Sunday, April 24, 2011

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Referred to as one of the most important restaurants in America, the name is worth mastering. Blue Hill at Stone Barns.

We had been saving for this event meal for weeks, planning it to be the kickoff event of our partnership's Anniversary Month. How appropriate to begin the celebration here in the the Hudson Valley. We intend to conclude the celebration in the Napa Valley.

Located on one of the estates of David Rockefeller, the restaurant is one feature of the farm. The purpose of the entity is to develop and educate the public and restaurant industry about sustainable agriculture. The farm is a showcase for the kind of forward thinking farming that takes agrarian heritage and adds science. A walk around the various pastures and barns is sure to make you think about where you meal comes from. This subject is very dear to us, as we harvest a large portion of our vittles from our land, the forests and waters of the northwest.

This is about the restaurant. We had our reservations, and dressed as requested, as most did. The main business comes from the city, just 28 miles south. Our trip took us into Stone Barns from the north, the fabled Hudson Valley. That beautiful drive really set a farm tone for the evening. We were early, and took a walk around the farm, entertaining ourselves and the cows. The sheep had just been sheered, and were not amused. The setting is magnificent.

We finally went inside, to the cozy bar. Here we sat by the fire, anticipating and talking. The cocktail menu caught my eye, and gave us a preview of the fare. The staff was occupied, and when they got to us, we ordered a drink. No hurry. I ordered a Beet It. Cava, beet infused vodka, house made bitters with a hint of marjoram. It was delicious. The wine list is brilliantly organized by primary characteristics, and is a bit pricey. One minor disagreement here- since the focus of Blue Hill is local sourcing and micro agriculture, wines should be featured that reflect the terroir. Nothing in food and wine pairing is more important in my opinion. This knowledge alone is what keeps France from slipping into barbarism.

After a pleasant wait, we were shown kindly to a table early. How nice. We had our minds made up, and ordered the 5 course Easter tasting. The policy at Blue Hill is to not spend a lot of time describing the food, in writing or before ordering. Very different, and effective to make one focus and trust. I liked it.

We were treated to an extensive amuse buche, with dried vegetable chips and an herb spritzer that was very fun and clever. This mini-course finished with a tiny beet burger- scrumptious!

Then we got into the menu. An Easter egg in a bed of micro-greens. The egg was of course fresh off the farm, and that matters, as we all know. It was perfectly cooked, the yolk soft and unctuous, creamy and not too runny. When it was mixed in the greens, with the basil and herb paste on the plate, it was fun. The greens were eye opening- each variety's flavor was distinct and balanced. It was served on a slate slab, which we thought too clever by half. We are certain we picked up a metallic flavor from the slate.

The fish course was flawed, in our personal view. It was a delicious piece of trout filet, grilled on the skin, then the meat separated and served. The flavor of the cooking was delicate and complimented the the trout, but it was very little more cooked than raw. Not a pleasing texture, and one that in my view detracts from the enjoyment. It is too soft and mushy to be pleasing. What saved the dish was the Mayer Lemon sauce, which, if you must use lemon on fish, and this one needed it, was an inventive and appropriate way. The shittake mushrooms and ramps (of course at this time of year), were very complimentary. Another new idea- fish and mushrooms, which is perfect for our home range.

Next came a parsnip steak. Yes. A nice size, well cooked parsnip root. With a sweet maple-bacon sauce that was yet another revelation. We are planting the damn things as a result of this dish. I hope we can cook it as well!

The course we faced with trepidation came next, lamb! Mrs. Exechobo has been traumatized by lamb, and avoids it stringently. She knew this was her moment to face fear, the time she could count on having the best lamb possible to see if she could overcome lambaphobia. The lamb was served two ways, a piece of belly and a loin. The loin was perfectly cooked, and seasoned with salt and pepper to perfection as well. The sauce was rich, deep and balanced. The belly? A bit tough and fatty, alit seemed to yearn for more time on the fire. The carrots were impossibly sweet. And the Cardinal Spinach was what we had mistaken for chard in the greenhouse on the farm. It was tasty.

Desert was a bit odd. On top a foam of Blue Hill milk, from the farm. It was grassy and good, as real milk is. It topped what I can only recall as a mini mess of things chocolate and coffee. Icy and liquidy and mousy. Filling, abundant and not all that great. We were surprised to learn the cookie bit was gingerbread, as it had no characteristics of gingerbread.

Overall, one of the minor things that impressed us was the perfect cooking of the vege. Not too done, not too undone. More important though was the way the meal came together as an event centered on the farm, with simply conceived cooked to modern culinary perfection, and a twist of imagination to make them more interesting. This is great American cuisine.

I recently wrote about my rationale for eating out. Dining at Blue Hill is worth it:
- Worth the money? YES
- Worth the time, travel? YES
- Sates my hunger? Well, yes
- Makes me think? YES
- Inspires my culinary interest? YES
- Inspires my professional business interest? Not so much
- Creates a center for a good time with others? oh YES

The list for a reservation is quite full, so plan ahead, but by all means, do as we did and plan a trip around this gem. Try to get there in the day and bring some gumboots to tour the barns and pastures. There is a cafe to refresh you. Make it a day celebrating the gifts of agriculture.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

No comments: