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Blue Hill at Stone Barns


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I will do a more detailed write-up later

Et voila...

(pictures can be seen HERE)

I recently found myself in Pocantico Hills, NY. Not in the this-is-where-I-happen-to-be-on-planet-earth-right-now sort of way. Rather, I found myself in the sense that I was reminded what it is that makes food such a passion for me. More than just a restaurant, and more than just a farm, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a place that nourishes both body and soul as it shows you if not what the link between farm and table should be, at least what it can be.

When I first I took the short train ride up from the city last spring, I was there for the restaurant. I was there for food. But a walk around the grounds before dinner left me with a feeling I could not easily pin down. Something about the place just clicked for me on a fundamental level. Maybe it was the fresh, quiet air or the pink-and-purple paint in the sky as the sun set. Maybe I had eased right in to the slow pace of the ducks and cows I saw roaming the grounds. Or maybe, always my mother’s son, my green thumb was just coming out amidst this beautiful agricultural backdrop.

That first dinner was great, but I knew I would have to return for more, literally. My trip back would be about more than just food, and I would make that trip with, or more accurately for, my mom. Far too modest to admit it, she is a veritable encyclopedia of gardening. She’s also always quick to point out when what I think is new is actually just old again. The exchanges go like this: I come home, the prodigal son-gourmand, having squandered all my money in far-away lands. I tell her about the latest trendy, “cheffy” ingredients I’ve seen popping up on menus. She nods as she considers this thoughtfully. Then she smiles and informs me that she is growing those very things in our back yard and has been doing so since long before I was born. And didn’t I realize that? Needless to say, even before she saw the pictures from my first trip or an episode of Oprah that featured Stone Barns, it was clear that this particular farm-restaurant duo was the ideal place for this particular mother-son duo to celebrate her birthday this year.

We pulled up to Stone Barns around 10:30am. We were eight hours early for dinner. The Insider’s Tour — a backstage pass to the farm and restaurant led by the very capable Ellen Baum — would start at 11, but first we had breakfast from the Blue Hill Café. Pain au chocolat for the lady; a cheddar-and-chive scone and cherry focaccia for me. My kind of energy snacks before a guided hike around the farm. I can’t condense this incredibly cool, several-hour experience into one line, but I can tell you a bit about what we saw. I can also tell you how very highly I would recommend it to others. We saw animals — sheep, turkeys, chickens, pigs, and cows — making their happy homes in the pastures and barns. We saw fields and gardens and green houses with plants and flowers too numerous to name. In short we saw what makes this nearly self-sustaining, almost utopian place tick.

Lunch would also come from the café and would be eaten, fittingly, on the same ground from which it was harvested. The mid-day menu had heirloom tomatoes layered with local goat cheese on focaccia, chilled corn soup, and several other tempting items I would have happily ordered had dinner not been a few short hours away. Instead we got a few things — okay, everything — on their pay-by-weight buffet. Roasted beets lent their crimson hue to a tangy local goat cheese spiked with fresh dill. Blanched shell beans were tossed with shallots, scallions and a pistachio vinaigrette. Farro came dressed with a fruity olive oil and corn so fresh it was milky. And how could I forget the roasted carrot and potato salad, or the egg salad that came to us courtesy of the chickens we had just seen clucking around the coop? A single chocolate chip cookie and a cold glass of Ronnybrook milk put a cap on this simple but satisfying lunch. We spent a while longer there on the farm, sometimes exploring, sometimes doing nothing at all, but all the time realizing what a great day it had been and what a great evening it would be.

Later we stepped back into the restaurant, now dressed in our Sunday best. The hostess led us into the beautiful dining room we had seen empty that very morning, now full of smiling faces. We got a glass of Lieb Family Cellars Blanc de Blancs from Long Island to kick things off with some celebratory bubbles. Choosing what to eat was easy since during the summer about 80% of what the restaurant uses comes directly from the farm, eliminating the need for a traditional menu of composed dishes. Instead, you see a list of the incredible bounty of ingredients that chef Dan Barber and his crew have gathered on that particular day. Then you simply choose the number of course you want, sit back and enjoy. But while I love such surprises, my mom sometimes does not. Which is a roundabout way of saying that she’s not such a fan of some of the strange things I eat. Imagine our delight when the staff listened so closely to each of our likes and dislikes that it would turn out to be as if the kitchen was cooking a meal customized just for us.

Not listed as part of the eight-course Farmer’s Feast ($125) were a slew of amuses-bouche that would soon flood our table. At times, the staff could scarcely find room to put the plates down — a very good problem to have — so we just had to keep eating. Such is life. The first few bites included a melon slushie with coppa; and small tomatoes and yellow squash skewered on a wiry “fence”. and Any drink goes down smoother with a pork chaser, I think, so the melon slush was a nice start. And the tomatoes and squash were the first of many fruits and vegetables we would have that night that had scarcely been manipulated by the kitchen. Clearly, they had confidence in the natural flavors that were coming out of the ground there.

Next we had little melon and watermelon balls dusted with black pepper. some warm bread and butter, a crusty, country-style sourdough and a puck of soft, unsalted, respectively. Apparently Blue Hill’s resident charcutier Adam Kaye had been MIA for a little while, but they still scrounged up a nice selection of cured and smoked Berkshire pig for us, much to my delight. We had saucisson sec, mortadella, lonza, and a cute little block of heart and liver terrine sandwiched between chocolate wafers. All were quite good but the terrine was especially memorable for its strong, unadulterated liver flavor. When I gave this description to my mom, she noted that she was not suffering from an iron deficiency on that particular evening and she politely pushed hers my way. The tomato “burger”, though, was far too good for my mom to sacrifice. In fact, that tiny sweet bun holding a mound of tomato confit made her smile so big I was worried she might trick me — “Hey, look over there! A relatively obscure chef nobody in the room besides you would recognize!” – and steal mine as well.

A skewer of eggplant wrapped with pancetta, rolled in sesame seeds, and fried was proof that even in fancy restaurants, there’s something satisfying about food on a stick. The inside was warm and creamy while the meaty exterior provided a bit of crunch. That was followed by “face bacon”, their poetic name for rounds of crispy cured and smoked pig head meat. And the last (but not least) of the fruits of the Fry-o-lator were some potato chips threaded with sage, and deep-fried chard leaves. These all tasted so good that I momentarily considered asking if they could just deep-fry the rest of our dinner.

Sticks of warm flat bread came with salted butter and fresh ricotta (each from the chef’s family’s farm in the Berkshires), and an amazingly smooth eggplant puree. To season any of the above there were tomato and arugula “salts” (dehydrated tomatoes and arugula each ground to a fine powder and mixed with salt). We dabbed at the somewhat bland ricotta, then quickly dispatched the very good butter, only to find we had actually saved the best thing for last. The eggplant puree, especially with a touch of tomato salt, stole the show for me.

Our first actual courses arrived and my mother had the Tomato, watermelon, mozzarella “cloud”, bacon, while I had just a touch of Plate Envy. Her dish had fat wedges of both wonderfully ripe fruits, a warm piece of fresh mozzarella with bits of basil in it, and a cool, thick blob of mozzarella-flavored foam she dubbed the “cloud”. A basil-spiked vinaigrette tied it together and a crown of bacon topped it off. Under normal circumstances, my mom is a generous woman. With this plate in front of her, alas, she did not share.

I don’t mean to imply that my dish — Bluefish with paddlefish caviar, tomato, pig’s ear vinaigrette — left me unsatisfied by comparison. Far from it. A small block of raw fish sat on slice of heirloom tomato so thin it was translucent. The briny paddlefish caviar provided the salt and the vinaigrette gave these fresh and light flavors a bit of depth. Diced bits of pig ear added to an otherwise traditional vinaigrette were responsible for the unctuous, gelatinous texture in my mouth.

A younger guy came by with a large wooden tray full of heirloom tomatoes. More than a dozen kinds, many of which I had never heard of before, save the green zebra, pineapple, and persimmon varieties. My mom’s eyes lit up and I was pretty sure she was thinking the same thing I was — perhaps we should pry the tray out of this guy’s kung fu grip and run for the hills. Oh, wait. These are the tomatoes we’ll be eating in a just a few minutes, you say? Well, in that case…

Pretty soon that tray was replaced with Tomatoes, grilled stone fruit, tomato sorbet, purslane, stracciatella. This seemed a perfectly fair trade to me, since this dish was wonderful. The sweet grilled nectarine and peach segments accented the slight tartness of the tomatoes, and those warm fruits served on top of the cold sorbet made for some really enjoyable temperature contrast. (I’m also pretty sure my mom asked me twice: “Did you taste that sorbet yet? Wow!”) And see, I haven’t even mentioned the creamy strands of torn mozzarella yet. Yeah, I think you could say this was a good dish.

You could also say the next one — Celtuse with yogurt, pine nut butter, yogurt foam — was the standout course of the meal. Who would’ve thought I would be so enthusiastic about a variety of lettuce, especially one that exhibits characteristics of that other oft-maligned vegetable, celery? The knobby root of the vegetable was served raw, simply shaved into ribbons that had a refreshing, almost watery crunch reminiscent of celery. The leaves, meanwhile, were wilted and served warm on a slate tile smeared with a thick, Greek-style yogurt and a salted pine nut butter. Each component on the plate sang a nice tune of its own, but the combination of them all was symphonic.

Next my mom had the Corn ravioli with tomato and basil sauce. She didn’t say a word for the next several minutes — the woman was focused — but “summertime on a plate” was how she eventually summarized it. I quietly wondered if autumn were already on its way, as she had used a piece of bread to dispose of every last morsel of whatever season had been set in front of her.

Meanwhile, I had a glass of riesling (Weingut Günther Steinmetz 1994 Mülheimer Sonnenlay Spätlese) that proved an exceptional match for the Hudson Valley foie gras, roasted peach. This was a simple ode to the Moulard duck, a species whose highest calling is achieved in a few ounces of its buttery liver. The warm chunk of roasted peach here was sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. The wine, fruit, and foie made for a very happy combination.

