"Are we blindfolding and gagging d. the whole way there?" asked Greg.
"Why even do that? Just slip her a sedative, she won't even know what happennned."
Hahahahaha don't worry, we did nothing of the sort. Greg tossed out the idea as a joke (I...I think), as did I in my response, but when Greg, Kathy, and I neared the line of cabs outside the Tarrytown train station with birthday girl Diana in tow, we realized we should've at least given her earplugs to keep the birthday present meal a surprise. Or firmly clapped our hands around her ears. Or drugged her.
"BLUE HILL? ARE YOU GOING TO BLUE HILL?"
If getting off the Metro-North in Tarrytown hadn't already given the surprise away, the cab driver's shouts surely did. Oops.
Although I'm sure there are other nice places to go to in Tarrytown, it's not surprising that a cab driver would automatically assume your destination is Blue Hill at Stone Barns. To quickly fill you in, Blue Hill is known as one of the best restaurants in the country, helmed by renowned executive chef/co-owner Dan Barber (the other owners are Dan's brother David and David's wife Laureen) with a menu that takes the farm-to-table ethos a few steps closer to the source. Because...it's on a farm. (There's also a Blue Hill in the West Village, and while I've heard it's great, I feel like if you're going to go all out for a special meal you should get out of the city and choose the location that's on a farm.) They pluck whatever seasonal vegetables/pigs/etc. they need from Stone Barns, the Barber family farm, Blue Hill Farm in Massachusetts, or other nearby farms, then do something beautiful and deliciousness-ifying to them, and serve them to you in a comfortably refined environment. And then they spent the next three hours or so fattening you up and making your brain release happy chemicals.
- This list of ingredients was the "menu" as marked up for our table. If you leave your address with the restaurant, they'll mail you your menu. I mean, snail mail. That's some nice service.
We went for a four course lunch (available only on Sundays), although you'll soon see that the number "four" doesn't prepare you for how much food you actually end up getting. For $85, it's a great deal (the next meal up is a 5-course dinner for $105). There's no set menu at Blue Hill at Stone Barns (there's an à la carte menu at the West Village location)—every meal is called a "Farmer's Feast" and your menu is tailored to the day's harvest. The waiter asks if there's anything you can't eat or if you have special requests, but otherwise your meal is in the chefs' hands. Kathy asked about foie gras, but since they haven't been able to grow it on the farm, they don't offer it. Not that a meal needs foie gras to be awesome.
I'm not sure where one course ended and the next began, but I'm making up groups for the sake of organization. Although the dishes I ate in January don't reflect what they'd be serving now, it'll give you an idea of what to expect. (That is, AWESOMENESS.)
First Course: Lots of Little Bits
Farm-fresh vegetables "on the fence": Start off the meal with a selection of artfully impaled vegetables. Ours included D'avignon radishes, Easter egg radishes, Mokum carrots, and cauliflower. Vegetables taste better when you pluck them off spikes jutting out of a wooden block.
Apple celery juice: Tastes like what it says. Good combo.
Fried kale and face bacon: Like eating kale and pork in chip-form.
Beet burgers: Tiny sesame seeded buns filled with puréed beet and goat cheese spread. Yup, they're pretty adorable. And one bite later, they're DESTROYED.
Salsify wrapped in pancetta and coated in sesame seeds: Salsify is a root vegetable known for having an oyster-like flavor. I can't say I detected any hints of bivalve, but since it was wrapped in pancetta I probably mostly noticed porkiness.
Steamed egg with lardo: It's egg yolk wrapped in pork fat. What's not to like. There's no question mark because it's not really a question.
Thousand-layer eggs with coppa: Yeah, it's not a thousand layers, but it's...it's a whole lot of layers. A lil' omelet cube topped with cured pork. More pork-on-egg action.
Pork liver and caramelized chocolate: A square of pork liver terrine sandwiched between thin, crispy sheets of caramelized chocolate, finished with Maldon sea salt. Liver and chocolate, together at last.
