Friday, October 22, 2010

Best Overwhelming Explosion of Elegance

This post is literally about something that happened last night, not something that happened two weeks ago. Okay, here we go, post officially starts . . . now!

Oh, hello there. I didn't see you coming in. Allow me to introduce myself, it's me, Brigham, and I'd like to tell you about my dinner last night.

Yesterday afternoon I accepted a nearly-last minute invitation to join 7 friends (old and new) for dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a fine dining destination located near Terrytown, a 30 minute or so drive from the city (in minimal traffic).

The deal with Blue Hill at Stone Barns (as opposed to regular Blue Hill right off Washington Square Park) is that it is inside an old barn (don't worry, they cleaned it up) on a big farm and just about all the food (vegetables, cheeses, butters and animals) comes from right there.  You choose between a 5 course Farmer's Feast or an 8 course Farmer's Feast and the kitchen takes it from there.

Basically what I just told you in the above paragraph is the long-version of what the menu says.  Also, the menus each have different food illustrations.  Let me introduce you to the menus and the diners: Mike, Vanessa, Josh (the mastermind behind the meal), Beth's hand.

Trish's hand, Nat, Mala, Mike.

Josh's eyes, Beth.

So, yes, this elegant dining experience was a bit of a splurge but I was able to think of a lot of reasons to . . . well, I don't want to say justify it because I feel it needs no justification . . . I was able to think of a lot of reasons to do the right thing (which was come to this dinner), such as: 1) Celebrate Salt Lake City Laura's Birthday, 2) Almost obey my mother and almost go to Sleepy Hollow, 3) Celebrate the end of my four-week Spanish language review project, 4) I never do this sort of thing . . . and if you think I do do this sort of thing, let me tell you that this was a thing of an entirely different sort, 5) Told myself I had been saving $18 a year for the past 10 years so I could go, 6) Not buying any airfare recently, 7) Not buying anything recently, really, if you think about it, 8) It was an awesome opportunity, something I wouldn't soon forget, and I've passed on things like this before and missed the experience more than I would have missed the money, 9) etc., etc., let's look at the food.

(Blue Hill had a Please, No Flash Photography policy so we're going to have to make due with some dark, hi-ISO photos from my point and shoot here.)

We began with 30 minutes worth of amuse buches, starting with little glasses of "V9," a zingy house-made vegetable juice.  I forgot to ask what the ninth juice was that put this little thing over the top.

Next, an assortment of garden vegetables from the farm (there in the middle that's the centerpiece, it wasn't for eating . . . I don't think) (also, there was disagreement at the table over whether the server had said "vegetables from the farm" or "vegetables from the barn", for now I'd like to think the vegetables came from the farm).  They were so good that I ate mine from stem to root, that's the veggie equivalent of snout to tail.  As you might be able to see, the vegetables were individually skewered on nails sticking out of these boards.  Presentation at this place: constantly top notch.

Oh, by the way here's Trish.  You may remember her from Rio, or the time you were somewhere with the two of us and we wouldn't stop telling Rio stories.

Mushroom burgers, so tiny.  I relished/gobbled mine up in one bite.  Really liked it, not sure what all was on it.  Could have eaten 40.

Salsify lollipops, wrapped in house-made pancetta, rolled in toasted sesame seeds.  It took me forever to eat mine, maybe licking it wasn't the best way.

"Green beans", the server said with aplomb.  (But we can all see they were tempura-battered, like TGI Friday's new green bean fries)  I like it when green beans are called green beans and not haricot verts, this is America, people.

Potato with taragon and dried kale.  The dried kale was one of my favorite things that night.  There.  I said it.

These little potato chips, the taragon leaves were threaded through them.  That's the job I want in the Blue Hill kitchen.

Okay, one more amuse: a charcuterie course!  I believe we were told this was lonzo and pancetta.  Sure, I'll believe there's a cured meat called lonzo.  Why not?

And now, at nearly 11 pm, dinner is served . . . first course: Fall beets, mache, and yogurt.  I just found out that mache is a type of lettuce SO what was the delicious, hummusy thing beneath the salad?  That definitely wasn't yogurt?  Not hummus, right?

And here we have one of my absolute favorites from the night: an onion from the garden that had been cooking for 18 hrs (and I thought I was hardcore the time I roasted onions for an hour!) with salt.

Oh, and toppings, if you're into that: olive tapenade, diced beets, matsutake mushrooms, and vegetable puree (but you can pretend it was guacamole).  Basically you were invited to make little onion nachos.  Invitation accepted!

After this course a fellow from the restaurant came over to the table and visited with us for a while, making us feel welcome, told us about the restaurant, checked to see why the loudest table in the room was also the least drinkiest, and answered some of our questions about Blue Hill (the question I wasn't bold enough to ask: "Yes, uhm . . . who are you?")  One thing I remember learning: Blue Hill customer demographic breakdown: 30% from NYC, 30% from NYC metropolitan area, 20% visitors from foreign lands, 20% passing through town/domestic vacationers. 

