Address: 630 Bedford Rd, Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
Phone: (914) 366-9600
Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Located 15 minutes from Tarrytown, where they have the routine of taxis shuttling between the farm and station down-pat, the Stone Barns are part of the old Rockefeller estate owned by David Rockefeller and his daughter Peggy Dulany. On the maxim that the best place to make a place interesting to a cut swathe of the general public, the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns was created in 2004 by the Barber family. (the same year as per se, an annus mirabilis for New York dining). Under the guidance of Chef Dan Barber, the restaurant serves farm-fresh cuisine, with all kinds of novel platings seldom seen elsewhere. The farm as a whole is a Center for Food & Agriculture. I arrived here on a wintry Sunday afternoon – the only day on which Blue Hill is open for “lunch” hours (1pm).
Aside: Is it not interesting how rapidly a top-class restaurant can gentrify a rough area? I’m thinking of the gentrification of Melbourne’s back-alleys, formerly home to dumpsters, with coffee shops. The story is well-told in the documentary Human Scale. From being areas where Melbourne citizens feared to tread for the risk of robbery, they now thrive with human activity. I also recall the anecdote of a Nordic restaurant gentrifying a tough Copenhagen neighbourhood. In a city with modern transport infrastructure, sourcing ingredients is no longer a problem, and urban philanthropists (AKA restauranteurs) may do good upon any blighted part of the city, simply by setting up a top-class restaurant there. On a small scale, this is what happened to the Keong Saik area in Chinatown with the opening of Restaurant Andre. A restaurant, driven by the rising fine-dining spend by younger professionals, seems to be the fastest way to transform a neighbourhood. In the short term (as long as this rising dining spend lasts), urban planners may seek out alliances of convenience with restauranteurs.
In its focus on local ingredients, Blue Hill is at the very epicentre of the farm-to-table movement that is sweeping America today. All the better. The local-vore movement is making dining interesting. Whereas previously a hundred restaurants in a hundred cities might aim towards replicating a French experience, more chefs are paying regard to their surroundings, and using ingredients nearer them. The enforced constraints breed artistry. birch, in Providence, is a great example of building on local food roots in Rhode Island. Aska seems to do the same in the Northeast. They are relentlessly local in a way a restaurant like per se (or any single Singapore restaurant) is not. The plutocrat’s reach is a global terroir – 3* Michelin places like Masa, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, cater to this excellence-at-all-cost mentality. Every ingredient is part of the chef’s canvas. Local-vore restaurants turn away from this maxim.
Aside 2 for Singapore/Malayan readers: It is strange that for Malaya, there is not (and nowhere near) a real top-class restaurant with local Malayan ingredients. Imagine what one could do with sago worms, or the manis plant. One of these days, someone will create the noma of Malaya. And that is when the dining scene will get interesting.
The food. Wonderful platings. Wonderfully fresh vegetables, even in the infancy of winter. Highly memorable, food with a purpose, educating diners on seasonality (via a cute handbook they hand out at the start of every meal), ingredients (kohlrabi, wheat, bio-char charcoal), the taste of ricotta from cows in summer and cows in winter… Also, some of the best service I have received. A wonderful weekend that included dining at per se and Aska was rounded off at the best and most memorable place of the trio, Blue Hill. My meal there was long and involved (it lasted 4 hours, and I counted around 30+ courses), but I came out of it happy as a lark.
Memory: Bio-charred Cabbage, Mokum Carrots, Stone Barns Pork, Speck, Kohlrabi ‘Tacos’, Concord Grape Soup with Yoghurt Sorbet, “Party on a Pear Tree”
Book: Mike Tyson, Undisputed Truth
From Grand Central to Tarrytown
The entrance to the complex
Private dining area, outside
Courtyard, looking out
Restaurant Entrance, afar
Private dining area (1)
Stairway to private dining area
Stone Barns the education center.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, entrance.
Grazing, Pecking, Rooting
“A ton of amuses”
“Vegetables on a Fence”
Sprayed simply with salt water to highlight the innate qualities of the veggies
Turnip served from a cone (not pictured)
Young ginger soda
“Party in a Pear Tree”
Dried fig, crisped ham, a sour red paper, potato chip clasping a leaf (reminiscent of techniques from Joel Robuchon & Cesar Ramirez)
Pig’s Heart Pastrami, Pickled Carrot, Mustard Seed (on bird foot)
Celery Root Jerky with Wintergreen Berries
“The wintergreen berries form the spearmint taste of your chewing gum!”
A most excellent Tarragon Pesto, which I ate with…
Young Pea Shoots, “harvested” with Scissors
Brussel Sprout Tree, “harvested” with Machete
“Brussel sprouts come from the same family as broccoli, and it shows”
Beetroot Sushi (4.5/5)
The second time I’ve had beetroot sushi, the first was at Alain Passard’s L’Arpege. I enjoyed this a bit more, since the wasabi wasn’t overpowering, and I enjoyed the heresy of including seeds and puffed rice to add a different texture to the sushi. Nutty.
Left to right:
Vichyssoise (sic?), sauerkraut, and pork crackling
Squash Whoopie Pie
Trumpet Mushroom + something
Rhode Island Whitebait
“You know I love you, Rhode Island. Also, reminiscent of whitebait that’s commonly used by my mom.”
Pork Liver and Chocolate. (4.25/5)
Beet Burger (4/5)
on a bed of sesame seeds.
Coppa and Corn Flatbread. (4.5/5)
“Great coppa (dry-cured pork shoulder), a rounded gentle meaty taste. Very pleasant – could eat it with cornbread all day long”
20 Minutes at the Kitchen Table
At this point, I was on to the main courses, and promptly whisked off to the kitchen table, to catch the workings of the chefs. Brilliant.