Second Course: Salad and Bread
Winter greenhouse greens salad with cured immature egg yolk: A whole bunch of young greens with beet roll (a log of some sort of creamy beet-based stuff) and mixed greens puré topped with freshly shaved cured immature egg. I think our server explained that despite not being a "winter" food, the greens are actually best in winter because that's when they have the highest concentration of sugar. The shavings of cured immature egg yolk added a bit of saltiness, sort of like cheese.
Red fife bread with Blue Hill Farm ricotta and greens mash: Give me a fat, toasted slice of bread accompanied with warm homemade ricotta and I'll be as happy as Maru and this giant box. I fell in love with that bread—probably because it was soaked in butter. That's mostly what I remembered. The bread had a hearty, tender crumb, not really like any typical bread I can think of. And while I'm sure the warm glop of ricotta went great with the bread, I mostly remember...the butter sponge.
Bread and butter: More bread! Non-fancy wheat bread, I'd guess. Probably all good and chewy and crusty, with a soft brick of butter to smoosh into it.
Third Course: MEATS
Egg, goose neck, goose gizzard, winter beans, and dehydrated winter vegetables: Ain't that the prettiest plastic-embalmed nest-thingy you've ever seen? Yeah. The chef wrote "this morning's eggs" on the menu to differentiate it from your run-of-the-mill eggs that had spent more than 24 hours out of their mothers' uteri. (After writing the previous sentence I read a five-page PDF about the avian female reproductive system. You see why these posts take so long? Research!...nah, it's mostly because I can't stop wasting time on the Internet. Anyway, in case you were wondering, an egg spends 20 or more hours in the uterus to develop its shell. Knowledge is power. Unfortunately, in this case the power is useless.) I can't say I could taste the freshly laid flavor, but the jiggly, barely set egg with a belly of rich yolk mixed with hearty, tender beans and goose meats was an awesomely comforting dish. Just the sort of stew-like thing you'd want on a cold day. (Note to self: Eat more stew.)
Blue Hill Farm grass fed veal with ginger kraut, Brussels sprouts, and apple: Oh sweet jebus, this was some incredibly tender, juicy veal. Among the tenderest of meat plops ever to be pulpified by my jaw. The veal tasted like it was cooked sous vide, but I can't remember the details of what we were told.
Fourth Course: Dessert
Cold oatmeal with Granny Smith sorbet and honey: This are more like a pre-dessert than a dessert-dessert. Even though I rarely eat oatmeal, I'm guessing this would kick the butt off regular ol' oatmeal. Oatmeal butt, obliterated. Maybe I'd eat oatmeal more often if I topped it with sorbet or ice cream. Yes. Yes I would.
Chocolate strudel with milk jam ice cream and chestnuts: And now the real dessert begins. I eat strudel less frequently than I eat oatmeal—so pretty much never. Blue Hill's version didn't win me over. I didn't dislike it, but I would've liked it more if there were more layers of phyllo dough around the chocolate filling.
Almond shake: Not sure if this was almond milk or almond mixed with milk. It was nice that they incorporated a drink into the dessert course (drinks are food too!). With metal "bendy" straws. Regular straws would never do here.
Austrian doughnuts filled with apricot jam (faschingskrapfen?): By this point we were so full that we could barely eat this. I know—it's fried dough! There is always room for fried dough. Unless it's at the end of a nearly three-hour meal. I know we didn't all eat one, but I did, unsurprisingly. Unfortunately I don't remember much about how it tasted. Considering it was a lump of fried dough filled with jam, it was probably good.
After getting a quick little tour of the dining area and the kitchen—methinks they offered because my camera drew some attention and we asked a bunch of questions about the dishes—it was time to head home, four and a half hours after we had arrived (we got there a bit early to check out the cafe and store). Factoring in the train ride to and from Manhattan, your whole day is pretty much devoted to this meal. It's worth the time, of course. I'm looking forward to doing it again.
And next time, we won't all unintentionally coordinate with black. (At least I'm wearing red tights!) :)
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road, Tarrytown, NY 10591 (map)
Take the Metro-North to Tarrytown (schedules), unless you have a car, in which case you'd just..drive. Unless you want booze, in which case, don't.