Friday, November 6, 2015

Dinner: Blue Hill at Stone Barns

In early August, J&I had the opportunity to visit Stone Barns Center For Food and Agriculture and have a fairly transcendental meal at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Because of the extended length of this meal I am going to streamline this post into mostly photos.

The kitchen window

A couple take aways from the experience 

1 - Sone Barns is incredibly beautiful and inspiring in many ways. You can tour the Center separately from dining at Blue Hill. It is more than worth visiting and we plan on going back

2 - The meal was, essentially, everything I love about dining. Ill spare you the obvious details about their philosophy but what I loved was that it was so vegetable forward, everything was prepared in a very disciplined way - meaning there was no heavy handed ness. No over doing it. No bells and whistles. Just incredible produce and ingredients being presented in incredible ways. 

3 - While the number of courses we had here was close to or greater than what I had at Alinea, I did not leave hungry or ever feel uncomfortable. 

4 - Changing out of sweaty 'farm clothes' into formal wear in a Honda Fit while surrounded by Mercedes and BMWs and their owners was fun

5 - If you haven't seen the episode of Chefs Table about Dan Barber (and this restaurant) and you have Netflix (or other means), watch it. Really.

6 - The overwhelming theme of the day/night was education. About farming, about tradition, about the future, about food and food system, and many other things.

Ok - onto the goods.

The first thing you notice when arriving is how unbelievably beautiful everything is here. It is one of the most picturesque farms we have been to. 

The restaurant, as seen from one of the crop fields
The road leaving the restaurant
Some sort of cellar, built into the side of a hill behind the restaurant 
The bountiful terrace garden
The path through the woodlands

Blue Hill sheep grazing

There are many activities you can do throughout the day.
Making pesto in the garden
We took a wonderful, informative tour that explained quite a bit about what they do at Stone Barns Center

Once our tour was up we changed in the car and headed in to start our meal...
Crudites - simply prepared raw vegetables, picked just hours before. 
Incredible squash with poppyseed butter and poppy seed, harvested table side
Asparagus with cat tail pollen
Needles in a Haystack - Grissini in hay
Venison Liver
Peach, Speck, Charcoal
Weeds from the grounds + charcoal mayo
Corn Cobb Lemonade
Cucumber & Yogurt
Marionberry Bush with a little surprise underneath 
A perfectly petit tart
Tomato burgers
Ham Sandwiches & Pork liver with Chocolate
Green Gazpacho Julep - Reminded me so much of the gazpacho I had at Town House, which still haunts me today
The most incredible melon and farmers cheese. With sesame. This was the stand out dish of the night, so good we just sat there in awe.
Cucumber, Crab, Fennel
Copa, Melon
Peas, Corn, Lardo - Another stand out dish.
Fish taco, Kohlrabi Tortilla, Bloodline Tapenade - Tied for best dish of the night
Onion grown in soil amended with hazelnut, Hazelnut, Caviar 

Beans grilled with herbs, Peach Pit Yogurt & Blossoms

A detour to the patio, where we had Beet Hot Dogs with some beer as we watched the sun set.
An example of the restaurant educating its guests : three types of potatoes they are working on developing. Our server discussed many differences between them in taste, texture, starch and sugar content, etc..
Experimental Butter Potato, Baked in a compost crust
..Served with their cover crops. Another stand out course
Potato Pizza
Zucchini Bolognese, Peach 
Lets not forget the incredible bread
Blue Hill Pork, Spinach, Eggplant
Cabbage, Lardon, Lard
Oats, Blueberry ?
Plum Kouign Amann ?

Its hard to summarize this meal. We chatted a lot with our server and it wound up spanning about four hours time. There were a few stand out dishes (I'll never forget that farmers cheese) and really no duds. Our least favorite, if I recall correctly, was the half sour asparagus with cat tail pollen. The whole experience was deeply involved - from touring the farm, chatting with the farmers and researchers, to discussing the evolution of the restaurant and the conceptualization of dishes with some of the chefs. Often times in restaurants of this caliber, its easy to feel like you're just there watching, yet at Blue Hill..we felt involved. Seeing everything from the ground to the plate - being educated at each was quite an experience. Its easy to have buyers remorse when spending this kind of money on a meal but we were discussing our return before we were done with our meal.

My biggest regret with the whole meal was not doing the wine pairing. We are not extremely knowledgable about wine - just appreciate it on a kind of...basic level - and often times pairings are not worth the expense to us ...were better off ordering a glass or two of something we pick out carefully but a few days later, when I was attempting to get ahold of the restaurant to discuss a Taiwanese version of the corn lemonade that they were very interested in I noticed their sommelier is Charlie Berg - who I had some very memorable pairing form when he worked at Town House - which remains far and away the best restaurant meal of my life. If nothing else, I wanted to pick his brain about a sake pairing at the Town House meal that I have been trying to figure out/remember since 2011. So next pairing.

In the end - I cannot recommend BHASB highly enough. If you read my ancient posts when I was hopping around lots of high end restaurants in Chicago - you will know that most times I do not think its worth the time or money. This meal, however, we will cherish and remember for many years.

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