The next edible show-and-tell brought eight different types of heirloom beans, one of which my mom immediately identified as Cherokee Trail of Tears beans (she’s grown them before, of course) and all of which came with enthusiastic explanations. Enthusiasm about beans — these guys clearly like working here, I thought to myself. As a diner, you definitely feel that. And I, for one, really appreciate it. In any case, the dish that featured those beans — Soft-cooked Blue Hill farm egg with heirloom beans, chorizo broth — was quite good. The runny yolk added viscosity to the thin but flavorful broth. And the beans, cooked until tender but not mushy, were delicious.

A very close contender for the savory highlight of the meal was the Blue Hill Berkshire pork chop, belly and boudin blanc, eggplant puree. The Berkshire breed is, simply put, a pig that is raised to taste like a pig. It bears practically no resemblance to the plastic-wrapped “other white meat” at the local grocery. This pork chop was cooked to a rosy pink on the inside and it was certainly the most tender and flavorful such cut I’ve ever eaten. The belly had a crispy top layer of skin that gave way to thin layers of meat and fat stacked on one another like playing cards. And the boudin blanc was nothing short of incredible. The texture was almost like custard, and it had an intoxicating mélange of spices I later found out included nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, coriander and white pepper. I wondered who was happier — those pigs feasting outside or the diners feasting inside? I think we were both winning.

My mom’s first stomach (i.e. the non-dessert one) was getting full, but we only had one savory course left: “New World, Old World” cheeses, some classic French cheeses paired up against their artisanal American counterparts. That night’s match-ups were Sainte-Maure vs. Hoja Santa and Brillat-Savarin vs. Andante Dairy Minuet. Unlike the Beijing olympic games, America won both events here. I generally prefer cheese unadorned, but the accompaniments — Blue Hill honey comb and pickled ramps — were tasty even if the stale, lifeless walnut bread was not.

The first dessert was a knockout — Roasted apricot, blackberries, lemon verbena ice cream, elderflower gelee. The apricot in particular almost defied description. It was hot, sweet, soft, and sour all at once. The stewed blackberries were also warm, in contrast to the cool backdrop provided by the ice cream and gelee. This dish was also the first indication that pastry chef Alex Grunert makes a mean batch of ice cream.

Then came the Yogurt mousse, corn ice cream, huckleberries, corn sabayon, corn pâte de fruit. Corn hadn’t popped up in the savory side of the meal for me, so I was happy to see it here. I was starting to see that you don’t simply eat this guy’s ice cream, you luxuriate in it . It is intensely creamy but immensely flavorful at the same time. Here was a cob’s worth of fresh corn flavor condensed into a cold mouthful. The mousse, the huckleberries, and the rest of the accompaniments were all a great supporting cast, but this dish was, to me, ultimately about the ice cream.

My mom is a chocolate fiend, but I had not clued the restaurant into her mania. So I was thrilled to see our waiter emerge from the kitchen with a candle in the Flourless chocolate cake, gooseberries, strawberries, ginger ice cream. She quietly made a birthday wish before blowing out the candle. I made a wish too, hoping the desserts would just keep coming. But alas, this brownie-like cake was to be the last dessert. It was rich and fudgy, and the tart gooseberries and the incredibly sweet little strawberries were delicious. But again, I couldn’t look past the great ice cream. I considered buying Chef Grunert a drink, and perhaps inquiring as to whether or not he has any unmarried daughters my age. But in the end I only asked for another round of corn ice cream, which was happily provided. With corn flakes, no less. I love that guy.

Floating around the room like a mobile garden, we had seen the tisane cart go by a few times, so we couldn’t pass it up. Our waiter snipped little pieces of every single herb — pineapple sage, chocolate mint, opal basil, eucalyptus, and probably twenty others I am forgetting — for us to smell before picking the combination we wanted for the infusion. I went with anise hyssop, fennel pollen, and lemon verbena. And I really enjoyed it, especially with a touch of Stone Barns honey melted in.

My mom had long since reached critical mass, so we asked for the mignardises to be boxed up. In addition to the plums, watermelon marshmallows, and passion fruit chocolate bon bons that were presented on the slate, they packed a few strawberry macarons with chocolate ganache, and they even gave us a jar of their strawberry preserves to take home. (I’m eating them on warm buttered toast as I type. I am happy.)

A cab was now on its way, but in the meantime our wonderful waiter Adam chatted with us in the entryway. We talked of local goat cheese, composting methods, and the ways in which Stone Barns continues to become more and more self-sustaining. He was smiling, we were smiling, and something struck me. An intangible Blue Hill ethos was everywhere here. In the fields, the barns, and the kitchen, in the dining room and ultimately on the plate, you could feel it even if you couldn’t pinpoint it. To source ingredients here, the chef needs only to look out his window. It’s so simple.

Why, then, is this symbiosis of farm and table so rare? I wanted to ask Dan Barber this very question, but he was out of town that night (kudos to chef de cuisine Josh Lawler, by the way, for holding down the fort gracefully in his absence). Was Barber on vacation, you might ask? Nope. He was at Slow Food Nation in San Francisco, of course, doing his part to counter those trends that champion technology over taste. Rebellious in their simplicity, people like Chef Barber and places like Stone Barns help ensure that, with any luck, the movement to lessen the distance between farm and table will continue to not only survive, but flourish.

