lemon dressing -- one more reason to go back.

Blue Hill Restaurant
75 Washington Place (6th Ave./Macdougal St.)
(212) 539-1776

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