This past Wednesday Sarah and I went to Blue Hills at Stone Barns in Westchester, NY for dinner.
As I mentioned last week, this is no ordinary restaurant. The most obvious difference is that the chefs will cook meals for you from what is available and freshest, not cookie cutter meals from a typical menu. Sarah and I had very high expectations and I’m excited to report that we were not even remotely disappointed. I find it a rare opportunity to be so utterly stunned by quality and presentation. I have never tasted food like I did on Wednesday, and I fully suspect that I won’t again until I return to Blue Hills at Stone Barns. I honestly did not know that food could be so delicious.
Our reservations were for 9:30pm. Upon arrival we parked the car and walked up a stone path into a beautiful courtyard. We entered the restaurant and were escorted to our table. The table was a rectangle one, up against a wall. The greeter pulled the table back allowing us an opportunity to step in and sit side by side on a bench facing the restaurant. It was a unique seating arrangement. The room had, at most, 30 tables. Some were large circular booths, others edge seating like ours.
This was not a place where I felt comfortable playing paparazzi – I took no photographs inside the restaurant. Instead, where necessary, I drew some MSPaintings to get the basic idea across, and also scoured the internet for photos from those more bold than I.
The room itself had a tall white parabolic ceiling contrasted by elegant curved I-beams. In the center, was a large wooden table with a huge arrangement of leaves and greenery extending upwards from a vase. The far end of the room had a mural separating the dining room from the kitchen.
Ulterior Epicore posted this picture in his flickr set.
Our waiter approached.
He was of medium build with a shaved head and thick rimmed dark glasses. He wore a suit with a tie decorated with the colors of Blue Hills at Stone Barns.
“Would you like to start your evening with some champagne?” he asked. At the time I didn’t think much of it, but in retrospect this restaurant is a celebration in itself and to start with a champagne toast now seems quite fitting.
Our waiter brought the wine list. Since our visit, a few have asked what the nationality of the food was, but really… it was a blend of tastes and cultures that can only be described as American. There were French, German, and Spanish wines on the wine menu, but Sarah chose an Italian variety. Our waiter noticed that I did not order a wine and offered to bring over their selection of non-alcoholic grape juices. I agreed, and decided to go with a beautifully sweet non-reduced white Navarro grape juice. I wouldn’t think of grape juice as elegant, but that’s exactly what this beverage was.
“Are you familiar with how we do things at Stone Barns?” our waiter asked as he handed us menus.
“On the right, you’ll see the options for courses. The farmer’s feast comes in two different sizes. The eight course meal and the five course meal. They both have the same quantity of food, though you will get a greater variety with the eight course meal. Additionally, on Wednesdays and Thursdays we offer a three course meal.”
I think it’s safe to say that this trip was a treat, so to do anything other than go for gusto would be sinful. We chose the eight course meal.
“On the left,” our server continued, “you will find a list of ingredients that we have available in the kitchen tonight. Everything is fresh and is from either the Blue Hill farm or other local farms which are noted below the ingredients list. Take a look over the ingredients and then I will return and ask some questions.”
And look we did. The list was epic. From the simple “eggs” to the exciting “Nasturtiums” the list had all sorts of different greens and meats. Our server returned and began his interview.
A picture of the ever-changing menu, from this restaurant review.
“Any food allergies here?”
“No lactose please,” Sarah raised her hand
“Does your lactose intolerance extend to goat cheese? or butter?”
“Goat cheese and butter are fine, just no milk.”
“Are both of you okay with nuts?”
we nodded again
“I think we’d like to avoid seafood.” I replied
“Very well. Avoid both shell fish and fin fish?”
“Actually, fin fish is okay. Just no on the shell fish.”
“Excellent! Thank you both very much, your first course will be out shortly.”
And he zipped off.
Not three minutes later, a server came bustling out of the kitchen with two wooden blocks in hand. I had seen the impaled fruit and vegetables on the website so I was extremely excited that this would be the first plate.
There were five impaled vegetables: A large stalk of fennel, fresh cherry tomatoes seasoned with salt, two green gherkins, small yellow tomatoes, and two green leaves (omitted from the drawing above). The vegetables had all be seasoned with salt or otherwise and were so fresh and delicious. The cherry tomato was as good as best tomato I’ve had from my father’s garden.
Not moments later, another server appeared carrying a wooden block. He placed it on the table, and announced in a thick accent “Corn Syrup.” We nodded in confused appreciation, and he left.
“Corn Syrup?” Sarah turned to me in mild disgust. “Is that what he said?”
“I’m not sure, let’s ask the main waiter when he returns.”
“Excuse me” I asked, intercepting the head waiter as he passed, “we missed the introduction for this food. Could you tell us what it is?”
“Cauliflower soup.” he replied.
And oh heavens was it delicious. It was warm and tasted like heaven. Also, it renewed our faith in the restaurant after it had been shaken slightly by our poor hearing. Next up were tiny unmatched tomato burgers and tiny sesame seasoned zucchini impaled on long wooden spears. The tomato burgers were bite-sized and bursting with deliciousness. I think the single bite it took to eat that tomato burger might have been the finest of the night. Truly a perfect blend of tastes.
I don’t like zucchini. I loved this zucchini; it was salty and the sesame seeds added a slight crunch.
