Ahhhh, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, we finally meet! I have been wanting to go to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for years, but scheduling was a bit complicated as we needed to be in New York and we wanted to make sure that pioneering chef Dan Barber would be in the kitchen that evening—Stewart wanted to see his childhood schoolmate and I, well, just wanted to meet him.
Dan was already an acclaimed chef for his tasty food and how he changed the concept and definition of farm to table. But after an installment of the Netflix documentary “Kitchen Table”, he’s widely recognized and reservations are hard to come by. We had read a lot about Dan, but not until we started reading his book, The Third Plate, in preparation for our visit, did we truly grasp everything he has been doing and how he has been influencing the way food is grown, prepared and served. You have to read the book to understand why we were truly excited to try the carrots grown on the farm, their bread from unique wheat and grains, and their special Eight Row Flint corn.
I went to Blue Hill in New York City in June 2015 with my mother and had a great dinner, but I knew Blue Hill at Stone Barns would be a special experience. I promised to go with Stewart for our 12th Anniversary.
We planned an entire weekend around the dinner and stayed at Bedford Post, which people suggested when I mentioned Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I should have done my research; Bedford Post is actually a half hour (or more) from Stone Barns and we should have just stayed in the city instead (expensive and not worth it for their rooms/service—I question Relais Chateaux’s judgement on this one).
The afternoon before our dinner, we took a guided tour of the Stone Barns Farm, which is not owned by the restaurant, but supplies a lot of their produce and crops. Some of it comes from Blue Hill farm owned by Chef Barber’s family and some from other regional growers.
Hubby Stewart had been feeling ill the day before (avoid the catered crab cakes at the museum party, eh?) and I was really worried he wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy the experience, but he was a trooper and even stepped up to do the wine pairing once we got there (half way through the meal he started to relapse and I “had to” finish his wines and some dishes so as not to offend the chef and sommelier).
On arrival, we were greeted warmly with two glasses of bubbles (they must know me well!) and seated at our great table with a full view of the gorgeous converted dairy barn. We were given a small booklet listing the ingredients grown each month (the August page looks like a good excuse to return) and we knew we were in for a meal full of squash, beets, radishes, and roots.
We told them no food restrictions or allergies and just let them serve us whatever they wanted…
We also were greeted enthusiastically by Richard, a Brit who’s recently taken on a management role at Blue Hill at Stone Barns after deciding he must work there following a memorable meal as a diner. His memory is amazing—he recalled we had dined at Roganic, Simon Rogan’s pop-up in London, the last night before they closed the restaurant.
The procession of dishes started and every course was brought by different servers, who we later discovered were also our chefs; when we visited the kitchen we realized they had cooked our dishes and then proudly come by to serve and explain them.
Our meal had probably 70% vegetable/vegetarian dishes and we loved it.
I will post pictures of all the dishes, but cannot describe them in detail or this review will be 40 pages long! And as every table got different dishes and all courses change according to what is fresh and ripe, it’s not like someone may use the dishes we loved the most as a guide of what to order anyway…
Vegetables from the farm: we had the most delicious radishes
Radish crackers with poppy seed butter: simple and tasty. How do you make butter from poppy seeds?
The famous carrots that deserve a chapter in the book – and are indeed the tastiest and naturally sweetest carrots we have ever tried. Winter frost apparently concentrates the sugars in this special heirloom variety.
Kale plant: this was probably my favourite dish. When we were touring the farm earlier in the day, a chef actually came with a knife and basket to harvest some of these kale stalks, so we were excited to see them materialize on our table. They presented the whole flowering stem as though it were blooming from a small log. The taste was more broccoli than kale (and broccoli is my favourite vegetable—thirsty hubby would say my favourite food) and the leaves were slightly charred and served with shears so we could cut the leaves and drag them through the charcoal mayo. The leaves were so tasty that the mayo was unnecessary, but fun and a good pairing. I had to control myself from eating the whole thing as I knew there was a lot more to come.
Squash tartare with squash cracker and squash juice… a squash feast which I liked, but still not Stewart’s favourite ingredient.