And now . . . fish.  A delicious piece of sturgeon (I'd say it was perfectly cooked and perfect in every way, but I don't think I'd ever had sturgeon before, so who knows) served on corn and seafood chowder (there were mussels in that bowl).  This picture is deceptive, it was a generous portion.

Curse you camera!  This is supposed to be a picture of the wonderful baskets of bread and the three house-made salts: tomato salt (meh), corn salt (!!! tastes like Doritos !!!), and black mushroom salt (spill a little of this and the tablecloth will tell on you).

"This Morning's Farm Egg" with tomato and beans.  Egg was softboiled and deepfried in something.  I'm not going to end every food description by saying it was delicious.  Listen, it was all delicious.

The bread across the table looked like a bunny.

Peruvian potato gnocchi with foraged mushrooms.  Very excellent gnocchis, don't know how I feel about being fed mushrooms they just found lying around. (I joke!  I joke!)

And, last but not least, Lamb Belly, Lamb Loin, and Lamb Leg with carrots. 

Now I would like to take a moment to talk about the service at Blue Hill.  The service was: something else, that's for sure.  Someone was always nearby with an eye on the table, taking care of everything.  Head off to the bathroom, they sneak in a refold your napkin (that I've seen before), come back from the bathroom and someone shows up to pull out your chair just as you arrive.  Dishes were plated and sided by a synchronized ring of rotating servers . . . the first few times this happened it nearly gave me chills, I hardly understood what was happening, but I got used to it.  Here's a little video of when they cleared our lamb plates . . . not the most perfectly synchronized clearing of the night and by now we had been eating for nearly three hours and were a little more chilled out than earlier.  (Because earlier we were not chilled out at all.)


And another service thing: after you finished dinner, the hostesses in the lobby could be found standing with your coats in hand, ready to return to you.  Coordination throughtout the house!  Incredible. 

Almost more incredible: They were so nice to us, always.  We did not deserve it.  We were not always as civilized as we could have been.

All right, time for dessert.

This was my one failing at recording, it's three seperate desserts, from right to left: blue berry and carmelized cornflake with something white on it (yogurt maybe?), a eucalyptus and bartlett pear sorbet (I think) and a fromage blanc and concord grape sorbet.  The grapes won the dessert contest.  And no, the pen isn't meant to be in the shot for scale, but why not.  Let's use it for scale.

Also, the table had a real good laugh over how hard it is to spell eucalyptus and then we joked that the chef not only serves the finest foods but the hardest to spell foods, as well.  This had some of the table in tears.  It was getting late, we were having fun.

A variety of after-dinner drinks were available.  Some became tempted once we saw herbal teas were offered.

Said teas served with charming honey-serving device.

Finally: Apple tart with rosemary and toasted merangue.  I was going to ask what the sliced fruit on top was (pear?) then I thought about it for a second

Oh, wait.  Forget that I said "finally" because then they brought out macarons, grapes, and honey chocolate chocolates.

These grapes . . . truly unike any others ever tasted by me before them.

I'm being for real here.

And finally, the bill.  I'm not going to be gauche and get into details about the final tab, but let me say something—Blue Hill at Stone Farms: they've got free refills on soft drinks.  Little inside tip for you if you ever go.

Wrapping things up, putting accounts in order, smiling and being happy.

And dinner is officially over at . . . 1:20 am.

Goodbye salad bar (just kidding, there was no salad bar.)

Goodbye table.

Goodbye dining room and mural.

Goodbye Nat.  (don't worry, we didn't leave him).

Goodbye totally dark Stone Barn.

In summation, if you were wondering: Yes, I do recommend a trip to Blue Hill at Stone Farms (if I could have changed anything, I would have had a little daylight so we could admire the grounds and the animals).  You will have a nice time, they will be nice to you, you will get fed, and you'll want to wake up your roommates when you come home at two a.m. to tell them all about it.

OH WAIT!  A second thing I'd change: They were playing subdued jazz and other contemporary elegant dining music in the dining room but the food was putting me in a mental state where loud rock or rap would have been more to my liking . . . so I could have been like, "Yeah! I love these beets!  AND these beats!" (sorry, sorry, did Not know I was going to make that joke when I started the imaginary self-quotation) Guess I'm too used to Momofuku dining.


L said...

Thank you for celebrating my birthday in style.

Bek said...

i'm being serious: this was your best foodie post in all of your blog history.

well done. and take me here next time i visit.

Collin Mapp said...

I like the Bunny Bread! And don't you think the Apple Tart dessert looked like a cute little snail? Just so happy to taste good.

Marcilyn said...

everything looks delicious. except the "This morning's Farm Egg" looks suspiciously like a scotch egg.

Brigham said...

Interesting call, Marcilyn, and a good call too.

The egg was not wrapped in sausage, isn't that required of a Scotch Egg?
But there was a lot of deepfrying going on all around it. So 2/3rds the way to being a Scotch Egg. And it was runny yolked.

Cincinnatus said...

So glad you documented our experience so well.

Amber Henrie said...

About to have my Blue Hill experience this Saturday Brigham. Can't wait.