A Visit to Blue Hill at Stone Barns
I lied. Today’s post is a million times longer than yesterday’s. Major photo overload headed your way.
As I mentioned yesterday, I had one of the best dining experiences of my life last weekend. To give you a little background on how it came to be, relatively soon after Connor and I got engaged last year, my sister, Pippa, and brother-in-law, Brian, came up with a pretty awesome (and incredibly generous) wedding gift idea.
They offered to host us in New York City for a weekend and take us out to dinner at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Gravy boat or dinner at one of the best restaurants in the country? I’ll take dinner, thanks. They had been there years prior, and I’ve been dying to go there myself ever since.
To give a little background, Blue Hill at Stone Barns is not just any type of restaurant. In fact, the word restaurant doesn’t really do it justice at all. The restaurant is part and parcel of Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, which is a non-profit farm and educational center located 25 miles outside of New York City in Pocantico Hills.
The mission of the Stone Barns farm (and Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant) is to create and build an awareness of healthy and sustainable food systems. It is all about showcasing ingredients, and building the connection between farming practices, and ultimately, the flavor of our food.
People are encouraged to spend the day touring the farm, tasting ingredients in the field, and talking to the farmers. It is a really special place, and worth the trip if just to visit the farm alone.
It was even more special to me, because I recently finished reading Dan Barber’s (the executive chef and culinary vision behind Blue Hill) book, The Third Plate, which discusses not only how Blue Hill at Stone Barns came to be (and evolved over time), but the entire food system as a whole.
I’ve gushed over the book a few times on the blog already, but seriously, it is one of the best and most informative books I’ve read in a long, long time. It delves into the topic at a very different, and incredibly important, level than previous books on this subject. Highly, highly recommend.
To really experience Stone Barns farm and make the most of our dining experience that night, we took a train up from New York City mid-day and spent the rest of the afternoon taking a formal tour of the farm and exploring the grounds on our own.
Side note: The gift store (again, that word does not do it justice) was freaking amazing. I wanted EVERYTHING. It made Fish’s Eddy look bad, if you know what I mean.
The first stop on the tour was the vegetable gardens, which are (purposely) within about 20 feet of the restaurant. The farm is on a 7-year crop rotation cycle, which essentially means that no crop is grown in any one (specific) area more than once in seven years.
They are also incredibly diligent about planting cover crops, which are essentially crops used to improve and replenish the soil nutrients. Very, very few farmers in the United States practice cover-crop planting, and even fewer have tried to integrate some of those less-desirable crop rotation plants into their menus, but Blue Hill does both.
It is incredibly remarkable, and goes back to their mission of teaching sustainable farming practices and building healthy soil for crops.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant buys and uses more than 50% of the vegetables produced on the farm. The remaining crop yields are sold on the farm on farmer’s market stands to visitors, and distributed via a local CSA program.
Along the way, we also got a tour of the main greenhouse, which is over 22,000 square feet in size and holds more than 200 different varieties of plants and vegetables.
Ginger, rainbow chard, tomatoes, lettuces, micro-greens…you name it, and that greenhouse had it.
It was even more amazing to realize that we would be eating some of these very same vegetables that evening at dinner!
I also made friends with some of the farms’ cows! I ‘moo’ed to them from across the stone wall like a moron, and about 15 of them pranced right over to the wall to check me out.
Ok, ok, I know what you guys are thinking.
This is great and all, but WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU SEE MARTHA STEWART?! I know! I totally owe you an explanation on yesterday’s cliff hanger. So, after we did the tour and walk, we went to the restaurant for dinner.
We were a little early for our reservation and we decided to sit in the lobby and cocktail lounge for a few minutes. I was busy doing god knows what (most likely taking that photo below), and Connor immediately turns to me and whispers, “Martha Stewart just walked by…”
I’M SORRY, WHAAAAAAAAT?!
Earlier in the day we had noticed that the farm was setting up for a large event, and soon after, we learned that it was actually the 10th anniversary of the Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant. Seriously, what are the odds?
At this point, we realized this probably meant that a lot of special people would be there that evening to help celebrate, but I hadn’t actually seen anyone with my own two eyes (I had seen the back of Dan Barber’s head earlier, but that hardly counts). And here we were, hours later, and Martha Stewart had walked right by and I had missed it.
I was feeling all sorry for myself, and then ‘lo and behold, about thirty seconds later, she walks back into the cocktail lounge and hangs out, chatting to her staff members, for more than five minutes as we sat on a sofa less than five feet away.
And yes, I totally tried to take a not-so-obvious (but probably, really obvious) cell phone picture of her as proof. Unfortunately, my family members are more classy than me and persuaded me not to. So instead, I just stared at her, checked out her shoes, and couldn’t believe my eyes.
The opening act to a pretty amazing evening, if I do say so myself.
Soon enough, we were being taken to our table for the main event. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is unique in that you are not given a menu, simply a beautiful little booklet with a list of ingredients and themes for the dinner based on whatever is currently in season and growing on the farm.
