Blue Hill at Stone Barns: Go for Lunch

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Let’s talk logistics. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is in Westchester, 45 minutes north of New York City by train. Unless you have a car, you have to be able to eat your three-hour-plus meal in time to take the last train back to the city at one in the morning. Or pay an exorbitant fee for a taxi to drive you back at that hour. My advice? Either find a way to eat at 5:30pm or plan a lunchtime outing on the weekend when you can take in the sights of the farm and its surroundings (or, on a personal note, have enough light to take photos in the “no flash zone” dining room). The lake and trees looked nice by moonlight, but are much more enjoyable by day, I’m sure.

As you may have guessed, the restaurant is situated on a working farm. The seasonal menu—laid out by ingredient, and not by the actual dish you receive, much like Manresa in Los Gatos—is sourced just steps from the dining room, whether it’s rainbow chard from the garden, lardo from its pigs, or grass-fed ricotta from its cow’s milk. The menu was indeed very vegetable-driven, which I think distinguishes it from other restaurants of the same caliber that tend to predominantly emphasize protein, and I appreciated that.

I persuaded my good friend Clark from my publishing days to accompany me to a 9:30pm reservation on a Wednesday. It was drizzling outside and we were a bit disappointed the massive stone fireplace was not lit up like a Christmas tree just adjacent to us. We’re in the country, it’s cold, and there’s a fireplace right there!

Also, we’re eating late, and I just took a subway, a train, and a taxi to get here. Isn’t this a great opportunity to wow us with an innovative little bar snack? We would have settled for airline nuts at that point, really.

Adding to that: there were two other people in the bar besides us yet we had to wave down the server every time we wanted something (I highly recommend one of their signature cocktails, however). Their bedside manner, as we soon found with our dinner servers, was somewhere between earnest and perplexed if we tried to make a joke or engage with them in any way. This is one thing the French Laundry and Per Se do well—the food might be pretentious but the wait staff is decidedly not.

It was low light so I’ve decided to spare you some photos that don’t do the food justice. At top was the very first offering: tomato water gazpacho and barely dressed vegetables from the garden. Nice presentation.

Next came a series of small and simple offerings, like deep-fried wax beans, mini tomato burgers, sliced prosciutto and coppa, and zucchini with pancetta and sesame.

The first official offering of our 8-course meal (there are three menu options of 5, 8, or 12 courses) was a bean salad with tomato water gazpacho, lardo, and herbs. I noticed that Blue Hill didn’t mind repeating certain ingredients, if in different combinations, as we had the gazpacho and lardo more than once.

Next was grass-fed ricotta, Swiss chard marmalade, and black pepper.

Wahoo, grilled corn, mushrooms, tomato, coriander

Next, we had spaghetti squash carbonara-style with bacon and a pleasantly runny orange farm egg. We found it a bit redundant that they then served us normal spaghetti, dressed lightly in a smoked tomato sauce and garnished with a cured ostrich egg, grated on top like parmigiano. Why not own the vegetarian version and move along? The ostrich egg was an intriguing touch but in the end didn’t add any substantial flavor.

Somewhere around this point we were served a massive hunk of butter and bread. (See: starving at bar just an hour earlier.) What is the logic of serving this now, two-thirds of the way into our meal? And just as we tried a few smears of it, it was whisked away to deliver the next course at break-neck speed.

Our last savory dish was pork served four ways, including fried snout (it’s crispy), and roasted carrots.

Desserts were unfortunately rather forgettable, and even my notes reflect it: some combination of Concord grape meringue, Blue Hill honey, a simple baked torte, and petit fours.

As I read this, it seems I didn’t have the most enjoyable meal, and that’s too bad, because some of the ingredients were extraordinary, and innovative preparations were delivered with a light touch that let the produce shine. I suppose it comes down to the experience we had with our wait staff. We never had a dedicated server; it simply depended on who had an extra hand to deliver the food. Even stranger, they reported the ingredients like a stunted funeral sermon (“Wax beans. Lardo. Gazpacho.”) and then briskly walked away. Plus, I know we had a 9:30pm reservation but they rushed us so quickly through our courses that I barely had time to savor one dish before another one was placed in front of me. I had a similar experience recently in New Orleans with a 9:30pm reservation. Restaurants, if you’re not willing to give us the same amount of time to enjoy our food as someone with a 5:30pm reservation, then maybe you shouldn’t book those hours! We’re already inconveniencing ourselves to dine at an odd hour, but then we get rushed through it?

I’ll end on a positive note and say that I would like to try Blue Hill at Stone Barns again sometime, ideally when the sun is shining and I have plenty of time to take it all in.

Other NYC restaurant reviews from this trip:
Best meal: Jean Georges $38 prix fixe lunch
Per Se

Torrisi, ABC Kitchen, Lincoln, Veritas, Café Boulud, the Breslin, Lotus of Siam, New Amsterdam Market

NYC restaurant reviews from May 2010:
Minetta Tavern: I Don’t Get It

Colicchio & Sons: What’s New Is Old
Eleven Madison Park: French Laundry Wanna-Be
Peter Luger v. Strip House: The Steak-Off
Motorino v. Kesté: Neapolitan Pizza Pie-Off
Locanda Verde: Swing and a Miss
Maialino: Danny Meyer Does It Again
Marea: Do Your Homework
Great Jones Cafe: Best Wings In The City
Apiary: Hidden Gem
Seäsonal Restaurant & Weinbar: Who Knew?
Brooklyn’s Fatty ’Cue: Malaysian BBQ
La Esquina: VIP Mexican Food?

Oct. 21 2011 |
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