On a scale from oblivious to deranged groupie, I rank in the upper 50th percentile somewhere along the lines of shameless admiration when it comes to Dan Barber and Blue Hill. Besides the obvious fact that Barber can cook up some mouth-watering food, the man sous-vide a turkey in a dishwasher for Thanksgiving one year. How awesome is that?!
Stone Barns Education Center is one of my favorite places to visit when I am in New York and its Blue Hill Restaurant ranks high on the list of best dining experiences for my friends and me. The chefs and servers work in concert to get diners excited about food from the table side presentation of local ingredients to the parade of well thought out and executed dishes. It was no wonder that my friends and I looked to Blue Hill to provide a great meal to say farewell to summer and lay out the welcome mat for autumn.
Blue Hill focuses on seasonality and farm to table whenever possible. Eat local zeitgeist aside, what makes the dishes at Blue Hill wonderful is clarity of taste. No flavor is muddled and no ingredient gets lost into another. Instead, they are carefully layered and revealed in every bite. Here are the highlights from the meal we had at the end of September.
*Note, not all dishes have pictures due to poor lighting.
A shot of homemade v7, a refreshing tomato based drink with the heat of Tabasco was the opener for our meal.
Then some vegetables showed up at our table, briefly loitering about on a fence until we plucked them from their perches and devoured them. There was baby carrot, lettuce, tomato, and gooseberry. Eggplant wrapped in pancetta and coated with sesame seeds was another amuse. During the spring season, fresh asparagus was used instead of eggplant.
Warm tomato burger with goat cheese. The tomato tasted like a sofrito or a chunky home made marinara that grandma had been simmering over the stove for hours.
Naturally we requested face bacon, a delightfully crispy skin taken from the pig’s head.
House charcuterie included copa, lomo, sopressata, and bresaola(beef). The lomo was our favorite.
The parade of pork continued with a square of pork liver foie sandwiched between two wafers of chocolate. There were some high level negotiations going on around me as Mrs. Yam was vying to trade one of her amuse for another cube of foie. I ignored it and kept working my way through the plates in front of us. It was only to my advantage if my dining companions are distracted because the next dish had to be shared between two people.
One of my favorite dishes was Hudson Valley veal marrow topped with American sturgeon caviar. It’s a delicious take on surf and turf and the fattiness of the marrow melted into the briny caviar, and I could taste the individual flakes of salt with which they seasoned the marrow. The result was so rich and flavorful that there was not a single speck of caviar nor bit of marrow left on any surface at our table.
Bluefish sashimi with paddlefish caviar and pig ear vinaigrette on a slice of heirloom tomato. I know some eyebrows were raised at the mention of “pig ear vinaigrette” and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But it turned out to be tiny little bits of diced pig’s ear (no doubt chopped by an elf) that added a pleasant crunch and meaty flavor to the fish.
This was the salad to vanquish even the most die-hard carnivores like Les. Blue Hill’s Fall Salad was presented to us like a work of art. It plated on a rectangular canvas of slate with the components drawn only on the right side. Pine nut butter and house made yogurt were painted side by side in one brush stroke, and then the rest of the ingredients were layered on. Haricot vert, micro greens, beets, fennel bulb, artichoke heart, baby squash, plum, and cauliflower then topped with a fromage blanc foam reminiscent of lychee. There were elements of surprise as some of the cauliflowers were a deep beet red and the beet tasted like it was infused with raspberries. The server mentioned that each vegetable was cooked separately so as to not muddle the flavors. The salad tasted just as incredible as it looked and disappeared from our plate far to quickly. Even days later, we were still thinking about the salad.
Following the Fall Salad was a fish course of seared Wahoo with cauliflower, mushrooms, raisins, and pine nuts in a sauce that hinted strongly of coriander.
Soft boiled egg with kale, eggplant, mushroom, mushroom broth. There are too many chickens running around Stone Barns for them to keep eggs of the menu and this was probably the most anticipated dish amongst us. It was a good preparation with the kale, eggplant, and mushroom, earthy flavors redolent of autumn. But the mushroom broth was on the salty side and I missed the speck from last time. Regardless, the plate was still clean as a whistle when the servers whisked it away from the table.
From the egg comes the chicken and that was our next dish of the evening. Stone Barn chicken with chicken mushrooms and tarragon (I think). The luscious chicken had been cooked sous-vide until the meat was tender and flavorful and then put under the broiler to brown the skin. The diced tomato that was on the chicken was the same as the filling on the tomato burger and I was happy to have the redux. Also, the chicken mushrooms were nice and meaty, adding one more species to the list of fungi I’ve had the pleasure of consuming.
The last meat course was Berkshire pork over corn and smoked green wheat. The pork was nice and tender but I was fixated on the smoked green wheat and the chewy texture. The toothiness was wholly enjoyable.
In between the main courses and dessert, we had a cheese course that showcased two raw milk cheeses from the same purveyor. Both cheeses were meant to be the same but the one but was made by an apprentice who forgot a step in the process resulting in a softer texture akin to triple crème brie.
Dessert beckoned and we started off with concord grapes (tastes like Muscat gummy if you’ve never had a concord) with ginger, a refreshing grape sorbet, and cubes of gelée whose tops were brûléed.
The last dessert was my favorite, consisting roasted peaches, basil ice cream, corn cake, and macerated blueberries. The basil ice cream was light and not overly sweet and was a great compliment to the sweet peaches. I like the fact that they presented the grapes first, which has all of the connotations of a fall harvest, and then finished with roasted peaches which are for me, the essence of summer. It was a lovely way to savor the waning days of the season.
Similar to our previous visit, we were the last customers to waddle happily out of Blue Hill when the restaurant closed for the evening and it was almost 1am. Bacon still had an hour and a half drive to get to Connecticut and the rest of us clambered into the car and went home to drool on our pillows. I am already looking forward to my next meal at Blue Hill, whenever that may be.