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A further and more detailed review will follow, but just wanted to note a few things about my visit last night, as some things I experienced differ from most of the postings here.

Most notably, the service last night was really questionable. While we started off fairly well, we only saw our original waitress once or twice again after our initial ordering (we got the Farmer's Feast). We also had a little problem with the plates during the amuses. We certainly didn't mind the logjam created by having three or four plates of amuses placed in front of us in quick succession. However, we were really surprised that they made little effort to clear any of the stuff after it was done for quite a while. As a result, we had a series of empty plates cluttering up the table, and even when new ones arrived, they failed to take away the old ones. Reminded me more of a dim sum outing than an elegant meal.

The majority of the dishes were placed in front of us by runners, who then jetted off after quickly saying what they were (sometimes in heavily accented voices), giving us no opportunity to ask for elaboration or clarification (or even repetition!). The joy and investment in the product that someone described above wasn't anywhere to be found. No one was rude to us by any stretch of the imagination, we were just left feeling slightly cold overall. Then there was the gap between courses. While most proceeded at a comfortable pace, there were two gaps in the middle of the meal that were really unacceptable. At one point, we went almost 30 minutes while waiting for the next thing to arrive, even though the wine pairing for that course had been sitting there since right after the previous plate was collected. Not only did this happen twice, but we didn't see any sign of a wait person in those gaps, and there was no effort to apologize for the delays. Weird. I'm also pretty sure we were shorted at least one of our wine pairings, as both we and the staff were clearly confused during some of the gaps.

The food itself was mostly excellent, though I think a few dishes would have been better off if they hadn't adhered so closely to the localvore manifesto. Both the raw bluefish (described above) and a subsequent cobia dish would have benefited from a more appropriate fish choice, based on the flavors that accompanied them. Bluefish is a tough one to make really sing, and while the dish was somewhat pleasant and the tomato at its base was perfect, it certainly didn't stand up to the best stuff BHSB has to offer. The cobia was just slightly tired/fishy tasting.

But on to the good. Anything involving their tomatoes was really spectacular. From the simple tomato amuses at the start to the mini tomato sandwiches, to a great salad that featured them, to a tomato sauce on simple, perfectly prepared al dente pasta, these flavorful beauties were really memorable. A dish featuring many types of pork cuts was interesting and varied, if a bit less luxurious sounding than some of the meat courses I've seen described in this thread. And a deep fried egg dish was really wonderful.

Desserts were very pleasant, though not life-changing, but at this point we were quite full (and a bit tipsy). The tisanes we ordered were aromatic, unusual and really restorative. While I'm very glad we got to try them, and they certainly express the ethos of the restaurant very well, I was surprised at how expensive they were. $15 for one serving of herbal tea is pretty steep, even in Tokyo. In upstate New York, it's unheard of. We also didn't receive any of the mignardises mentioned above, nor were there any "parting gifts", although this may have been related to the fact that our cab was supposedly on its way shortly, and we didn't want to miss our train. More about that below.

Then there was the matter of getting out of there. We had taken the train from NYC so that we could imbibe without worry. When we asked to have a cab called, they quickly obliged us, and said one would be waiting for us in about 10 minutes. This seemed fine, since our train wasn't to leave for another 35 minutes. When paid the check, we went outside. No cab. We waited 20 minutes. Still no cab. We went inside, and were told that it was supposed to be on its way. 20 minutes later still no cab. At this point, we had missed our train and there was only one more still to come that night. Multiple calls to multiple cabs were placed, and still none came. Finally, we (and another couple that had been stood up by their cab, too!) were lucky enough to get a lift with one of the waiters who had just gotten off for the night.

Overall, the tone of this posting is far more negative than our actual experience, which was a first rate meal in many ways. Still, the lapses really made us wonder whether it would be worth the effort to head out there again, as food and service of equal and better levels can be had in Manhattan. Part of me really wants to give them a chance to right the things they fell down on, though.

Edited by LPShanet (log)
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Most notably, the service last night was really questionable.  While we started off fairly well, we only saw our original waitress once or twice again after our initial ordering (we got the Farmer's Feast).

The majority of the dishes were placed in front of us by runners, who then jetted off after quickly saying what they were (sometimes in heavily accented voices), giving us no opportunity to ask for elaboration or clarification (or even repetition!).  The joy and investment in the product that someone described above wasn't anywhere to be found.  No one was rude to us by any stretch of the imagi  I'm also pretty sure we were shorted at least one of our wine pairings, as both we and the staff were clearly confused during some of the gaps. 

We had similar issues with the wait staff and wine service.

Not enough to affect the meal significantly but still noticeable.

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The joy and investment in the product that someone described above wasn't anywhere to be found.

Not that I need agrarian Socialism crammed down my throat during an otherwise pleasant meal, but I do think that the staff at BH@SB achieved and maintained a nice balance between preaching and boasting about their products and produce on my visit. That "joy and investment" was the highlight of my experience. I'm sorry that pride didn't come through to you.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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The joy and investment in the product that someone described above wasn't anywhere to be found.

Not that I need agrarian Socialism crammed down my throat during an otherwise pleasant meal, but I do think that the staff at BH@SB achieved and maintained a nice balance between preaching and boasting about their products and produce on my visit. That "joy and investment" was the highlight of my experience. I'm sorry that pride didn't come through to you.

