I recently had the opportunity to dine at Blue Hill at Stone Barns as part of a friend’s milestone birthday celebration — and literally had the meal of a lifetime. I’d never experienced dining like this before! Everything from the food to the setting to the service was immaculate, resulting in a culinary experience akin to paradise on earth.
Driving up to Blue Hill was an experience unto itself. Set within the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, it’s only 25 miles north of Manhattan, and yet, it feels as though you’re in the pastoral countryside of Vermont. The 80-acre farm in Pocantico Hills was originally part of a much larger country estate owned by the Rockefellers. In 2004, David Rockefeller (grandson of industrial magnate John D. Rockefeller) deeded the land to serve as a nonprofit organic farm and agriculture education center, which today is funded by the fully-sustained, for-profit, worth-every-penny Blue Hill restaurant located on the property.
The historic stone barn, which was built to cater to the needs of the original dairy farm, has been converted into a state-of-the-art kitchen and soaring dining room with metal trusses (compliments of the Rockefellers and their ties to the steel industry) and hand-sealed plaster walls. The 80 acres are home to cows, sheep, pigs, turkeys, geese, chickens, hens, 22,000 square feet of greenhouse space, orchards, gardens, and planted fields — all playing a role in the feast that is prepared for patrons of the restaurant.
There is no menu at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Everyone participates in the Grazing, Pecking, Rooting tasting menu, which is cleverly curated on a daily basis by executive chef and co-owner, Dan Barber, and team. On the evening of our dining extravaganza, there were so many courses I lost count. Every dish was waltzed to the table by a staff of extremely proficient and knowledgeable servers, each eager to announce the ingredients being placed before us. Take for example Weeds from the Garden, which consisted of cultivated, edible weeds like dandelion greens, mallow, and purslane, served with a tarragon mayonnaise for dipping and, for a touch of sweetness, a fizzy shooter of rhubarb soda. Whoever thought weeds could be so appetizing?!
Some other culinary highlights from our meal included:
- Vegetables on a Fence, Blue Hill at Stone Barns’ signature dish — a beautiful selection of recently harvested vegetables (carrot, radish, kohlrabi, chard) perched on spikes fastened to a wood base
- Asparagus, served tartare-style on mini seeded buns
- Ham Sandwich, comprised of perfectly cured ham carpaccio served on perfectly toasted crostini
For our bread course (yes, you read that correctly), our entire table was brought to an adjacent private dining room, which, when Stone Barns was an operating dairy, was used as the manure-slinging room. Today, it has been converted into a modern, elegant space dripping with candle-lit ambience. The only hints that remain of the room’s ordurous past are the iron slinging system still hinged across the ceiling and the bountiful garden out back where the manure was formerly deposited. After being seated, we each received a mini loaf of the most heavenly bread I have ever tasted, along with fresh ricotta prepared tableside, a chutney of minced herbs, and of course, home-churned butter. All six of us dined on our bread in bliss, and not a single crumb could be found on any of our plates.
Dessert, like the rest of our meal, was simple, delicious, and beautifully presented. Out from the kitchen came a swarm of servers carrying hexagonal-shaped glass dishes, which were then placed at the center of the table to create a honeycomb-inspired formation. The dishes held an array of sweet treats — a hunk of caramel, a chocolate bonbon, a pistachio nougat — all delectable and extremely addictive.
Like they say, all good things must come to an end. After four hours of pampering our taste buds, we slowly made our way down to the valet, where all of our cars were waiting for us (nice touch!). We drove back to the city perfectly sated and still reeling from the high of just having eaten the meal of a lifetime.
(Last visited in May, 2015)