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Blue Hill at Stone Barns


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I guess that's not the greatest marketing move.

No, it's not. And neither is telling every table within earshot that the "Farmer's Feast" is a special menu designed just for that table when it's clearly a standard fare for the room at large (VIPs excepted, of course).

Again, my experience appears to have been very different: the tasting menu my table received was clearly different from the tasting menus on the tables to my left and right. Sure, many of the dishes were similar, but most of the meat courses were different after we mentioned to our waiter that we were adventerous eaters. Again, I'm no VIP.

I think this repetition question is a red herring. I think we can all agree that it's possible to create a menu repeating a single ingredient in which the variation in preparation prevents the overall meal from being boring. There a successful tasting menus focused around an ingredient, there are sushi meals which heavily utilize an ingredient which happens to be fresh. It sounds like you did not receive this sort of experience at Blue Hill but I don't find the concept of repetition itself to be at fault.

As far as service goes, my impression was that the level of service was slightly more casual than that of 4-star restaurants in New York City. I didn't mind this. I thought our head waiter was excellent, both engaging and knowledgeable. The subsequent servers were less informed about dishes as they were bringing them out, but they were more than willing to get answers from the kitchen to our questions. All in all, I don't consider the service exceptional, however the food certainly is.

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al wang

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alwang is right, the repetition complaint IS a red herring. As he says, we all clearly agree that it is possible to create a menu repeating a single ingredient in which the variation in preparation prevents the overall meal from being boring. And, as I stated above, the repetition of ingredients was the least of my concerns with my latest meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

Clearly, this is a sophisticated group of diners here. And clearly, you all expect and deserve a clearer picture of my meal in order to understand my disappointment. So does Chef Barber and the rest of his staff, who, I have no doubt, strive every day for the best.

First, let me ask you to consider the following questions: What makes Blue Hill at Stone Barns different from other restaurants? What does it offer and do that others can and do not offer? What are its selling points?

Next, refer to this post and my subsequent response, for background.

And then, consider whether the following meal (which I described to friends and I more or less copied and pasted here, so please excuse the repetition with regard to some of my earlier posts) meets the expectations that you would have with regard to a meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

* * * *

I don't doubt that Blue Hill at Stone Barns can be a phenomenal experience; many seem to enjoy it immensely.

Unfortunately, neither time I've been there have I been terribly impressed. The first time I was there, in September of 2007, it was alright. Some of the food was very good. Some of it was rather forgettable. The wine pairings, as I recall, were rather poorly done in my opinion.

I found myself back at BH@SB at the top of May of this year. It was, outside of my meal at Bouley just two months prior, one of the most bungled meals I've ever had.

I note, however, that this latest visit coincided with the James Beard Awards weekend and I know, from a good friend who ate there on the same day as I did for lunch, that the house was saturated with (and probably stretched by) VIPs rolling through. Of course, that's no excuse for shoddy service and poorly arranged food, but so it went.

My party of four elected the Farmer's Feast (I couldn't imagine any other way of eating here, but given the subsequent experience, choosing a la carte might have proved more successful).

There were many inconsistencies in explanations: deer tongue was presented as ramps. Meat-filled ravioli were presented as gnocchi. We were left scratching our heads, wondering whether we were given some other table's order or whether we all were confused as to exactly what gnocchi were. Later, upon inquiring, we were told that they called them gnocchi because the pasta dough for the ravioli were made from gnocchi dough.

More troubling, however, were the inconsistencies in the food.

Lamb arrived on what seemed to be chilled plates. The meat was too cold to enjoy. Begrudgingly, two in my party insisted on sending them back. So back they went for all of us.

A salad - announced as "Asparagus Salad" - featured nothing more on the plate than some lettuce, three asparagus tip halves (I'm not kidding) and bits of dried apricot (and a couple of edible flowers).

Not that this salad was not good. But I found it somewhat of a throw-away course. One just doesn't see a plain, simple salad on a "spontaneously-assembled" tasting menu. Later, of course, after our meal, when we saw the printed menu, we realized that they had purposely left the caviar out of the salad because one in our party had specified at the beginning of the meal that the only thing she didn't care for was caviar. But she did emphasize to our server that she did not want the rest of the party to suffer because of it.

So, why leave the caviar out of the rest of our salads? Why not just serve her something different and give us the salads with the caviar, as intended? Or, if they wanted us to have all the same dish, why not just send out something else without compromising this salad as it was intended? (We did notice other tables getting the same salad as a part of their "feast," and it did appear to have caviar in it).