Winter Berry Tea
“Since you enjoyed the winterberries”
That made me feel special.
Tomato Tartare (4/5)
with Vegetable Flatbread
“Sour, with a sundried taste, the quail egg bound them together and made it come alive”
My server explained that charcoal in New York was usually now done in two petroleum drums drained of oxygen. Blue Hill was extending the concept of charcoal beyond just wood, but also to bones – specifically pig bones. “One step further than nose-to-tail!” – exact words. So now, even the bones of a pig are used for cooking. The charcoal imparts a different, meaty flavour to dishes. The technical term is “bio-char”.
Bio-charred Cheese (Goats Milk) (3.75/5)
Pickled Plum, Bone Marrow Sauce
Bio-charred Celery Root, Squid Ink (4/5)
“The squid ink was reduced to sauce with bio-charred vegetables. A geometric risotto of acute angles.” Reminiscent of the celerisotto from L’Arpege.
“It’s been inside, rotating for a bit. But what’s interesting is that there’s a convection zone underneath the char, which is steaming the cabbage underneath the outer layer”
Bio-charred Cabbage, Quince, Speck (5/5)
The most successful of the bio-char mini-sequence of courses for me. The sauce was a meaty sauce, which was probably from the pork speck (a cured meat made with pork leg). The cubes of speck and quince on top of the cabbage made the exquisitely tender hunk of cabbage like a “cabbage steak”. Quince sauce by the side.
AND OUT WE GO…
Tevalde Wheat from Washington and Canada
Milled daily in a chute right in the restaurant, which is “very noisy”.
Similar to milling barley in Scottish whisky distilleries
Whole Grain Brioche (4.5/5)
made from just-milled Tevalde Wheat.
Winter Green Marmalade & Cracked Pepper
Ricotta, about to be sieved.
“The cows eat hay in winter, and this affects the ricotta made from their milk. The taste differs from season to season”
Blue Hill Farm Ricotta Cheese (4.5/5)
& Whole Grain Brioche + Winter Green Marmalade (4.5/5)
“We’ve been breeding giant kohlrabi in partnership with a farm Upstate one hour North of here.”
“They grow in black dirt, dating from an ancient glacial lake. Extremely fertile. There’s some here, but a lot less”
Why do you need a giant kohlrabi?
Here are your accompaniments…
Clockwise from 12 o’clock: Broccoli Guacamole, Salt with Crushed Lobster Roe,
Smoked Beef Strips, Carrot Yoghurt, Fermented Corn, Watermelon Hot Sauce
Center: Maine Sea Scallops
Kohlrabi ‘Taco’ (5/5)
The conceit is original (to me). The kohlrabi had a moderate sweetness, like a sugar infused turnip. A triumph of presentation.
From left to right:
Hudson Valley Butter, Blue Hill Pig Lardo, Fennel Salt, Beet Salt
Blue Hill Farm Egg (4/5)
An incredibly fresh egg with speck from the pig’s leg, on a beautifully polished wood plate. Simple and satisfying.
The leg of speck. The speck served was German style, which means that the bone was removed. I would end up being served two courses involving speck: (1) the bio-char cabbage, and (2) the speck with egg above. From the prosciuttopedia:
The key to its exquisite taste and quality is the well regulated production method which is based, as much today as in the past, on the raw material used. The so called creative phase is the salting, and seasoning of the meat with juniper, laurel and rosemary. The dry curing process is never longer than three weeks but varies in intensity according to the manufacturer. It is then ready to be smoked. A gentle alternation between smoking and drying, ensuring that the temperature never exceeds 20°C, represent the distinctive characteristics of Speck production. And lastly an additional maturing phase in a temperature and humidity controlled environment for a period that rarely exceeds 6 months, which enhances the typical aroma and flavor of Speck. During the maturing phase a thin layer of mold forms on the surface conferring a distinctive aroma to the product (reminiscent of nuts and porcini mushrooms, it is said!). The resulting flavor is simply unique.
Stone Barns Pork (5/5)
Jerusalem Artichoke, Brussel Sprouts
… including blood sausage, and pickled jerusalem artichoke (sunchoke). The pork was of the highest quality, tasting of divine pink silky bacon.
Blue Hill Farm Goat (4.75/5)
Mokum Carrots, Toasted Spices, Tatsoi
The goat was good (tasting of an Indian braised curry preparation), but surprisingly for me, not the star of the show.
That honour belonged to the Mokum carrots, hauntingly roasted to be just chewy enough. Different colours of carrots tasted different. This was one of the top 3 carrot dishes I have tasted this year, along with birch’s roasted carrot and Eleven Madison Park’s carrot tartare.
Rupert Cheese from Vermont, aged 16 months (3.25/5)
Candied Squash Seeds, Quince Jam
“A little harsh and hard”
Lemon Sorbet, Kumquats (4/5)
Served on a bed of smoked salt, lemon sorbet with olive oil poured over. Kumquat peel was great
Clockwise from 2 o’clock:
Concord Grape Soup and Yoghurt Sorbet (4.75/5)
Cranberry Sorbet, Squash, Rosemary Pistachios (4/5)
Sweet Potato Sorbet with Stone Barns Honey, Ginger Granitas (4.25/5)
The most memorable sorbet was the concord grape soup with concord grape raisins. To get that much soup, more than a few grapes needed to be crushed. We are well and truly into concord grape season, Momofuku Ko (lunch edition) also had a concord-grape amuse a few weeks ago apparently.
Concord grapes remind me of the intense grape flavour of Kyoho grapes. Delicious.
From left to right:
Hazelnut Meringue Needles (amidst the bush)
Rye Sourdough Biscuits in a Bag with Squash Jam
Rye Sourdough Biscuit
Lighting the path.
Goodbye Stone Barns, till we meet again.