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Posts from the ‘Pocantico Hills’ Category

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

1/2 Even though school started this week and we’ve slogged through torrential downpours, September is still summer—and therefore, a perfectly good time of year to experience nature’s bounty of tomatoes, corn and melon (bah, more about that later) This particular month wasn’t part of my original plan, though.

There was no impetus for a trip to Blue Hill at Stone Barns beyond a July panic that I should be eating summer foods somewhere that takes such things seriously, i.e. not my home. My only two previous visits were in the dead of winter, so cold you had to run from the parking lot the entrance and missed the whole point of escaping NYC, and before they implemented the freeform, tasting menu-only approach. Eh, and I was violently sick and ruined my own meal last time. (Through no fault of the restaurant; I was getting over a two-week-long flu and didn’t want to cancel my reservation. That was a mistake.) It was time for a re-do. Except that the soonest weekend opening available was for Sunday, August 28 at 9:30pm. I took it anyway.

And when Hurricane Irene was predicted I thought I was being a genius by searching Open Table for cancellations. There were plenty. 5pm on a Saturday? No problem. Except that Saturday morning the restaurant closed. Wisely, it turned out, because even days later on a Thursday for our rescheduled dinner, the hour drive ended up taking three (!) because of the Saw Mill Parkway being closed, flooding and other unforeseen detours. (On the way back we were re-thwarted and discovered the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel was closed, then the Brooklyn Bridge entrance, too. 9/11 prep or normal construction, I don’t know. By the time I set foot in the apartment it was 3am.)

Being a weeknight (and having just eaten at Town House over Labor Day—two decadent parades of food just seemed a bit much for one week) we opted for the smallest number of dishes, five, which would presumably be plenty satisfying—and the right number for one bottle of wine, a 2004 Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Spätlese, preceded by a gin cocktail with purple basil and a glass of cava.

Bubbly always signals special occasion (and really, the restaurant’s three-and-half-year-old, new-to-me style is the epitome of special occasion dining—there were lots of candles sheltered in glass domes, brought to tables to be blown out) and we were asked if we were celebrating anything. We were not, though I would’ve been well within my rights to mention our twelve-year dating anniversary that occurred three days before. I’m not attention-starved.

No matter, the meal that unfolded was anniversary-worthy and then some. No restrictions, no allergies, no food off-limits. (Not 100% true—there’s only one food in the entire world that I don’t like but wouldn’t necessarily bring it up under the context of “Do you eat offal or mind raw seafood?” because it’s so benign to most that I can’t bear bringing it up out of fear of looking like a dilettante. Ok, I hate melon, yes even watermelon, and cantaloupe in particular. The offending fruit showed up three times during this meal! Because it’s still summer, duh. And yes, I ate it without complaint because I don’t tolerate food babies and no one should put up with crap from me either.)

Let’s just say that five courses was merely a guideline. The amount of food was highly unexpected, edible shock and awe, which I’m not complaining about. I just had not anticipated a four-hour dinner and closing down the restaurant. You have to be mentally and physically prepared for such decadence! And I’m still sad about leaving behind a good portion of the final savory course: pork in a zillion forms—especially after hearing about how cute and fat the piglets were getting.

Blue hill stone barns 4 amuses

The meal was kicked off with a single lettuce leaf (a similar one-leaf approach occurred at Town House the previous weekend). Then you’re consumed by which naked piece of produce to snatch from the row of metal spikes first, though soon your attention is diverted by a jungle of dried kale, tempura beans and thin rounds of pancetta.

The mini burgers are a diminutive hallmark; beets in the past, this time with tomato and bacon. And a really sweet bun, which I liked. Keeping up the make-the-diner-feel-like-a-giant theme, finger-sized zucchini and “corn dogs,” battered, fried little stalks served with a bitter corn and beer shot, added to the tableau.

   Blue hill stone barns radish trio

Natural sweetness enhanced by salt was the theme. I never get people, always food people, who cite radish and butter sandwiches as a revelatory dish. Use fresh enough butter and barely bitter radishes and a good dose of salt…and ok, it makes more sense.