We felt like this salad was a dumbed-down version of something that could have been potentially much more interesting - the asparagus wasn't THAT good. And, as mentioned before, there were no pistachios on my plate. At all. That just compounded my disappointment in this dish.

And, although I know that the restaurant celebrates the bounty of the seasons, given the list of nearly a hundred seasonal items at their disposal, I have no idea why the same two or three vegetables appeared at every turn. It all seemed highly unimaginative.

Wine service was, perhaps, the most disappointing part of our meal. None of us thought any of the wines paired with the food, save the La Rioja Alta, S.A., Gran Reserva 904, Cosecha 1997, which was paired with the lamb. It amplified the dill (one of my favorite herbs).

This is not to say our entire experience was spoiled. We had a pretty good scallop course, and the desserts were, in my opinion, quite good. We added a cheese course, which was generously portioned and quite nicely done (we were offered an additional pairing - a white wine; we declined).

Given all the great choices in the city, and increasing number of farm-to-table experiences I can have elsewhere, I'm not sure I'm compelled to return to Stone Barns to eat. I would, however, like to tour the farm one day. A severe time crunch on my first trip and rain on my second have precluded me from doing so.

* * * *

I should make it clear that our servers were very nice and friendly. But they were either misinformed or careless (Here's another example, we moved tables just shortly after being seated - just when our pre-feast bites arrived. Somehow, a few of our amuses didn't quite make the move with us, which was particularly vexing to me because there were some delicious-looking items that I wish I had gotten to try.).

I don't doubt that the house had a very tiring day of taking care of very high-profile guests. Again, crap happens. It just sucks when it happens to you.

I should also note that the reason I know what was *supposed* to be on our plates is because they gave us each a printed menu of what we had. Needless to say, many of the printed description derogated from what we received. Clearly, this menu was not prepared just for us. Of course, I'm not so naive as to really believe that the kitchen tailors each "Farmer's Feast" to the individual table; that would be quite impossible - especially on a busy night. But they should be more up front about it. Regardless, they should really be a bit more careful about handing out these "pre-printed" menus to clients whom they've told are being specially cooked for by the kitchen, less they appear to be scripted. I know better, but many do not. It's insincere and, I think, rather insulting.

Here are a few photos from that meal (the descriptions are what was printed on our menu):

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Stone Barns Carrots and Radishes

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Crab

Yogurt, Dill

Our server told us that the crab rested on a bed of ramps. I love ramps. however, the green lettuce-like substance under the crab didn't look, taste, or smell like ramps. When we clarified the issue at the end of service, our captain said that it wasn't ramps but "deer tongue" - a slightly bitter leaf. While I have no way of confirming or refuting this out of personal experience, it was certainly a more plausible explanation than ramps, which it most certainly was not.

This dish was fairly straightforward in flavors: putting a familiar crustacean accompaniment pairing (dill and tangy cream) in a different form. This dish was served slightly chilled, which made it particularly refreshing.

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Asparagus

Caviar, almonds

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Scallop

Ramps, green garlic.

My favorite course of the evening.

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This Morning's Farm Egg

Red fife, ramps, and speck.

I'm positive that the description printed on our menus did not matched what was actually in this dish. The subtitle should have read: fiddle heads, morels, and pine nuts.

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Handmade Pasta

Beef shank, fiddleheads.

Again, clearly not gnocchi.

When we asked about the filling, halfway through this course, we were told that they were filled with pork. Later, we were told that it was beef short ribs. Still, later, after we received our copies of the tasting menus, we were told that the menu was correct: beef shank. This last explanation seemed the most likely, given the texture and flavor of the filling.

The sauce at the very bottom was spinach-based. It was, in addition to the fiddleheads, the most rewarding part of this dish. The pasta, unfortunately, was gummy and glue-like.

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Pastured Lamb

Spring parsnips, asparagus.

When our lamb returned, replated, it was warmer.

This time, our plates came with a rib chop, sliced loin meat, and a square of belly (slightly different from our previous, cold plates which had been sent back). And, instead of the dark leafy greens, this dish came garnished with dill. Otherwise, the same parsnip puree, parsnip coins, and asparagus sections decorated this plate.

The lamb was very tender and full of flavor (just slightly musky). The rib chop, especially, was very good.

The accompaniments were fine. But the most extraordinary thing about this dish was actually the wine pairing. The La Rioja Alta, S.A. acted as an amazing speakerphone for the dill. In fact, the pairing was so spot on that one whiff of the wine brought the dill back full force in the mouth. It was highly complementary.

