Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Spring Greens at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (food)

Farm-to-table cuisine has been very popular lately, with Jean-Georges' ABC Kitchen winning the James Beard award for Best New Restaurant. But what's even better is going to the farm itself. That's why I made a reservation well over a month in advance for Blue Hill at Stone Barns, to catch them during the spring season. That foresight paid off with a wonderful meal featuring some terrific and fresh seasonal greens.

Being in the city for so long, it's easy to forget that there actually is fresh air, light blue sky, white clouds, and greenery out there.

The main entrance to the restaurant and farm center. Rustic and welcoming.

The restaurant proper is actually quite big, with a sizeable kitchen.

The interior keeps the rustic feel while being elegant, with a large floral centerpiece and interesting support beam structure for the roof.

The farmers' feast begins with an array of amuses from the garden. First were dried and salted slices of potato, kale, and ramp leaves. Great crispy texture without frying. An excellent start.

When the vegetables are this fresh, you don't need to really do anything to them. Featured here are carrots, radishes, asparagus, and turnips.

A preview of the spring greens that would be featured in our meal. Spring has taken a while to come this year, so they were as enthusiastic to see the green vegetables as we were. On display here are ramps, asparagus, and fiddlehead ferns. It turns out that we managed to visit at just the right time, since ramp season is short (about 6 weeks) and fiddlehead season is even shorter (about 3 weeks).

Mini asparagus burgers in sesame seed buns were delightful small bites, but I don't think asparagus is a good flavor for this preparation.

Grilled asparagus with sesame seeds was a better preparation, adding a nice light smoky flavor to the asparagus.

A really refreshing herb spritzer. Kind of like a ginger ale, but with a milder flavor that still invigorates the palate, and much easier to drink.

I really like fiddlehead ferns and these were lovely. The season is quite short and they are only edible in this immature form, as they develop toxins as they grow.

This was a very smart and playful dish, displaying the skills of the chef beyond just picking things from the garden. The ramp leaves surrounded a cube of semi-liquid vichyssoise that burst with flavor.

Our last bites were meats that DC does not eat, so he got an extra turnip all for himself.

Our charcuterie included venison (on the left) and beef loin. The venison was remarkably flavorful and fatty.

We also got the famous "face bacon" which had good porcine flavor but excelled in its greaseless, crisp texture.

Another preview of ingredients featured grains, including red fife, emerald wheat, and spelt. The grain for the season was red fife, which would be featured in our first full course.

RED FIFE BREAD WITH ASPARAGUS MARMALADE, FRESH PEPPER, AND RICOTTA This was absolutely incredible. The bread was warm and almost muffin-like in texture, with a real earthy flavor of whole grain. The combination of bread with the soft ricotta, marmalade, and pepper had a comforting effect with the earthy taste lingering on the taste buds for a while.

They made special mention of what the animal feed was that generated the milk for this ricotta cheese, but I forgot what it was. It had a mild, smooth flavor that harmonized with the bread which was the main attraction.

GARDEN SALAD This featured more beautiful vegetables brought together by a light dressing of lime vinaigrette with egg yolk. Simple yet delicious. Real farm-to-table.

GRILLED WRECK FISH WITH SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS AND RAMPS The fish had a wonderful texture that was firm yet tender, but not in a flaky manner. This robust texture, and its robust flavor, matched well with the delicious and assertive shiitake and ramp sauce.

The potato and onion bread was outstanding. New loaves were continuously brought into the dining room and the bread was always served and carved warm. It had a beautiful crunchy crust that somehow gave in and melted away without requiring much chewing. The potato and onion flavors were noticeable in the crust and the soft fluffy interior as well.

For the bread service there was carrot salt, spinach salt, and a terrific butter.

FRIED EGG AND VEGETABLE STEW The egg was coated in panko and fried beautifully, resulting in a light, delicate, and greaseless crunch on the outside, revealing a lovely oozing yolk on the inside. The stew, filled with beans, more fiddleheads, stinging nettle, and other vegetables, was really earthy. If I had to describe what green tasted like, this would be it.

POTATO GNOCCHI WITH ASPARAGUS AND BALSAMIC They seemed more like potato raviolis or perogies even, as the pasta and the potato were two separate layers. Everything was fine, but there was nothing particularly outstanding and I didn't like the execution of the pasta.

BERKSHIRE PORK BELLY WITH SALSIFY AND LETTUCE I liked the salsify and lettuce, and the sauce was quite nice. But the Berkshire pork belly was not particularly distinguishable from pork I can get at other fine restaurants in Manhattan. It was delicious, as it's hard to mess up pork belly, but it did not wow me as a meat course as a farm fresh chicken might have.

GRASS FED BEEF LOIN WITH CARROTS DC does not eat pork, so they served him beef. The grass fed flavor does come out, but again, I just didn't feel like I needed to trek all the way out there for these meat courses.

A quick walk outside to breathe in the fresh night air before the sweet courses began. Real stars in the night sky!


ORANGE SORBET WITH CASSIS, RHUBARB, AND ELDERFLOWER JELLY I thought this was just too sharp and one-note, but SC loved all the components and thought that it worked well as a predessert palate cleanser.

COFFEE GRANITE, CHOCOLATE SORBET, AND MILK FOAM The flavors were solid, and the textures and temperatures mixed well together.

MILK CHOCOLATE AND CHESTNUT CAKE It was actually DC and SC's anniversary, so the kitchen was nice enough to send this out for them.


Also, our wines for the evening, expertly chosen once again by DC in collaboration with the sommelier.

Overall, it was a wonderful meal filled with wonderful ingredients. From the start of the meal to the egg and vegetable stew, they showed off the produce spectacularly. The pasta, meat, and dessert courses were good, but not spectacular, and did not give the sense that they were worth travelling some distance for. Blue Hill is a hard restaurant to rate, because every dinner can be somewhat different based on the available produce. While there wasn't much cooking technique being shown off, it could also be because of the limitations on what they would use. My recommendation would be to figure out what season's ingredients appeal to you most, whether it be spring green vegetables, summer-autumn tomatoes, winter root vegetables, or whatever, and plan a trip accordingly.

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