A coca, that would be a Barcelonan thin, crackly near-pizza (I only know this because twice I went to La Vinya del Senyor looking for a version with red peppers and sugar and both times they did not have it) comes blanketed with cured ham.

Fish balls with phytoplankton mayonnaise. What’s phytoplankton, you ask? Microscopic organisms that form the basis aquatic life. Dan Barber encountered its culinary applications at Aponiente in Cádiz. Will powdered, reconstituted algae be the next shredded beef tongue?

My subconscious must be stronger than realized because I have no photographic evidence of the melon balls with cracked pepper and watermelon juice course. If forced to choose, I will concede that watermelon is the more tolerable variety.

Blue hill stone barns marrow duo

The garden showcase segues into a meaty period with a veal marrow bone (love the tailor-made contraption) topped with breadcrumbs and foie gras sandwiched between lacy chocolate wafers.

It’s hard to say where the amuses end and the courses begin.


Blue hill stone barns tomatoes & melon
More melon! I will also concede that grilling the bad-sweet pink cubes adds a complexity that paired well with good-sweet tomatoes and a touch of goat cheese.

Blue hill stone barns brioche duo

Ricotta is stirred into solidity tableside and is meant to be eaten with a thick piece of brioche and a mound of greens (spinach? chard?). I’m pretty sure tiny raisins were tucked into the sautéed vegetable.

Blue hill stone barns onion duo

We wondered if the wild flames visible through a darkened window were intentional (after the flooding and hurricanes, who knew?) Yes, and our onions cooked in “biochar” were one of the things in the fire pit. The soft, caramelized guts could be eaten with a hazelnut-leek spread, chicken liver, peaches or beets. The latter may have worked the best, but I loved the variety.

Blue hill stone barns head grains

Hmm…when the chopsticks appeared I wondered what was coming. I didn’t notice anything particularly Asian on the tables nearby. Fish head? Indeed! I was not expecting a nice gelatinous piece of cod simply presented with a pile of salt and chile flakes for flavor and to be eaten with a small vessel of grains. (I could not tell you the myriad varieties, though our informative server definitely would’ve found out, if asked.)

Blue hill stone barns egg

This is no mere egg yolk sitting atop zucchini shreds. An unborn egg aged to the texture of parmesan is treated similarly to the hard Italian cheese and is grated on top. Egg two-ways. Thankfully, the fish head was as wild as they got and balut wasn’t incorporated for a three-way.

Blue hill stone barns salt baked duo

Salt-baked chicken in a charred crust. I have to admit I was feeling a bit fatigued by this point, so I didn’t ask about the chicken that James insisted was seasoned with pork. Was it? The pristine flesh has clearly been glazed with something.The fried potato dish beneath had to have been. The flavor of the meat was so intense and savory that if only derived from the poultry itself I will begin ponying up for the farm-raised chickens I’m normally too cheap to indulge in.

Blue hill stone barns pork

Waah, pork…rich, fatty pork. Why did it have to come at the end? I was only able to handle a few bites from this sampler of  bacon, blood sausage, ears, loin and even little chicharrones. (I’d just stocked up on pork skins at gas stations all over North Carolina so my pork tolerance is high.)

Blue hill stone barns sweets

Nothing like a cantaloupe palate cleanser, cut with concord grapes (phew) to transition to the sweeter side. This was followed by a semolina pudding with blueberries (and plums?), a chocolate hazelnut mousse with elderberries and an ender nearly as simple as the initial lettuce leaf: dried white peaches and a cluster of grapes.

The restaurant has really elevated its style—the ethos is produce-forward, but more accessible and soothing than some of the forage-heavy roots-leaves-and-twigs school that’s in vogue—since my long-ago last visit. It feels very American. I wonder what influence Peru will have on the cuisine’s future. We were told that “Dan was in the city” before being offered a peek into the kitchen. What they didn’t say was that the city was Lima.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns * 630 Bedford Rd., Pocantico Hills, NY

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

1/2 I’m about to embark on a woeful tale, so anyone with an aversion to unpleasantness (you know that I have a fascination with barfing, but I fully realize that not everyone shares my interest) should skip ahead to my original stellar Blue Hill experience from 2006.