This leads me to ask: since dill did not come on our first plating, was the addition of dill a mistaken omission on the first plate, or was its addition in the second plate a stroke of luck? The wine had already been poured before the food was presented.

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Andante Dairy Cheeses

Cavatina (left) and Cadence (right).

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Parsnip and Spelt

Bergamot & ginger ice cream.

The cake was rather approachable and amazingly soft and moist.

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Red Beets & Chocolate

Molasses and coffee ice cream.

This was an awesome combination of flavors. The coffee ice cream, together with the beets and chocolate, produced a petrol-like of flavor. In wine, I tend not to like that flavor profile. But here, I found the flavor fascinating because it almost made the coffee seem like more of a savory rather than a sweet.

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Chestnut Macarons

I don't want to sound ungrateful here, and not that I'd turn down a decent chestnut macaron, but if BH@SB's "schtick" is to offer local and season products, I'm not sure I can understand how chestnut macarons in the springtime fit into that model. They are neither local (are they?) nor seasonal. I know that the restaurant's not chained to its cause, but, unlike other parts of the meal, I think that this was a rather easy opportunity for the restaurant to translate their philosophy onto the plate.

At my first meal, we had tomatoes, stone fruits, green beans, eggs, chicken, pork, beans, corn, and multiple types of fruit all from the Stone Barns farm. Brook trout was fished on the wider grounds of the Rockefeller estate.

This time, we had baby carrots and turnips, asparagus, egg, spinach, and deer tongue from the farm. But we also had crab and scallop, neither of which clearly came from the farm. We had lamb, which came from Elysian Fields, if I'm not mistaken. That's in Pennsylvania. We had cheese from California. And I don't believe pine nuts grow anywhere near Pocantico Hills, nor do chestnuts.

Again, I KNOW Blue Hill at Stone Barns can't be expected to serve a complete meal from its own farms. That's not its mission as I understand it. But my latest meal seemed to have lost the thread for which (I thought) Stone Barns is known for leading.

I know this can't be conveyed. And quite possibly, it can't be believed. But it was quite clear to the four of us that the service during our meal was stretched and not on at its best (even though I'm certain I don't know what the restaurant's best is). It was not a question of casual versus formal; I've had far more casual service and walked out exponentially happier. The kitchen seemed to be tired as well. Clearly, the entire house had had a long weekend of very hard work. I'm just sorry that it showed at our meal, one which cost us a considerable amount of money.

Again, it wasn't disastrous meal (that was my Bouley meal in March), but it was just a very awkward meal plagued by consistently careless and confused service and some so-so food.

You can see the rest of the photos HERE.

Edited by ulterior epicure (log)

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

Italian tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921)

ulteriorepicure.com

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  • 10 months later...

Dined at BHSB last night after spending an hour walking around the farm. Those pigs have to be the happiest pigs in existence. It makes me incredibly happy to see animals living in such a good way.

Dinner was absolutely wonderful from start to finish. Service was attentive and knowledgeable without being stuffy. Everyone there knew a huge amount about the farm and the food and if they didn't know the answer to a question, they went to find it out. Thomas, the sommelier, not only recommended beautiful wines within our stated budget but kept us laughing throughout the evening. It's not surprising to me that the staff just seems happy - I would be too if I were working there.

One in our party is a pescetarian (please don't get me started) but the rest of us made it very clear that we did not want to be constrained by that. Worked out just fine.

I don't have our menu (should have it shortly) and so this is going to be a limited report. Our canapes were beautiful - sesame crusted asparagus, pea "burgers," some kind of heirloom grain flatbread, grilled favas, - just delicious. First real course was a green summer gazpacho (cucumbers, peas) with yogurt ice cream (?) that knocked my socks off. Bursting with flavor, it was summer in a bowl. Second course was one of my favorites too - an heirloom grain brioche (nutty, buttery) that we spread with a bitter green mixture of some sort and topped with homemade ricotta. Divine. Moved onto black sea bass with asparagus and crab. Then a soft egg with vegetables and house cured speck - I have an issue with runny eggs but I took a deep breath and dove in - one bite and I could no longer be tentative. Pork belly with hazelnuts, favas and morels - in my opinion the least cohesive dish of the evening, but the pork belly had been braised forever and melted in our mouths. Lamb cooked three ways on a bed of peas/grain - I am not describing this well and want that menu. Desserts were blueberries and goat yogurt, and raspberries and cream, outside on the patio.

