Blue Hill at Stone Barns, April 23, 2006
Pocantico Hills, NY
Our dining partners, Sue-Anne and Doug joined us on a trip up to Blue Hill at Stone Barns as I was able to get a reservation during my walking tour and lunch up there several weeks earlier.
The fact that this is peak season for ramps (it only lasts about three weeks), those garlicky, leek-like harbingers of spring, got me even more excited.
And sure enough, ramps would be on the menu...in a variety of different ways. There was even a large sign on the Blue Hill at Stone Barns Cafe window that mimicked my excitement. It said in large letters: RAMPS. They're Here! In smaller letters, the words "braised", "grilled", "sauteed", "baked", "steamed" offered suggested cooking methods for ramps similar to how Bubba proffered his cooking styles of shrimp to Forrest. But what makes Blue Hill at Stone Barns different in regard to ramps, than even the likes of Babbo and the rest of the Batali empire, WD~50 or even Daniel and Jean-Georges can't live up to, is that the chefs at BHSB actually forage the ramps themselves. More than sixty pounds of ramps were handpicked by the chefs the weekend previous in upstate New York. Sure, I love the ramps at the Union Square Greenmarket, and will actually pick some up myself tomorrow, but there is something extra special in knowing that the vegetables are handpicked from the ground by the one's who will cook them.
We arrived about ten minutes early -- enough time for us to each order a glass of Raventos I Blanc Brut Cava L'Hereu, (Rias Baixas, Spain). Quite effervescent and full of flavor. We toasted a great meal we were sure to have. And then we were shown to our table in the middle of the main dining room. A great spot that provided a 360 view of the room including the blooming dogwood (or were they cherry blossoms?) branches on the center service table.
Service today, provided by a host of people but led by our server Leon and manager John Evans, was fantastic. Never pushy nor presumptious, always accomodating and often helpful - whether it be with wine or dish choices. It was much better than my first visit, which wasn't all that bad. But this was perfect.
We chose to go for the 4-course Stone Barns Dinner though we were very tempted to try the tasting menu, which I'm certain we will do at another time.
The breakdown of the menu today including "Greenhouse", "Ocean" - which is a really bad name considering two of the dishes were from fresh water sources, "Handmade Pasta", and "Pasture".
Here's a rundown of what I ordered, following a description of what the others ordered (we all tried a little of everyone's food).
We were served a carefully temperatured beet soup with horseradish froth. This really worked, though consistency might have been a bit off. My shot glass full of soup and froth was perfectly even and delicious. Danna's was a bit more horseradishy, but still quite nice. A great way to start.
Butter Crunch Bibb Lettuce
Having had the soft/fried farm egg salad twice previous, I opted to try another version. This one had marinated and roasted vegetables, dried fruits, pistachios, ricotta cheese and grilled ramps. Beautiful presentation, the crispest greens you'll ever eat mixed with a velvety dressing made better with the natural juices of the vegetables. Delicious.
Local Wild Bass
This was served with a pistou of vegetables, local soybeans and greenhouse greens. Beautifully presented, perfectly seasoned and cooked with a light but crunchy crust on the fish. Clean and healthy tasting. A solid dish all around.
More ramps and greenhouse greens as well as the texturally different quinoa added a nice base to the perfectly medium rare lamb. The loin was sliced so that one got small to medium sized pieces, which allowed for more of an experience with the dish. Another part of the lamb was served alongside it - I think it was the tenderloin. This was fantastic - the best part of the dish, possibly the meal. Unbelievably flavorful and tender. On a side note, the siblings of the lamb we ate could be seen walking out on the pasture through the window of the dining room.
Side of Ramps
We had to get a side of these as well. These were served in a small cast iron skillet and were sauteed with some salt, pepper and butter. Slightly crunchy in some parts, soft and pliant in others. The garlic, onion, leek and even truffle-like flavors were truly amazing. Vegetables that need the least amount of effort to taste so amazing, like ramps, are a true thing of wonder.
We were served a fruity, slushy concoction with sangria sorbet. So good. Good as a dessert, even better as a palate cleanser.
Called D'Anjou Pear, this dish was a millefeuille of sorts of poached pears and pecorino cheese topped with black pepper ice cream. Yeah, it was a strange dish. I've been amazed at the vegetal desserts that are popping up on menus everywhere. I think we have Sam Mason (WD~50) to blame or applaud for this, depending on how you look at it. From celery sorbet at Wallse to the Passion fruit, Szechuan pepper sorbet at Eleven Madison Park to the Olive Oil Gelato at Otto, this style is here to stay for awhile. This dish was very bold and to some degree it worked. I can't say that I loved it, but did enjoy the effort in putting it together. Individually, the pieces couldn't work, but one bite of the entire dish did...to an extent.
Chocolate nibs of some kind. These weren't that good. They weren't bad, but let's just say I'm already writing too much about them. The service of these was a little too much as well. It was seved on a raised pedestal with a glass cover which was removed and taken away, albeit with little fanfare.
Both Doug and I felt that a Hudson Valley wine was appropriate for this meal, so we set off to try the Millbrook, Hudson Valley 2003 Cabernet Franc. This was a balanced wine with a unique and bold taste. It went very well with the lamb though the girls didn't enjoy it as much. I liked it enough to buy again for home use, and for $40, it was a bargain.
Danna and I had the same salad and lamb but she went for the Pork Ravioli with "30 day" sauerkraut, kale puree and mushroom confit. This was on par with, possibly better than the lamb shank tortellini at A Voce.
Sue-Anne had the fried farm egg salad, the grilled local trout with brussels sprouts, pearl onions and preserved meyer lemon sauce. This was solid as well.
Doug had the escarole soup with lime marshmallow and smoked herring caviar (incredible. incredible. I said it twice for a reason.), pork ravioli and the poached hake (semi flaky, similar but better than cod) that was served with butter chard, pink peppercorn and an almond and caper vinaigrette.
I simply can't remember what everyone else had for dessert but they were all really good.
Before Sue-Anne had even taken a bite of her salad, she suggested we come here each season at least once. That's been my thinking all along. So far I've got Winter, Late Winter/Early Spring and Spring taken care of. Next up...Summer, specifically at the peak of the corn season. I can only imagine they do great things with corn up there.
Toward the end of the meal, I asked for a copy of the menu - which was later given to me coiled like a scroll and tied with a blue, white and brown (the colors of BHSB) ribbon and asked to see the kitchen - which was granted and led by Mr. Evans. The chefs, as mentioned in another entry, are responsible for cleaning their areas. No cleaning crew, no night porters. And as we were in the kitchen late on a Sunday night...we could see the chefs tearing apart the entire kitchen and cleaning every square inch of the place. Spotless. Efficient. Sanitary. Organized. Incredible.
I heart BHSB.
More photos to come.