There is no doubt that Blue Hill at Stone Barns is one of the most influential restaurants in the United States if not the world. Chef Dan Barber has elevated farm-to-table cuisine to a whole another level and shown to the world what it means to eat in a sustainable manner. When my wife Jun and I visited Blue Hill roughly three years ago (while we were still dating), we were both impressed with the imagination of the kitchen and the freshness of ingredients coming out from the farm and its surrounding area. It was November on our visit when the harvest has already been completed and as a side experience we got to explore the farm breathing in action starting with all kinds of livestock. When we decided to check out Blue Hill again at the end of August, we didn’t realize that things were slower in the hot summer season. We hardly saw animals save for a couple of pigs and rams and a group of young chickens, and while there were still plenty of foot traffic from local visitors and tourists, our restaurant experience left some things to desire.
In order to try as many types of dishes as possible, this time we requested one tasting menu to be all vegetables. There is no question that the tasting menu experience at Blue Hill (now running $278 per person and still one of the hardest in the world to secure a table for) is a unique one. How often do you see a kitchen staff bring out a series of fresh vegetables the way Blue Hill’s does? Our favorite part of the meal this time was definitely on the earlier part of the meal when we were greeted with a flurry of small vegetable snacks, from the crunchy kohlrabi with puree of nasturtium and peach to the zucchini flowers with sunflower seed and currant to the nectarines accompanied by poppy seeds. We must’ve been in the middle of tomato season since it appeared multiple times throughout the meal, such as the delicious tomato pizza that I would gladly have for breakfast every day and the tomato guts that accompanied yellowfin tuna to a great effect.
Corn also frequently appeared, from the playful corn burger that was a pleasant bite to a “risotto” dish with another corn-like grain called huitlacoche (or Mexican truffle). Other snacks and small plate dishes like pepper sushi, green garden gazpacho and avocado squash toast all left memorable impressions. On our visit, we were brought to the back of the kitchen with different types of carrots for us to sample; this time we were led to the bakery side of the kitchen trying three different types of breads. It was at that point that we started getting full. We appreciated the generosity of kitchen, but just like last time, the portion (or the number of dishes) at Blue Hill could be slightly scaled down, especially when the range of ingredients used in our summer meal seemed to be more limited compared to the fall when there is plenty of bounties.
It didn’t help that the dishes in the second half were always great. The mushroom dish certainly could’ve toned down a bit in seasoning, and while the pastured duck with artichoke and black trumpet mushroom was solid, it didn’t particularly excite a duck meat aficionado like Jun. The last savory course of squash and badger flame beets barbecue gave a smoky feel that was quite appealing, but we were both too stuffed at that point to appreciate the kitchen’s work on the dish. The desserts using Blue Hill farm milk and peaches were mostly delightful, and the doughnut on top of peaches at the end of the meal was a nice touch in plating but I had to drop one after a bite as my stomach couldn’t handle any further food intake. We both left feeling uncomfortably full on our way down to the city, and I had to get a couple of martinis when we got together with Jun’s friend and her husband later that night to wash down the uneasiness.
As noted, Blue Hill’s reservation, which is released at 9 a.m. two months prior to the calendar date at the beginning of each month, is still a steep challenge to secure; I had to settle for a table at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday (which we actually didn’t mind as we needed some time to drive back to the city). Blue Hill’s wine list is certainly top class (and mostly very expensive); we split a bottle of elegant Barbaresco to complement our meal (if you have some time to kill before the meal, definitely do try the lounge area to sample one or two cocktails using ingredients from the farm). It looks like the kitchen has hired more foreign staffs than the last time before, and we encountered some communication issues with some of them when they brought certain plates. Perhaps the restaurant could use a bit more work training its kitchen staffs to learn how to interact with diners better? If there is one takeaway for Jun and I from this visit, we will avoid visiting the restaurant during the summer. Perhaps we are getting spoiled from all the wonderful places we have been visiting in New York and elsewhere, but we both expected a little more excitement and fun from a restaurant we drove all the way from the city. Our next visit will be either in the spring or the winter.
KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 9.5/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 9.0/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, New York, NY 10591
Telephone: (914) 366-9600