The meal was definitely heavy on peas and asparagus. I did not mind in the slightest. While I know that some chefs wouldn't put out multiple dishes repeating ingredients within a tasting menu (Keller), these ingredients were simply too beautiful to not be used to their fullest. The meal felt like nothing short of a celebration of the season and the farm, and exceeded expectations (I'd been there several times before, but several years ago). I love what Dan Barber is doing, cooking and saying (his TED Talks are must-sees if you haven't) and I need to make going back regularly a priority.

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Just got back from dinner here and I loved it. They were very accommodating as one of our guests could not eat dairy. We had the farmer's feast and everything was wonderful, I was extremely worried we would be treated poorly because we arrived late (around 10pm for a 930 reservation) and we were under dressed (3 25 year olds who consider jeans and a polo dressed up). But they were very accommodating and gave very thorough explanations of each plate. Off the top of my head...

Amuses...

Fresh lime spritzer

Pea burgers

Asparagus with sesame seeds

the farm vegetables

Duck(?) marrow with caviar

that's all I remember, might have been some more.

Bread and butter with Horseradish, beet, and arugula salts.

Plates..

Spanish mackerel sushi with some delicious dressings

A fine grain bread with ricotta cheese and spinach(?) spread

Todays pouched egg in a pea soup

Pasta made from ostrich and turkey eggs with grated cured yolks

Pork loin, leg and belly

Duck belly and brain

Desserts

Champagne sorbet with some other fruits

fresh creme with berries

Now I've used very pedestrian words to describe each dish, but the beauty here is in how special each ingredient was. The butter was amazing as were the trio of salts. The fresh creme with berries was more like the most amazing chilled cream ever that taste like gourmet super fresh cheesecake topped with the sweetest assortment of berries ever made. And basically, that's how everything tasted. We passed on the cheese plate because we were too full, the next time I return I will get the smaller tasting menu it was too much for my small stomach. We skipped the tea too which is a shame because they bring the tea leaves to you still alive in water. Now I thought drying your tea leaves was important, but if this place serves them fresh, I'm willing to bet they taste delicious fresh. I thought the experience was fabulous and even a decent value for your money.

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A fine grain bread with ricotta cheese and spinach(?) spread

That sounds like one of our courses - I thought the green spread was pretty bitter and I have no idea what was in it (menus? where are our menus?). One of my favorites all night.

I didn't want to do the 5 course because I wanted to taste more things, and I'm glad we made that decision. There wasn't anything I would have wanted to miss. Also, our waiter explained that the 8 courses are smaller portions than the 5, and essentially not much more food.

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A fine grain bread with ricotta cheese and spinach(?) spread

That sounds like one of our courses - I thought the green spread was pretty bitter and I have no idea what was in it (menus? where are our menus?). One of my favorites all night.

I didn't want to do the 5 course because I wanted to taste more things, and I'm glad we made that decision. There wasn't anything I would have wanted to miss. Also, our waiter explained that the 8 courses are smaller portions than the 5, and essentially not much more food.

That dish was delicious. The bread was perfectly baked and the perfect texture and temperature. As was both the spread and the butter. YUM! I talked to my friend who I ate with today and we decided if we hadn't eaten 4 pieces of bread each we would have been ok. One slice of bread next time, but it's hard to control myself with that butter and selection of salts. <3 BH@SB.

Edited by JWangSDC (log)
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  • 4 months later...

First off, a chef is only as good as his ingredients. If your ingredients suck your food cannot taste good. What Dan Barber and his team are doing at Stone Barns Farm and Blue Hill Restaurant is extraordinary. Seventy percent of the food for Blue Hill is made in walking distance from the restaurant. I just think that is so cool. Knowing where your food comes is so important. When you see how beautiful your ingredients are you are going to showcase the ingredients, not hide them. Also, in regards to proteins like pork, geese, turkey, etc. you are going to use every part of the animal that is possible and you are going to make sure you cook it perfectly to honor the animal that gave its life up for you. Thomas Keller once had to kill the rabbit he was going to use at his restaurant, The French Laundry and after he killed the rabbits he made sure he was going to use every part and not screw it up because he saw the rabbits suffering and wanted to honor the rabbit's life. Animals that are happy taste much better than animals that are miserable. Turkeys that never once see daylight, or chickens that cannot walk, or pigs that live in filthy factory conditions, etc. taste artificial.