Me, too, as I was certainly expecting it, and often get much more of that sense from various places in the city that deserve it less.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Had dinner at Stone Barns last Thursday and had the 5 course tasting. I had been two years ago.

Again, what is so striking about the place is it's bucolic beauty and the ability to walk around the grounds. It smells so good.

As for dinner, I agree with LP Shanet. The service was haphazard and impersonal (as opposed to the relaxed, attentive service at Per Se last week). I did not know who was our waiter. The sommelier never showed up until the amuse had started. Then the wine came 15 minutes later. A very nice Alsatian rieseling.

The courses came out oh so slowly. They were put down without explanation. I found the fact that there was no menu pretentious. Even Chez Panisse, who offers only a set menu in the dining room, has one.

We had all of the amuse mentioned without the pig liver and face bacon.

Then a mixed salad with beets and a milky dressing. This was followed by the sweetest scallops, medium rare, in 'clam chowder'.

Then potato agnolotti with assorted mushrooms.

The main course was a loin of pork with a single slice of boudin and braised farro.

The pork was tasteless and marred the meal. I was so looking forward to a taste of pig and perhaps some crackling. Not to be. It was the 'other white meat'.

Desert was a chocolate brioche pudding with a blueberry compote and coffee ice cream. Then came a 'gift' of raspberries covered by a tasteless, white chocolate foam. Mignardises were grapes! Fucking grapes! It was also marred by the woman next to me on the banquette having loud orgasms with each course.

The dinner was good, very good. The stand outs were the scallops and the bread pudding. I think that it's a nice place to take out of towners. It's just so precious. note; the bar area is lovely and one can have a bar or regular menu.

And there you have it.

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I had an outstanding meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns last night, possibly the best meal I've had in the New York area. My dining companion and I both had the Farmer's Feast, but it's truly inspiring to see how different our dishes were compared to tupac's meal from just a few weeks earlier.

I thought the service was exemplary: relaxed, elegant, but passionate and knowledgeable about the food. We let our main server Stephen know that we were willing to try anything, and perhaps that started us off on the right foot. I have to admit that even by our usual nosy standards, we were asking a lot of questions on just about every course concerning ingredients and preparation, but they were all answered graciously and thoroughly.

The sommelier was also excellent: we had the full wine pairing, which at 65 dollars is quite a deal: generally I'd expect pairings to be more like 2/3 of the food cost, while this was a bout half. We ended up with seven pairings, and the pours were quite generous. I thought as a general rule that the wines were not that remarkable on their own, but that the pairings were dead on.

As others have mentioned, the battery of amuses is a little overwhelming, but in a good way. Our first course was a variation of the raw bluefish/pig's ear/caviar dish, but now that tomato season has left us, it was paired with thin slices of seckel pair: an unexpectedly harmonious combination. Since we had mentioned we were adventurous eaters, I think Chef Barber took some pleasure in working offal into our menu: there was an amazing preparation of beef hearts, served perfectly rare, as well as a seriously rich lamb duo featuring brains and loin.

The desserts were good, but not quite as well balanced as the savories (in general, I found them overly tart). My favorite was a concord grape sorbet set on an elderflower gelee. We received both fruit and mignardises at the end.

All in all, highly recommended.

---

al wang

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The majority of the dishes were placed in front of us by runners, who then jetted off after quickly saying what they were (sometimes in heavily accented voices), giving us no opportunity to ask for elaboration or clarification (or even repetition!). 

oh noes, not accented voices!!! :unsure:

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The majority of the dishes were placed in front of us by runners, who then jetted off after quickly saying what they were (sometimes in heavily accented voices), giving us no opportunity to ask for elaboration or clarification (or even repetition!).  

oh noes, not accented voices!!! :unsure:

This is a problem mostly evident in NYC and it is a symptom of a much larger labor--and ultimately wealth distribution problem. In any case its nothing to be disregarded off-hand because it triggers our political correctness reflexes.

An important component of food running is describing the dish and being able to answer any questions about it, or failing that at least understand the questions well enough to be able to redirect them to the server, sommelier or manager. Putting an unprepared runner on the floor unsupervised is like putting a novice cook on saute and letting him learn from mistakes at the customers cost. Its a failure.

That is in no way discriminatory. Most people willing to supply a minimal effort can learn to pronounce words as they are intended in their language of origin. Cooks do this as a matter of course. If runners are pronouncing words incorrectly, it is because either they have failed to put the proper effort into learning, or their managers have put insufficient effort into teaching.

If I am paying ~$30 for a plate, I like to have the components explained to me clearly. It adds to my enjoyment of the food, and at that price point I need to be able to identify added value.

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The majority of the dishes were placed in front of us by runners, who then jetted off after quickly saying what they were (sometimes in heavily accented voices), giving us no opportunity to ask for elaboration or clarification (or even repetition!).

This is very surprising to me. On my two trips to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I was amazed by the high level of service. On both occasions the plates were put down by the runners in perfect unison and they were watched over by our waiter who explained the dishes. The waiter was also always close by throughout the course of the meal.

