I was treated to Blue Hill at Stone Barns for my birthday, and it was marvelous. As it was a surprise, I didn’t pack a camera, so there are no pictures. I’ve forgotten many details already.
We were set to wait for our table in a modern lounge with leather chairs, benches, and a (real wood) fire. The ceiling was cleverly designed to look like a barrel. The bartender was attentive, expert, and only present when needed. The starting cocktails were both served in elegant rocks glasses with (single) 2" ice cubes. I had a Chocolate Sazerac, which was marvelous.
Upon finishing our cocktails at a leisurely pace, we were promptly seated and instructed in the menu choices; 5 or 8 courses (8 was what we chose). We were interrogated on a long list of things we wouldn’t eat, which was no problem, since we’ll eat anything. Rather than navigate the exceptional wine list (I gave up after the second page of left bank wines, never made it to the right bank), we went for the wine pairings instead. I think this was ultimately the correct choice.
Before the first course, numerous things arrived. The first was a wooden tower with thin dried sheets of vegetables and things stuck in it. This is a terrible description, but it was an excellent selection. A long piece of wood with numerous nails sticking up from it showed up next, on which various fresh vegetables (blanched or vacuum infused, if any preparation at all) were spiked. They were also delicious. Miniature beet burgers (which tasted perfectly beefy, complete with sesame seeds stained my fingers terribly, but service was quick to bring out a replacement napkin before I made a mess of my tie. There was also some sort of pancetta french fry concoction that was delicious, though I couldn’t tell you exactly what it was. I quickly lost track of everything that was being served, as the details were numerous.
Here’s what I can remember in brief form: Fresh pickles sliced paper-thin with various things (including immature cured hardened egg yolks, shaved by microplane), razor clam soup, fresh (and delicious) bread and butter with squash/mushroom salt, squash pasta with uni foam, roasted onion (sunk in biochar charcoal overnight) with various toppings, lamb neck with brussel sprouts, cow heart in pea soup, bread pudding, pumpkin seed brittle, fresh cured pork … you get the idea. As much as possible is sourced from the farm itself, and there was a great attention to detail in each of the preparations.
The wine pairings were interesting; standouts were an elegant early-2000 wine from Piedmont (I want to say predominantly but not exclusively nebbiolo), a very nutty odd sherry (which paired amazingly with the aforementioned pasta) that had been sleeping for a decade, and a 1991 ChÃ¢teauneuf-du-Pape that I must confess was drinking quite well. A bled wine that tasted of acid, funk and mold paired well with the onion, but really wasn’t something I’d enjoy drinking regularly.
Espresso served after the meal was good, but not exceptional; one may as well skip it if they are connoisseurs. This is common; I’ve yet to find an exceptional restaurant that also serves exceptional espresso. I did not try the coffee. The birthday “cake” was unimpressive, but the presentation of it and class of its delivery was marvelous. Besides, I had amazing bread pudding to eat, so it worked out.
Plating and presentation were exceptional and innovative; slate trays, wooden devices, appropriate glassware, creative china. Service was exact, precise, prompt, and never obtrusive or hovering. Staff was quick to answer questions about food or drink, but otherwise offered only what was necessary to appreciate what was being consumed. Decor was fantastic, and there was enough room between the tables to enjoy oneself. The goofs were minor: one of the immature yolks ended up being jettisoned on the floor and the other onto my dish by the person shaving over the plate (“don’t eat that” she suggested); I’d expected she would return with tongs to remove it from my plate, but it was just left there in the middle of my pickles. When we first sat down, we were also served the adjacent couple’s coffee. I still can’t rate the service as anything but the best I’ve had.
I’ve had some great meals in my life. I’m vulnerable to locality of reference and loose with my superlatives, but I’m pretty sure this was the finest meal I’ve ever enjoyed. If you like food, please go here.