I got to Stone Barns Farm at 10:45 for an 11:00 O'clock tour of the whole facility. When I got to the main square, waiting for the tour guide, I am pretty sure I saw Dan Barber. I think I saw him walk into his restaurant Blue Hill. I only saw the back of him so I am not 100% sure. He was to far away and there was not enough time to approach him, even though I wish I did.

We met our tour guide who was in charge of all of the vegetables at Stone Barns. We started off by going through Blue Hill Restaurant. The kitchen was of a good size and there was a class going on about Thanksgiving cooking. The dining room was casual and elegant without being fussy.

Next, we went to all of the vegetables. The land was choppy and there was some rocks in the land so it was not the ideal farming conditions, but they are still able to work with the land and get amazing products. After every harvesting season the vegetables rotate in the farm. If you keep one vegetable in the same place every year the soil will lose it's high quality and the vegetables would be very prone to getting wiped out by a disease. The farm was growing garlic, lettuces, cabbages, root vegetables, wild herbs, and much more. They have about 100 different type of vegetables growing in the farm.

Then, we went to see the animals. The chickens were running around and seemed so happy. They had two types of chicken, one for laying eggs and another for the actual meat. The chickens that were raised for their eggs produce 5 eggs a week. The chickens are not a problem for the farmers, except when one of the eggs break. If an egg breaks and a chicken eats it that chicken will start to break open more eggs and eat them.

The geese were also running around and were very happy. I asked the tour guide if they ever tried raising geese for their liver (foie gras). He said that they had a farmer come from Spain who taught the farmers about raising humane foie gras. You have to trick the geese so they think they are about to go migrate. When they think they are going to go migrate they start stuffing themselves for the journey. When the geese start to stuff themselves you feed them fatty foods, like nuts or corn, and the liver gets engorged and delicious. However there first go with the wild foie gras did not succeed, but hopefully they will try again.

The turkeys were huge and looked just like the wild turkey that walk around my neighborhood. They were breeding a wild turkey and then a more traditional Thanksgiving butterball turkey. The turkeys are really only sold during Thanksgiving time.

Stone Barns breeds their own type of lamb. The lamb's are used primarily for their meat and secondly for their wool. The lamb are let to graze and eats all different types of grasses, bugs, and worms which brings happiness to there life because they experience diversity (This is the same with all of the animals at Stone Barns).

Stone Barns also breeds Berkshire pigs. The pigs are usually slaughtered at 9 months old. Every animal with two legs gets slaughtered at Stone Barns, while all for leg animals have to get sent out and get gutted. Then the gutted four legged animals come back to the restaurant where they are butchered in house.

After the tour it was time to eat at the Cafe. I wish I could have gone to eat at Blue Hill, but they did not serve lunch. We waited about 30 minutes on line to get food. I got foccaccia with caramelized onions and squash, Ronny Brooks chocolate milk, and two hard boiled fresh farm eggs. The eggs had bright orange yolks and with salt were absolutely delicious and creamy. The foccaccia was also good but needed some salt and acid.

The whole experience was great. I learned a lot and cannot wait to come back and go to Blue Hill and maybe meet Dan Barber.

To see the full post with tons of great pictures check out my blog.

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  • 1 month later...
  • 1 month later...

Finally heading to BH@SB this saturday. It's been on my "it's one of my next restaurants to try" list for SO long. So often, though, I was in the city and not wanting to drive, or it wasn't quite the "feel" I was looking for. Now, though, I'm so excited. Everyhting I read and see just makes me want to be there NOW! I wonder how hard a tour of the premises would be considering all the snow, and an 8 month pregnant wife.

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No indeed. My wife was game to try, but for the freezing rain and general yuckiness of the evening. That said, my dear bride, who doesn't care for the "fancy food" that I enjoy, has admitted that it was the best meal of her life (this from a woman who regarded Per Se as "mostly inedible," and Jean-Georges as "double yuck-yuck" as some of you may recall). It was likely the best non-French meal I've ever had. Service was wonderful, friendly, attentive and informative. Food was stunning. I did not have one course that I would have been OK missing.

We look forward to going back in the spring.

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  • 5 months later...

I just saw on the BHSB website that they are now offering a 12-course dinner. I think this is a fairly new option as I didn't see it on the menu a few months ago. Has anyone tried it? Any feedback would be appreciated!

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I was there yesterday (Sunday) for lunch and the 12 course was an option. They weren't doing it in March when I was there last.

We didn't get it, but it was described as: very filling and not for people with any food allergies or aversions. I feel like the word "challenging" was used, but I could be mis-remembering.

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  • 1 year later...
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