On the second dinner, the waiter would often come over before a course was served with a tray of one of its ingredients, such as heirloom soy beans, talk about the ingredient, pass it around, and explain its role in the upcoming dish.

Mike

The Dairy Show

Special Edition 3-In The Kitchen at Momofuku Milk Bar

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The majority of the dishes were placed in front of us by runners, who then jetted off after quickly saying what they were (sometimes in heavily accented voices), giving us no opportunity to ask for elaboration or clarification (or even repetition!).

This is very surprising to me. On my two trips to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, I was amazed by the high level of service. On both occasions the plates were put down by the runners in perfect unison and they were watched over by our waiter who explained the dishes. The waiter was also always close by throughout the course of the meal.

On the second dinner, the waiter would often come over before a course was served with a tray of one of its ingredients, such as heirloom soy beans, talk about the ingredient, pass it around, and explain its role in the upcoming dish.

Wow, sounds like a whole different restaurant. Seriously, though, based on writeups of recent visits here, it sounds like there are two totally different ways the meal seems to go down, depending maybe on how crowded it is, and how they are staffed that day.

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The majority of the dishes were placed in front of us by runners, who then jetted off after quickly saying what they were (sometimes in heavily accented voices), giving us no opportunity to ask for elaboration or clarification (or even repetition!).  

oh noes, not accented voices!!! :unsure:

This is a problem mostly evident in NYC and it is a symptom of a much larger labor--and ultimately wealth distribution problem. In any case its nothing to be disregarded off-hand because it triggers our political correctness reflexes.

An important component of food running is describing the dish and being able to answer any questions about it, or failing that at least understand the questions well enough to be able to redirect them to the server, sommelier or manager. Putting an unprepared runner on the floor unsupervised is like putting a novice cook on saute and letting him learn from mistakes at the customers cost. Its a failure.

That is in no way discriminatory. Most people willing to supply a minimal effort can learn to pronounce words as they are intended in their language of origin. Cooks do this as a matter of course. If runners are pronouncing words incorrectly, it is because either they have failed to put the proper effort into learning, or their managers have put insufficient effort into teaching.

If I am paying ~$30 for a plate, I like to have the components explained to me clearly. It adds to my enjoyment of the food, and at that price point I need to be able to identify added value.

I had the same experience. Part of the problem is that I had a busboy put the plates down and mumbled something indistinguishable in heavily accented English. The waiter was behind him, like a father coaching a son without correction. Had there been a printed menu, none of this would have been a problem.

It's not a 'foreigner' nor racist issue. It's just that service was poor and compounded by the conceit of no menu.

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  • 6 months later...

Went back to BH@SB for lunch on Sunday and still really like the place. With that said, I wasn't as wowed by what was on the plate this time around. I think there are a couple reasons for this.

Firstly, while May is prime for springy ingredients, the variety simply cannot match what's available in late-August and September. Even with fewer courses at this lunch, there was far more repetition of ingredients.

Secondly, the restaurant felt "stretched" on this visit. Another eG member visited on the same day, for dinner not lunch, and we independently arrived at the same conclusion. In my case, the servers handled most everything professionally--with the exception of a rather lengthy wait for a coffee refill, even after a second request--but seemed quite harried. I attribute this to the fact that they really slam the kitchen with the first 11:30 lunch seating and that there were many VIPs in house because of the Beards. We got what I would call the standard-plus treatment--an extra "premium" course, a little more attention--but this was nothing compared to what a couple tables around us were receiving. It was actually amusing to see a a few members of EMP's staff at the table next to mine. They were shown quite a good time.

Anyway, the place remains incredibly pretty.

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New to me were the animals they have temporarily pasturing out on the hill right next to the parking lot.

Lambs (or are they sheep?)

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Babies

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Unfortunately, we did not have the chance to eat these or their parents.

Amuse round 1

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Asparagus soup, beef salami

Amuse round 2

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Beet burger, asparagus wrapped in pancetta dipped in toasted sesame

Amuse round 3

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Veal marrow, paddlefish roe. Our party of four was given two halves to share. Just a couple bites each, but this was super tasty, especially on the crusty bread they serve there. The most memorable course of the day.

Sea robin, saffron, ramps

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I'd never had sea robin before, and a little research reveals it's a scorpion-type fish commonly found in the North Atlantic. The fish was very firm, probably cooked SV at a very low temperature. I'm not sure this was the best method for this fish (or perhaps this was just a strange choice of fish), but I still enjoyed the dish quite a bit. The saffron and ramp components played very well together.

This Morning's Egg, asparagus, fiddlehead ferns, morels

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A BH classic, and for good reason. Probably the tastiest dish of the day. Even my father, notorious antagonist and disliker of runny yolks, enjoyed the synergy of this plate. The only quibble was that there were perhaps too many pine nuts in the broth, at times overpowering the dish as a whole.

Tasting of suckling pig - Loin, cheek, jowl, snout, ear

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Very porky and a nice range of flavors and textures. The skin on the cheek was quite difficult to cut, however, and was easier to eat with one's fingers rather than with silverware. Oh well. Parsnip added a nice sweet-bitterness to the dish. The woody herb on the plate looked like rosemary but was somehow much milder.

