Taking it in at Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Vegetables on the Fence and Barber Wheat Brioche With Homemade Ricotta.
Photos by Andre Baronowski. Thomas Delhemmes
It felt almost sneaky: peering from the dark courtyard into the kitchen at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where dozens of chefs were busy at work. Recently declared the “best restaurant in America” by food magazine Eater, it has set the farm-to-table bar by integrating many ingredients—meat, vegetables, fruit—grown right on the premises in Pocantico Hills.
“It’s more like source to table,” Chef Angela Baldanza of Pound Ridge feels. As the chef at her own farm-to-table restaurant, Baldanza Café in New Canaan, she feels that Dan Barber, chef and co-owner at Blue Hill, is a “genius,” and “it is an amazing thing to have control over every ounce of the ingredients.” Chef Barber approaches his whole operation with a healthy, sustainable worldview.
As an incurable foodie, cook, and gardener, I get kind of crazy for the farm-to-table category, but I had never eaten at Blue Hill until recently. Late last year, my husband and I attended a farming/ nutrition lecture onsite. Looking in toward the back of the kitchen, I saw my goal: one table with a few customers eating their meal. “I have to do that,” I said.
We went inside the restaurant just to check it out. Dressed in jeans amongst a cocktail-coiffed clientele, it’s no wonder we were quickly approached by the host to make a reservation.
“Sure, if we can eat at the table in the kitchen,” I said.
“Some of our guests can do that,” he said, (not) answering my question like a politician.
Three months later, we were escorted to a table in the main room of the restaurant which looked like an exquisite barn. The staff treated us like royalty with their adept attention, respectful tone, and slightly bowed posture. “We will take care of everything,” the waiter said. Surprise: there was no menu. They understood our gluten-free and dairy-free requests and gave us small booklets that listed their seasonal offerings from the farm to whet our foodie appetites.
I was ready.
Beginning with mixed drinks that listed unusual ingredients like rhubarb, radish, and pickled ramps, we were off. The first of the 20 tasting dishes were finger foods, including assorted leafy weeds—yes weeds!—inserted into wire arches that spanned the length of a wooden plank. It included purslane, a succulent weed full of Omega-3s that you’ve probably pulled from your garden. An assortment of colorful edible flowers came next in delicate glass bowls.
Tasting dishes included a beet wrap, crackers made from dried turnips, and even pig-heart pastrami, many served on pieces of stone, slate, or wood. The portions initially looked small, but they filled our appetite—and more so, our senses. Everything was perfectly arranged in an earthy and artful way. The silverware for the rest of the dishes came rolled up in a heavy canvas tool bag, tied with brown leather straps; inside there were separate pouches for multiples of each utensil.
Mid-way through the meal, we were led outside to the wood grill where the grill master showed us how he seared the onions and endive leaves that we had been served atop wisps of a fruit and pistachio sauce.
Yes, I got my wish. “Come with us,” a waiter instructed. When we entered the kitchen, all the employees stopped what they were doing and clapped, exclaiming “Welcome!” in unison. Dan Barber was cooking in plain view and right next to our table we watched a chef carefully plating dishes one at a time. Every plate of food that left the kitchen ceremoniously passed in front of the watchful eyes of one of the chefs.
Returning to the main dining room after a couple of courses, the finale to a series of amazing desserts was blueberries gently tossed around the table for us to pick up and enjoy. After we told the waiter that my husband bakes bread, he brought us to meet the baker, who gave us a (gluten-free) loaf.
Almost four hours (and over $600) later, we were filled to the brim in every way. We knew it would be pricey (maybe not that much!), but it was so worth it. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is not just a restaurant; it’s an event with delicious cuisine, art, and entertainment. The leading role is played by the ingredients. We appreciated. We smiled. Just go.