Next up, a new server brought out a selection of prosciuttos and face bacon.
I actually found a picture of the face bacon from this website which had a review of the restaurant. Here goes:
It tasted like a really good bacon. I have no bad words for anything that tastes like delicious bacon. Next up, a new server brought two short flutes of a clear liquid. Tomato gazpacho. The transparency was remarkable given the extremely fresh and potent tomato flavor. Tomato, it turns out, was a prominent player in the evening’s dinner. Presumably because this is prime time for tomato harvest.
At this point, Sarah and I got a little nervous. We counted seven plates, and we were worried that we only had one course left. When our main waiter returned to refill our water glasses, we commented on the deliciousness of the meal. “Excellent,” he replied, “and we’re not even quite through the first course!”
Once again, Sarah and I got a little nervous. This time because we realized that we had a lot of eating left to do.
The first course was concluded with a extremely beautiful presentation of a tomato caviar soup. From across the restaurant came two servers each holding a tall white ceramic pitcher and a bowl with a wide wide rim, not unlike a flipped sombrero. One walked to Sarah’s side of the table and the other came to my side. In unison they placed the bowl down in front of us. Just off center in the bowl was the caviar. The two servers raised their pitchers and, again, in unison poured the rich tomato soup over the eggs. The soup had a dark smokey flavor. The caviar wasn’t remotely fishy, but instead had a robust texture and added to the soup’s richness.
With the soup came a basket of homemade potato bread served with a side of Blue Hill butter, churned right there on the premise, and a small dish of tomato salt. If regular salt were AM radio, than tomato salt would be no less than having Soundgarden beamed directly into your living room via lases from space to play a personal concert for you and your loved ones. Tomato salt is great.
And thus concluded the first course.
Things got much more straight-forward after this first course. Instead of a wide assortment of greens and meats, the rest of the courses were served on a single plate. At the beginning of our meal, our waiter reported that we could expect six savory courses and two sweet courses. Our next plate was a tomato sorbet which, despite its name, was considered savory.
This Blue Hills dish looks very similar to our tomato sorbet. I found it at the Spamwise Chronicles.
This dish had a light strawberry something on top and was a fresh stepping stone into the next course which came out shortly thereafter.
Now, it should be noted that I don’t love fish. I can swallow it if I must, but it’s not a personal favorite. Meanwhile, Sarah dislikes cauliflower – though she had been impressed with the earlier soup. Still, we were both hesitant when our third course reached the table.
It was a piece of Sturgeon on a bed of curried cauliflower.
I love fish.
This was the most delightful cut of fish that has ever existed. Sarah also enjoyed the cauliflower. I now honestly believe that if you give your most detested food to a highly skilled chef who has access to the freshest ingredients, then anyone might become a believer. Granted, we were unable to test this theory with my most detested food, the olive, as it was not on the ingredient list.
Before our fourth course, a waitress came over with a glass nest within which there were four eggs.
“As a precursor to your next course, I wanted to tell you a bit about our eggs here at Blue Hills. We have 1,500* chickens on site which share their time between grazing in the fields eating worms, grass, and grubs and time in our rolling egg houses where we feed them only fresh vegetables and grains. This lifestyle yields extremely flavorful, colorful, yolks.”
*paraphrased. I don’t remember the exact number of chickens, though it was definitely jaw droppingly high
Moments later we were brought a just slightly cooked egg atop mushrooms and kale. Once again, I can’t speak highly enough about this dish. Sadly, I could find no pictures of this dish on the internets and it’s extremely hard to MSPaint a cooked egg.
By the time, Sarah and I had been at the restaurant for about an hour and a half. We were halfway through our dinner and we were very nearly stuffed – but I knew that there was no degree of fullness that would prevent me from eating the dishes they put in front of us, they were too good.
Next up was course number five. It was duck served on top of seasoned carrots and almonds. There was a slight sweetness, like cinnamon, on the carrots. The restaurant staff gave us knives, but there was no need. The meat was so tender that you could cut through it with a half-melted plastic spoon.
I had trouble finishing this course. The sweetness of the carrots coupled with my sweet grape juice and the limited space in my stomach made for a challenge. I did my best, but didn’t finish every carrot. For this I am ashamed.
We had a slight break before our next meal. The table was cleared and our head waiter returned to let us know that the main course was on its way. Moments later, large white places were placed before us. The server reported that this was lamb neck served with small potatoes, onions, and broccoli.
It was divine. Seriously. The food was stupidly delicious. This meal has setup my mouth for many moons of disappointment.
Our two sweet courses came next, and here was the only time when Sarah and I were served different dishes. I received a fromage blanc served on a bed of sorbet. Sarah received a grape sorbet served with fresh fruits. The second sweet course for me was plums served with ice cream. Sarah got plums in some sort of sweet sauce.
We decided to order a cup of tea to conclude our evening. We decided on chamomile served with a side of honey – from the blue hill bees. Earlier, the people sitting next to us had ordered differently and a large cart covered in greens from which the waiter would personally cut up your desired tea fillings and mix the tea for you there.
Looking back on the night, I can only speak praise. We counted 12-15 servers who helped serve our table and every bite was heavenly. Friends. I know it’s expensive. I know it might be a drive. But you must go to this restaurant. You haven’t experienced food until you’ve been served at Blue Hills at Stone Barns.
I will return.