Chocolate-beet cake, coffee ice cream; parsnip cake, bergamot ice cream, parsnip foam

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Like last time, the desserts were fine but not necessarily memorable for me. Some cake, some ice cream, some sauce atop or below.

A very well-rounded meal that really felt like spring. With that said asparagus came up four times and parsnip three times (twice in one dish). I was kind of hoping for a bright, acidic rhubarb dessert, but oh well.

We spent the next hour walking around the farm, buying overpriced souvenirs from the gift shop and overpriced produce from the farm's market. Really, it was a very pleasant way to spend the day. The place is unique and special to be sure, but I think it's at its best with a wider swath of ingredients at the kitchen's disposal.

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I used to be like the champion Sea Robin fisherman of the South Shore of Long Island. While my friends were catching blues or flounder, I would catch countless numbers of Sea Robins. We thought they were garbage fish (if you saw one, you'd see why it wouldn't immediately occur to you to eat it), and threw them back. I was mortified to learn, a few years ago, that you actually CAN eat Sea Robins. I could have been the marine version of a Nimrod (in the proper sense, not the misuse started by Bugs Bunny).

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... the restaurant felt "stretched" on this visit.  Another eG member visited on the same day, for dinner not lunch, and we independently arrived at the same conclusion.

I'm the other shoe here. I totally agree. My dinner did not rise to the level of the comedy of errors that I experienced at Bouley a couple of months ago, but it was in the same vein. There were too many careless mistakes. My entire party walked away terribly deflated and disappointed.

... while May is prime for springy ingredients, the variety simply cannot match what's available in late-August and September.  Even with fewer courses at this lunch, there was far more repetition of ingredients.

And I had more courses than you (dinner Farmer's Feast), which meant there was even more repetition in my dinner. I don't need a whole lot of variety, but given the list of nearly a hundred (if not more) ingredients and produce in season that they presented along with the menu, I certainly think that serving asparagus and ramps on more than two or three dishes was certainly a bit uncreative.

Like last time, the desserts were fine but not necessarily memorable for me.  Some cake, some ice cream, some sauce atop or below.

Actually, the beet and coffee dessert was one of the highlights of this meal for me. The other, being a lamb dish.

I'll write up more later.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

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We did not. We drank a bottle of Buty something or other from Wala Wala for about $65. I will say that while our interaction with the wine captain was limited, she was patient, informative, and friendly. Our captain was good, when he was there, but once our meal got under way it was clear he had many other responsibilities to attend to.

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From Chef Dan Barber: "Asparagus hit last week and they’re almost on every dish. If you don’t like asparagus, you’re probably not going to love Stone Barns this week."

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So there you have it.

That's a great photo of Chef Barber.

“Watermelon - it’s a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face.”

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

My flickr account

ulteriorepicure@gmail.com

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  • 2 months later...

It was just reported on the news that the farm has lost most of their tomato crop to a fungus...same one as the Irish potato blight

: (

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

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It was just reported on the news that the farm has lost most of their tomato crop to a fungus...same one as the Irish potato blight

: (

tracey

That's too bad -- very sad for them. I was planning on going the end of August for my b'day, and figured tomatoes would be a big highlight... I'd imagine they'll still source great ones from other local farms to compensate, but probably won't be the same. Wondering if I should reconsider now...

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  • 4 weeks later...

I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns last night with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. I should say, I've never been a partisan of the original Blue Hill or of Dan Barber's cooking. I've never felt he delivered as a chef -- what many have called subtle I've experienced as bland -- although I've wanted him to succeed on account of his obvious brilliance as a writer and thinker (not that I agree with everything he says). So I've pretty much ignored the Blue Hill phenomenon for the past, I don't know, seven or eight years. And in my mind I've dismissed any and all Blue Hill advocacy as a mass version of one of those inexplicable lapses in taste that even the most educated gourmets can display on occasion (I feel similarly, though less strongly, about Eleven Madison Park). When Stone Barns opened, it wasn't even a priority for me to visit.

So I was pleasantly surprised last night to have one of the best meal experiences of my life. So incredible was the meal -- not just the food but the whole package -- that literally overnight I've adopted the opinion that Blue Hill at Stone Barns is substantially better than anybody I know has argued. Now maybe I'll change my mind if I go back ten times and see chinks in the armor. But all I have to go on is what I lived through last night, and based on that I think Blue Hill at Stone Barns is one of the two best restaurants in New York. The other one being Per Se.

The way I see it, Per Se (and Alain Ducasse at the Essex House before it) brought urban Michelin three-star dining to New York. I'm not talking about the grade-inflated scale Michelin uses in the US guides. I'm talking about real French three-star dining like I experienced in the late 1990s when France was still the best place to eat in the world, the difference between Alain Ducasse at the Essex House and Per Se being that Ducasse photocopied Parisian three-star dining while Keller made it American. Blue Hill at Stone Barns, for its part, seems to me the New York area's first serious attempt to do real Michelin three-star dining in a country setting, with an American accent. It is, in some senses, our French Laundry.

