Note: If you enjoy long-winded, unnecessarily descriptive recaps of meals then you'll love this!
Last night Jen and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary (and eighth year together) with a dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. We'd been attempting to have dinner there for the past four years and finally got around to it this year.
I'm beginning to feel rebellious about the whole local and sustainable agriculture thing. Over the past few years its become so trendy that I feel a natural urge to dine exclusively on food that has been harvested on one continent, processed on another, then shipped to me in North America. That, however, is just a guttural reaction to all the hype. Truth be told the type of meal that we experienced at Blue Hill was truly exceptional.
When we got there we were greeted by a waiter who looked, spoke, and had the exact same mannerisms as Jen's uncle Gregg. This was comforting and made it feel like we were having an extremely formal meal in Gregg's living room. His, exceptionally large and well-staffed living room.
Gregg (which is what we will call him) presented us with the menu which is nothing more than a list of ingredients which are in season. I took a picture of the list but unfortunately it was so dark that it didn't really come out. I wish I could read it because we were mystified by the fact that about 25% of the ingredients on the menu were things we'd never heard of before.
We then had to make a choice over whether we wanted to have a five course meal or a nine course meal. Given the fact that we may never return we opted for the nine course and buckled up for a three hour extravaganza. I wish that all restaurants opted for this type of service. The best part of this for me was the fact that I did not have to choose anything. I just handed back the menu and said, "Nine courses, please." Then he asked if we had any foods we'd like them to avoid.
"No," we said.
"Meats are acceptable?"
"Yes," we said.
"Shrimp, shellfish, seafood?"
"Yes," we said.
"Dairy, eggs, soy, no allergies?"
"Yes," we said.
"Yes," we said, but there was a slight hesitation with this one.
I enjoyed the fact that he dug so deeply into these questions knowing that they've probably been burned more than once in the past by someone who claimed they would eat anything then brought up their shellfish allergy at the sight of a scallop.
To start I had the Captain Lawrence Kölsch and Jen had a white julep with whiskey and maple syrup made on the farm. She was hesitant to choose this because she feels she should like whiskey but when she orders it finds that she actually hates it. It was pleasing to discover that in this particular drink she tolerated the spirit.
At first they brought out a series of items to warm us up for the courses. The first was fresh vegetables from the garden which were sliced and served on tiny little spikes. They included radish, peas, baby squash, and undoubtedly some other items I'm forgetting. As an accompaniment were two tiny lemon balm spritzers which had some sort of slushy ice (almost like sorbet) floating in it instead of ice cubes. It was extraordinary.
The next thing to come out were grilled fava beans in their pods with a little dusting of arugula salt. As someone from the culinary profession I appreciated this sneaky way of not having to go through the hassel of prepping fava beans which, in kitchens is almost universally accepted as one of the most loathesome tasks.
Next came two skewers each topped with an asparagus tip which was wrapped in house cured pancetta and sesame seeds. This may have been the early highlight for Jen. It was remarkably good.
After that they served up two tiny quarter-sized split pea burgers. They were served in tiny little sesame seed buns and had a surprisingly sweet taste to them. They were almost too adorable to eat. Almost.
When the burgers were finished they brought out a house made charcuterie with braciola, capicola, and a third meat (which looked like a type of salami)and served it with red fife flat bread. Up until last night I'd never encountered red fife before. Some research today reveals that it is apparently a type of heritage wheat that was originated in Peterborough, Ontario in the 1840's.
After this they brought out a little cone-shaped bowl and placed it before us. The server told us that in a minute they would begin the courses. Wow. Now they were just showing off.
The first course was a red fife brioche slice which appeared to be browned in a pan and it was served with a greens marmalade, a dusting of fresh cracked black pepper and house ricotta. The bowl which had been set out in advance was used by the server who strained and scooped out curds of the ricotta into the bowl. All the while he told us about the breeds of cows they got the milk from in Great Barrington, Massachussetts. Yup, just more showing off.
Jen ordered a glass of chenin blanc at this point and I ordered an Allagash White. The beverage server poured 75% of the beer into my glass then asked if I'd like the rest put on ice. "Sure," I said. I didn't actually want this but since it had never been asked of me before I figured I'd take advantage of it. He then brought it over to an ice bin right beside our table and rested it in there. Then he waited for the exact moment thirty minute from then to top off my beer with the chilled remainder of the bottle. This is the kind of senseless niceties that just keep happening again and again at Blue Hill.
The second course was green lettuce with spring vegetables and homemade yogurt. The yogurt almost tasted like a foam. It was fantastic.
Next they brought by a slab of Ronnybrook Farms butter with three types of composed salt: asparagus, carrot, and beet. This was served with piping hot slices of potato bread. We couldn't tell if this was a course or simply some bread to accompany the "entree" courses which were to follow.
The fourth course was a local brook trout with minted peas and pistachios. The trout was a long, thin slice served on top of the peas. The peas may have battled with the asparagus tips as Jen's favorite moment of the meal.
Next, for our fifth course, they served a farm egg from that morning with house cured speck. There were other things going on in this dish that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Jen is not a huge fan of eggs but even she thought this was fantastic. The egg must have been soft-boiled and along with the salt speck it was exceptional.
For our sixth course was Berkshire pork jowl with minted peas. It's hard for me to hear the word jowl and not imagine an aging Richard Nixon but I tried to put that out of my mind as I ate this course. This may have been my favorite. I hate to use any descriptors to describe the pork because anything I could say would be incredibly trite. Let's just say it was exceptional, divine, out of this world! (Note how I do not use the word scrumptious -- scrumptious is not a legitimate word).
The seventh course was a deceptively heavy beef rib on the bone. We were encouraged to eat this with our fingers (as we had been the previous courses). A place this fancy needs to let you know when it is okay to use your fingers. Along with the rib were field beets and rhubarb. They also brought over lemon slices and pots of steaming hot water to clean up with afterwards.
The eighth course began the dessert courses with local blueberries atop chamomile sorbet and goat cheese marmia. Or marmea? I'm not sure. I tried to Google this word and I can't find any culinary reference to it. Both seem to be last names of people on Facebook but I can't really find any culinary definition. Maybe someone will read this and enlighten me. Jen dislikes chamomile intensely. I'm not a fan either but I found this to be just great.
The ninth, and last dessert course, were these tiny raspberries and cream with Blue Hill jam. Jen and I agreed that these were the finest raspberries we'd ever consumed. Also the tiniest.
After this they brought out a tiny marble slab with flax seed caramel, local cherries, and honey chocolate. Jen ordered an espresso and I ordered a lemon verbena tea against my better judgment to order a Grappa. It had been several hours but I am a firm believer in drinking responsibly. Unless you don't have to drive. Then you can go crazy!
This dinner hit many superlatives with us.
(1) This was the best service we've ever received out. Many of the idiots who reviewed this restaurant on ChowHound seem to think the service was unattentive. Let me just say this: two seconds after standing up I was intercepted by three servers who asked me if I was looking for the restroom (which I was) and then one walked me there. Each time Jen got up to use the restroom someone was by within seconds to push in her chair, straighten her silverware, and refold her napkin. They then greeted her when she returned and pulled the chair out for her. Also the did that thing where they put my beer on ice. Totally unnecessary but impressive nonetheless.
(2) This was the best food we've ever had. I can't think of anything we've ever experienced that was quite this good. We've had some pretty good meals, but this one would be a tough one to top.
(3) This was the most expensive meal we've ever eaten. I do believe this record will stand for a long, long time. At least I hope it will, because we can't afford to break this record any time soon.