In the middle of our meal at Blue Hill, my girlfriend and I were taken to the kitchen space. A junior cook approached us and gave us three different pieces of carrots for tasting. He asked what our favorite was; the staff will take the choice of diners into consideration and plant the favorite breeds for the next season. It is with this experimental spirit that has made Blue Hill, which opened inside the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in the Hudson Valley, such an exciting place to eat. In the dining world, no word is probably overused and abused than “farm to table.” What does that even mean? Well, the acclaimed chef Dan Barber takes that term quite literally, and most ingredients of dishes at Blue Hill mostly come from the very farm in which the restaurant is located or other nearby farms. That commitment to sustainability perhaps finds no rival in the New York area, and I’ve been so eager to get a table at this ridiculously difficult to book restaurant (more on that below). I was finally able to get a table at 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday, and thoroughly enjoyed the meal at Blue Hill with my girlfriend.
There is no a la carte menu at Blue Hill but a single $238 per person tasting menu showcasing the so-called “grazing, pecking, rooting” of various ingredients from the farms. The succession of vegetable assortments, turnip, kohlrabi, peppers and kale was all fresh with only a little bit of seasoning to make sure the texture of the vegetables shines. I haven’t previously seen a brussels sprouts tree and the kitchen brought a little stem where I can literally cut each bud and dip it to charcoal mayonnaise for such an elegant flavor. The lightly cooked beet was another winner with nice temperature, and I was also a fan of pan con tomate with roasted garlic and blowfish with green tomatoes that we were served at the kitchen after our carrot tasting experiment was over.
To put an exclamation point to the series of tomato based dishes, another junior cook poured phenomenally aromatic smoked tomato broth that was simply perfect for the day (it was getting cold when we were touring the farm before heading over the restaurant). The meal kept getting better and better after we stepped out of the kitchen following a quick photo time with chef Barber. I was astounded to see the dried egg yolk that the server sprinkled like shredded cheese on top of a pile of mushrooms to greatly enhance the richness of flavor. Honeynut squash was definitely one of my favorites at the meal; the delicate texture of the squash that you can dip in three different types of sauces was simply marvelous!
Based on my experience up to this stage, I would’ve been comfortable giving a higher score to the restaurant like 9.5 (typically given the very upper echelons on my scale). Unfortunately, the non-vegetable parts of the menu didn’t quite match the level of excellence in the preceding vegetable dishes. I wonder to this day whether I should’ve just told the restaurant that I am a vegetarian because the vegetable dishes were simply so much better than the non-vegetable ones. My girlfriend and I struggled to finish the fish head wrapped inside turmeric leaves; there was nothing wrong with the texture of expertly cooked fish, it was the overpowering saltiness that was the problem. Chicken dish that followed also suffered from unevenness of seasoning.
At this point, my girlfriend and I were beyond full, so we simply didn’t have anything left in our stomach to truly enjoy the duck parts with plum that you can wrap around in blood pancakes; all I remember is that it was way better than the fish head and the chicken. Following delightful scoops of ice cream on which you can sprinkle different toppings like chocolate, the meal ended with grapes and persimmon on top of actual honeycomb (!). My girlfriend asked the server whether she can actually dig up the honeycomb and eat it (yes, it was edible, although I’m not sure if the staff was approving of the fact that we wouldn’t stop digging and savoring the honeycomb, especially if they had intended to use it for future diners).
Getting a table at Blue Hill is incredibly difficult. They take reservations only online six weeks out, and whenever I tried every midnight, the tables were gone in seconds! The better bet may be to try the bar seating where the kitchen still serves a tasting menu (albeit probably a shorter one) that you can grab 2 days in advance. The dining space was absolutely beautiful with giant tree in the middle; the service was attentive and professional throughout. There is a large selection of wines (surprisingly a lot of them in reasonable price range) plus farm-inspired cocktail offerings.
Overall, Blue Hill totally delivered on its worldwide accolade; I was very impressed with the kitchen’s commitment to excellence based on locally sourced ingredients and creativity to work with them for dishes full of vibrant energy and confidence. Chef Barber really seems to be in control of showcasing his culinary philosophy (see his Chef’s Table episode on Netflix if you are inclined to know more) that strives to educate the world how we can eat better from centuries of farming experience and techniques embodied by the human civilization. Blue Hill (other than the non-vegetable parts, sadly) is undoubtedly one of the most important restaurants in modern dining world.
- Creativity: 9.5/10
- Execution: 9.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 9.0/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
Address: 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
Telephone: (914) 366-9600