We arrived about an hour early, picked up a map at the visitor's center, and wandered around the property. That it was one of the few meteorologically hospitable days of this summer didn't hurt, but under any circumstances the Stone Barns operation would be breathtaking. It seemed that every living being -- human and animal -- on the farm had been programmed to be enthusiastically hospitable. Staff smiled and waved hello. Sheep came over to visit. Certainly, no restaurant in America can rival the Blue Hill at Stone Barns setting. And there are only a few in Europe that can.

When we transitioned to the restaurant, two things happened. My friend, who is one of the few people I know who is less subtle than I am when it comes to this sort of thing, took the lead, marched right up to the podium and announced to the host and hostess, "We have two problems." First, we were a party of six and two of our six had fallen victim to a transit delay, so two of us were to be an hour late. There's a range of predictable reactions to that sort of news, but "Oh good!" isn't one I think of. The host seemed genuinely excited that this delay would allow the four of us time to have a glass of wine on the patio. Second, my wife's shoe had broken. It wasn't a question of a heel snapping off -- these were relatively sturdy sandal-type shoes but moments before we entered the restaurant the entire band that secured the foot to the shoe had come completely unattached for no apparent reason. "I'll get some glue," the host said. My friend joked to me that, if it's a really good restaurant, someone on staff will actually repair the shoe, not just bring glue. A few minutes after we were seated on the patio, the host appeared with a tube of Gorilla Glue, took Ellen's shoe, and went off to the side of the patio to start working on it while we sipped a Gruner-Veltliner from Pichler that happened to be the best Gruner-Veltliner I've ever had.

The shoe was repaired, the rest of our party arrived and we went inside to our table. The whole episode -- the unhurried aperitif on the patio, the above-and-beyond service ethic, the preprandial stroll around the grounds -- took me back to the best of French countryside dining.

Whether it was because my friend was ordering a thousand dollars worth of wine, or because anybody at the restaurant knew or cared I was there, or just on account of a genuine fondness for shoe repair, we got what was surely the VIP progression of canapes. There must have been eight waves of canapes. It was such an avalanche that there was no hope of documenting every one, and later on when we received printed menus those menus included only the eight official courses of the meal not the eight unofficial ones preceding the bread service (which by the way is fantastic, both bread and spreads -- the butter and ricotta hailing from the original Barber family Blue Hill Farm near Great Barrington, MA). But a few standouts were the raw, squared-off tomato slices served salted and standing erect on one of those pins-and-needles crudite-holder contraptions; a tomato-water gazpacho; and the "tomato burgers," which were miniature hamburger-shaped sandwiches filled with tomato confit or something confit-like.

This introduces two issues. First, I can't think of a restaurant I've visited, anywhere, offering better ingredients than what Blue Hill at Stone Barns serves. The products are a cut above and the raw-vegetable opening courses really serve to establish that. Second, there's the issue of repetition of ingredients. Somehow repetition of ingredients in a tasting menu is something that gourmets look down upon, unless the menu is specifically a theme menu built around a single ingredient. And I do think sometimes repetition of ingredients can reflect sloppy thinking in the kitchen, especially when the offending item is something like a generic, non-seasonal starch. But at Blue Hill at Stone Barns it seems like much more of a calculated choice: there is unapologetic repetition of whatever happen to be the best ingredients available. To me this is a good thing. I'd rather just have whatever is best than be hemmed in by a form-over-substance objection to repetition.

Eventually we were served a meal. The first recorded course was veal marrow bones with American sturgeon caviar, served family style to a family where, blessedly, a third of the members were grossed out by the idea of marrow bones so I got at least a triple allotment. I see from a quick look up-topic that several of the dishes we had, or close relatives, have already been photographed and described. So I won't dwell forever. But the marrow with caviar might have been the best taste of the evening.

This was followed by bluefish, tomato, pig's ear vinaigrette and paddlefish roe. Then a summer salad of fruits and vegetables, followed by slices of brook trout topped with little pieces of pig snout. Then celtuse, a stem-heavy vegetable I'd never heard of, with an almond dressing. I should have asked for the dressing recipe, though it may just have been "put almonds and water in a really powerful blender." The egg dish that came next was one of the better egg dishes I've had. Needless to say the poached egg itself was great, and it was served in a wide bowl with a deconstructed ratatouille. Then turkey (Broad Breasted White) with sunflowers and red chanterelles. This dish simultaneously included the best and worst ingredients of the night. The red chanterelles were some of the best mushrooms I've ever had, and the sunflowers were just bad. Our captain proudly explained that Dan Barber has been trying for years to find a palatable way to use sunflowers. I think it's probably time to give up, or fall back on sunflower seeds. Finally, lamb neck with eggplant and currants. I'll echo Bryan above: "easily the best neck preparation I've had."

Desserts were exactly in line with the style of the rest of the food. First, blueberries with yogurt. Then grilled peaches with vanilla, honey and sweet-corn ice cream. Then a disarmingly simple petit fours selection consisting of berries, little wedges of stone fruits, and whiskey-infused chocolates.

We stumbled out of there around 11:15pm, on a 6pm reservation.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns is a triumph in so many ways. I haven't even touched on the agricultural aspects of the operation, and I've gone on too long already so I won't. But to me the biggest triumph is that Dan Barber has found the suit of clothes that fits him as a chef. He slipped it on and became the chef he was meant to be. In the process, he gave us a restaurant like no other.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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