The waiters then size up the tables in terms of their adventure level, and determine what happens next. Every table gets a slightly different meal. It was fun to watch other tables get different things and wonder what that meant.
Another major surprise? One of Connor’s parents’ friends had arranged to give us a bottle of champagne at the beginning of the meal for the occasion. It was amazing! Honestly, I can’t even tell when the real ‘courses’ began, because small bites and dishes are taken out in succession one after another, sometimes at the exact same time. Literally, and I counted, the meal consisted of more than 25 different mini courses.
The presentation was incredibly innovative and unique! Without further ado, here are some pictures of the dinner. Since the restaurant discourages cameras in the dining room, and I was trying to really absorb the experience, all of these pictures were taken with my cell phone. It doesn’t do the dishes justice at ALL, but hopefully it gives you an idea of what it was like! I’ve put captions below the images!
(Counter Clockwise: Perfectly seasoned mini vegetables from the garden (including tomatoes, cherry husks, baby bok choy, gem lettuce, and cucuamelon), Pig and Chicken Heart Pastrami with Corn and Beer Foam Soup in the background (oh my gosh, this soup was INCREDIBLE! The corn flavor was out of this world), and Chard Mayonnaise to the right to pair with “Weeds” on the trellace below.
Let me tell you, weeds have never tasted so good, which was exactly the vision and messsage behind the dish.
(Counter Clockwise: Weeds on a Trellace, Rye Flour Millefeuille, Smoked Tomato & Egg Yolk Tart, Tomato Sesame Cracker, and it is hard to tell, but at the back of the log, you can see little cubes. It was little cubes of vichyssoise soup (cold leek and potato soup) coated in puffed quinoa.
Another favorite around the table! It melted into your mouth.
Here’s a close up of the tomato tart and sesame cracker!
(Left to Right, Row One: Ham Sandwich”, Mini Tomato Burgers. Row Two: Liver & Chocolate, Two Gaspachos (the tomato water on the left was so flavorful, I have no idea how they did it) with Pine Nut, Celtuce, and Nasturtium Soup below. Row Three: Fresh Cherry Tomatoes with Smoked Goat Cheese, Charred Bone Ash Goat Cheese with Plums, Arugula, and Bone Marrow Sesame Vinaigrette)
(Left to Right, Row One: Coppa Ham on top of a shot of Melon Water, Fresh Daily-Made Seasonal Ricotta with Whole Wheat Brioche, Greens Marmalade, and Black Pepper Flakes. Row Two: “Bycatch” Flounder with Smoky Tomato Marmalade, Pea Shoots, and Tomatoes.
(Above: We were also given an amazing potato and onion bread (not pictured) with a choice of lard butter, tomato salt, and fresh farm butter. The lard butter tasted like pure bacon.)
(Above: Mustard Greens with Shiitake Mushrooms and 145-degree Poached Egg)
(Above: Hudson Valley Duck with “Compost” Vegetables — literally, they vacuum-pack vegetables and place them on top of the compost pile. The compost steam cooks them completely!
After the duck course, the most exciting part of the evening happened. The waiter came to the table and told us that we would be having our next course in a special room outside the main dining room. The rooms, however, are all different, but we ended up getting the absolute best one.
It was this amazing open-air room attached to the side of the restaurant, which is actually the farm’s old manure farm. I know that sounds crazy, but it could not have been more elegant. The only lighting available was candles on the table, and the ambience was incredible. They also showed us where they had cooked our vegetables from the previous course.
We must have been out there for at least 30 minutes or potentially longer, and this was definitely the ‘main course’ of the evening.
(Above, Left to Right: New potatoes with potato foam, Dragon Radish (super funky tasting!), and Beef Rib, Raddichio, and Grapes)
Then, we were told that we would be heading to the grill on the back patio to to enjoy freshly toasted s’mores. Obviously, they weren’t just any s’mores. Strawberry marshmallows s’mores with homemade graham crackers!
We came back to the table and were then presented with the final course of the evening, dessert. The hexagon plates were amazing, purely do to presentation. Three waiters came to our table with them stacked, and proceeded to lay them out in a bee-hive pattern, like a well-coordinated dance.
They were filled with burrata ice cream with tomatoes and corn crumble, tomato sorbet with candied corn, and milk ice cream with puffed corn. Wowza.
The shelf was beautifully arranged, and full of little treats like caramelized white chocolate eggs filled with mousse and fresh raspberry, a play on an oreo that was made with rye flour, fresh grapes, dehydrated apple slices, and homemade “rock” truffles. It was totally stunning.
As you can tell, it was a marathon of a dinner (literally, it was around four hours long), but a fun, educational, and amazing one at that! I am so thankful to my sister and brother-in-law for taking us there to experience it in its full glory.
I was so blown away by everything, and I’m so happy that I could share it all with you! Thanks for allowing me to ramble on and on these past couple days!
PS. It took me a million years (and much longer than I anticipated) to make these little, relatively crappy, photo collage things, so please forgive the tardiness on today’s post!