Needles in a haystack: silly and not a real dish really but small cheese straws among hay.
Goose dishes: Sliced and in a pate form served with endive and in many other ways. He brought the whole dead goose (still feathered) to the table to show us before the various courses appeared…. “interesting” …
Pig popcorn: Stewart eats popcorn nearly daily (I joke that he is on a popcorn diet) and pig popcorn is his dream dish! These were the cracklings, but inexplicably airy and light.
We were then taken to the kitchen where we had a high butcher block table in the corner from which we could watch the action and enjoy a few courses.
Shellfish and everything they eat: we got oysters with phytoplankton, scallops with little shrimp and also uni and shells filled with the things that the mollusks eat. A beautifully presented and thoughtful dish, but one Stewart couldn’t eat because of his prior day’s food poisoning, so I stepped up for the team.
Fish taco: a kohlrabi burrito with the mackerel bloodline and corned beef with a fermented pepper hot sauce. Dan cleverly looks to use all of an ingredient where a typical restaurant would generate waste.
Celery root, malt yoghurt and quince jam: this was one of the standout dishes served in the kitchen as we watched the chefs work in the most organized but enthusiastic and clean kitchen! I love celery root (a.k.a., celeriac) and even Stewart devoured this. We scooped the celeriac slices that had been segmented like a grapefruit and ate it with the molasses and marmalade; the yoghurt and some sort of a granola! Served with a turmeric tea – outstanding!!!!!!
Wasted aged vegetables in beef fat served with bagna cauda: Not sure why they are called wasted as they were perfectly delicious, maybe usually thrown out by other chefs?
We were then moved to the manure room—literally the room where manure from the dairy was stored. Daniel personally came to show us the composting process. As the organic matter in the compost decomposes, it releases a surprising amount of heat. They use the heat for cooking in two ways. First, they put sealed packages of mushrooms into the pile for direct heat. Second, water pipes snaking through the pile absorb the heat and circulate it to a water bath used to sous vide.
In this room we ate trial potatoes cooked in compost with soil amenders. A divine dish, perfectly cooked potatoes and leeks with olive oil infused Miley oats. So good!
Compost pizza: they made a pizza topped with mushrooms sous vide in the composting bin!
Halloran farm venison: simply and perfectly cooked venison—moist, rich, tasty.
BREAD: the bread is very important as the book explains how most of the wheat we eat is dead and the importance of the quality of the wheat. So, we were looking forward to it. The bread was warm and served with two single-udder butters—that’s to say two butters with each from an individual distinct cow. Think of it like estate vineyard wine, but instead of coming exclusively from a single vineyard or even row of vines, the milk from two particular individual cows are kept separate at the dairy. The butter from Alice and Dandelion were noticeably distinct. Amazing how the butters had different flavours and as the two cows walk around distinct areas and eat slightly different foods. Fun!
Bloody beet steak: the beets were cooked in a basted cocoon of beef fat and served steakhouse style, sliced and with creamed spinach, souffled potatoes and their house ketchup. They leave the beets inside the beef fat for 30 days as it infuses sweetness and flavour (fat magic).
Anniversary cake: Maple and pecan cake, yum!
Ice cream: can’t remember as at this point I was having both our wine pairings but had something to do with squash seed oil and was served with pumpkin seed streusel.
Doughnut: light and fluffy, lovely. A heavenly version of a cinnamon doughnut sweetened with beet sugar and served with crème fraiche and chocolate streusel.
Parsnip cake: moist and unique, in a good way.
We asked them to wrap the half we didn’t eat with one of the farmhouse egg tarts for breakfast as, at this point, as Stewart’s grandmother used to say, I had a sufficiency…But they surprised us and actually wrapped a new loaf and several egg tarts.
In sum: Gorgeous meal, special and magical. Dan’s effort to coordinate with farms to produce tastier foods that reflect the richness of the land shines through in nearly every bite. Unique and one of a kind experience we would love to do again, maybe in a summer month when ingredients like tomatoes are at their prime!
Blue Hill at Stone Barns https://www.bluehillfarm.com/dine/stone-barns