I thought it was strange last week when James mentioned on a Thursday night that he’d made reservations at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. There wasn’t any occasion for it. That’s the kind of place you’d go to for, say, Valentine’s Day not a weirdo spot like Crave on 42nd. Not that I’m knocking the spontaneity. As it turned out, he had been influenced by a promotional email from the restaurant. I always delete stuff like that, but obviously it works on people, which is great when I benefit.

The problem was that I was still very sick with the virulent cold that I’d had since President’s Day. I didn’t start feeling normal until three days ago, over two weeks after I first became ill. (One thing I learned is that it only takes fourteen days of not plucking for my eyebrows to turn completely Frida Kahlo. Oh, and after being given an EKG and then nearly admitted to the hospital because my heart rate was so out of control, that I’m not allowed to take cold medicine ever again).

But I was determined to go anyway and have one nice meal because I’d been stressing so much over this whole messed up blood sugar business. That was my first mistake. If you have even the inkling that you’re not feeling up to par, just reschedule your reservation.

My second mistake was taking half a dose of cold medicine even though I was warned against it. Actually, I’m not sure if that was the mistake or not. I think it might’ve been self-prescribing antibiotics I picked up in Mexico last year. All I know is that everything stewing around in my stomach started inducing serious sweats and nausea by the time we popped out of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel into Manhattan. And we still had an hour to go.

Always the planner, I’d targeted a Trader Joe’s a few miles from Blue Hill to pick up some items like Greek yogurt and overly fibrous bread. I’ll do anything to avoid shopping in NYC. First, I ran into a neighboring CVS to grab some Tums in hopes of heading off intestinal distress, but it was too late for that. Next thing I knew I was puking up my guts (and animal ones too) in the Trader Joe’s bathroom.

Ok, the mistake might’ve been leftover Sichuan tongue and tripe in chile oil for breakfast (it seemed like a good low carb solution at the time). I will say that the numbing burn of these cold Chinese appetizers is more pleasant going down than coming up.

At this point we should’ve evaluated the situation and headed home but we were only a few miles from the restaurant. Instead, I nibbled on a piece of brown hyper grainy bread and hoped that the worst was over now that I’d gotten all the crap out of my system.

It is strange that both of our visits to the Westchester Blue Hill have been during the dead of bone-chilling, snowy winter. I really need to pay a visit when it’s all corn and tomatoes instead of root vegetables and cabbage. Honestly, I don’t have strong feelings one way or the other towards seasonal food, but I am a bit curious to try Park Avenue Winter after it morphs into Park Avenue Spring at the end of this month.

I had the good sense to not indulge in the tasting menu, a.k.a. the farmer’s feast, as we did last time. The other way to dine is a la carte, two dishes plus dessert for $65 or three for $78. Portions are modest and nothing is grouped by appetizer or mains so anything goes. I wondered if it would raise eyebrows if you were piggish and ordered three meats: venison, pork and veal. Not that I would. I was completely sensible and asked for soup, vegetables and pork. We both ordered the Berskhire pork, breaking the unwritten rule of never getting the same thing.

Deciding on a blood orange margarita while perusing the menu was insanity and just goes to show how unwilling I am to let go of habits. It was the ginger part of the cocktail that caught my attention. Soothing, refreshing and good for nausea. But I blocked out the tequila part. Two sips of this and I knew I was in trouble. I quickly moved on to water and ginger ale but the damage had already been done. My stomach started going wild again.

Fried food certainly didn’t help. Amuses seemed to come out willy nilly. Tables received varying items. The couple next to us had mini beet burgers, which we had last time so I would’ve been ok without them. Not long after our neighbors polished off their snack, a second set of beet burgers clearly meant for our table went to them again. Didn’t they think it was strange to be served the same starter twice?

After a bit of time passed we were brought battered proscuitto-wrapped salsify. Normally, I would’ve loved this but the saltiness and frittery nature overwhelmed me into queasiness.

Then, I became appalled by the couple who’d already eaten two amuses, including ours, pointing at our table and asking their waiter for what we had. And this is the type of place that’s wildly accommodating (the older couple that eventually replaced these two bland thirtysomethings were extremely demanding and fussy—no fruit in anything, which caused a problem when a beet salad with goat cheese had dried fruit mixed into the cheese--but appeared to be regulars and knew all the waiters by name) so it wasn’t a huge issue. But I mean, seriously. Their bad manners and the fact that the female half was a total skelator despite her apparent love of amuse bouches made me even more nauseous.

Cauliflower soup seemed bland and inoffensive and it was…until I got to the oyster and I knew I’d be leaving the table soon. No matter how many spoonfuls of the liquid I sipped, it didn’t seem to budge. Kind of a loaves and fishes experience. It’s not like the serving sizes were enormous but I couldn’t plow through the creamy broth.

The “roots and fruits” are the type of thing I normally wouldn’t order because they appeared abnormally healthy. The gluttonous part of me was like, “I don’t want to eat a plate of pretty produce” but the part of me with an upset stomach and newly determined to eat less crap thought it was brilliant.

But I couldn’t take a bite before I had to make a production getting up from the table (we had a freestanding corner booth, luxurious by NYC standards but it was so squishy and tucked in it was hard to get out without moving the table) to run to the downstairs bathroom. Blood orange margarita, cauliflower soup and gallons of indeterminate liquid came up in three separate wall-splattering sessions.

I kind of wanted to go home but didn’t know how to handle such a maneuver at a high end restaurant when you’ve already ordered multiple courses. To the shock of people I’ve verbally recounted this sad tale to, I went back to the table and proceeded to eat my mélange of spinach, cabbage, grapes, pears, walnuts, chestnuts and fennel. It was good, ok? And I was starving. Ah, but I returned to a silver dome warming my food. I’d never encountered the elegant device until Gramercy Tavern, and here it was twice in two weeks. I told you 2008 was going to be good.

The main event wasn’t to be. When the sight and smell of farm raised pork served three ways makes me gag, you know something’s seriously wrong. I took one bite of the perfectly pink-centered loin and a nibble of the crispy skin and I’d reached my limit. I sat and watched James eat his while trying not to breathe too deeply or the porcine scent would induce a repeat performance in the bathroom.

When our concerned waiter came to clear plates including my barely touched one he asked “Can we make something else for you?” Now, that’s service. I thought of the recent Diner's Journal discussion about taking home leftovers from upscale restaurants. I never do it, primarily because the portions don’t usually require a doggy bag. I do it all the time and midrange and lower establishments, though. But this was an unusual circumstance and there was no way I was tossing a full plate of food. They whisked it away and said it would be waiting at the front desk when I left. Ah, also very classy. Not foil swan classy, but you know.

You’d think that if I couldn’t handle my entrée that would be it, but I did order a dessert. Despite the rumblings in my gut, I was feeling sentimental about treats since I had just a few days prior I had been informed that I need to severely limit if not eliminate sugar from my diet. There was no way I was going to pass on this course. Even the freaky African-American nurse with an unfortunate birthmark over her forehead and right eye (it’s hard to act serious and like you’re listening while trying  not to stare) who kept hammering how white foods were bad like it was a twisted  racial lesson rather than a dietary one said, “If you’re going to eat a sweet, you’d better make sure it’s amazing.” I hear ya.

Well, the desserts really were worth it. Often pastry gets short changed when the savory ingredients are the focus, but these were really nice. James ordered the rich one I would’ve picked if I had more digestive stability. His banana fritters made me want to hurl but I was so enamored by the concept of peanut butter ice cream topped with cracklings that I had to sample a small bite. There was also a little dish of honey for dipping.

I ordered Bosc pears poached in something brown sugary and sitting atop a flaky sable cookie with a side of five spice ice cream. I still can’t figure out why I loathe fruit but prefer fruity desserts over chocolate.

I didn’t touch the chocolate truffles.

My leftover pork made a dainty lunch the following day. The fromage blanc spaetzle remained springy, but there was no way to preserve the original correctly cooked rendition. I tried crisping up the skin it the oven and microwaved the rest as briefly as possible but it still dried out a little. Even so, it was certainly better than what I’d normally eat mid-day. (3/1/08)

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