The Park Slope Gastronome

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Friday, August 07, 2009

The Epic Fifth Anniversary Dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns

July 24, 2009, was our fifth wedding anniversary! DMR and I contemplated a number of plans before settling on a day in upstate New York. We dropped off the boys at my parents' house and headed up to Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, about an hour's drive north. It was the first time since leaving the hospital that the twins had been separated from the both of us for more than an hour or two and it felt very weird. Storm King was serene (and very gnatty) and the tram ride around the grounds was a wonderfully, lazy way to take in the sculptures.

We then drove to Tarrytown to meet up with Nena at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, where we would be having dinner at Blue Hill. Not only did she help us get a reservation (our plans were very last minute and who knew a 5PM seating would be so in-demand?) but also took some time from her afternoon to give us a tour of the grounds. The Center is a really lovely place, as I first discovered during one of their annual Harvest Festivals. It sits on 80 acres of land donated by David Rockefeller, who still has a residence up the road. At 90ish, his favorite mode of transportation is apparently a carriage.

Dan and I went all out and opted for the Farmer's Feast, a tasting menu created around the day's harvest. The server presents you with a list of ingredients that the kitchen will use to craft your meal. If you have any aversions (DMR: large chunks of tomatoes) or allergies (SHR: stone fruit, sigh), the kitchen will work around them. Here, DMR double checks the list to make sure mushrooms are also not on tap.

Round 1 of drinks: my strawberry sangria + his purple basil mojito, as recommended by Nena. Just an hour earlier we had tried one of these strawberries straight from the plant and walked by the basil!

Thoroughly enjoying my refreshing sangria. Or should I say savoring. I made that thing last as long as I could. It came garnished with a cherry which I probably could have eaten and probably should have eaten.

Holy cow, it's veggies on the fence! Our first amuse bouche was one of Blue Hill's signature presentations. We got lettuce, fennel, succulent and carrots that were lightly kissed with citrus and salt. The big surprise here was the succulent, which was so bright in flavor. It provided a really satisfying slight crunch that I wasn't expecting either. I spied another table's fence and it looks like we got fennel in place of a Sun Gold tomato.

Holy cow, it's baby zucchini encrusted in sesame on a stick! Round two of our amuses really evoked memories of childhood for me. The first bite reminded me of the hobak jun my mother would make for me as a kid. Well, ok, she continues to make it for me when we visit. I felt like the food critic guy in Ratatouille when he takes his first bite of the dish. So simple and so perfect.

Another amuse! On top of a beautiful piece of slate, we were given a plain white bowl that had another dish on top acting as its cover. The server removed the top and set it next to the bowl. The dish held a homemade emmer wheat cracker with fava beans.

And below that was my favorite dish of the night, a green gazpacho. Words can't really do any justice to the joy I felt after the first spoonful. It was magic. I am not sure how such a little bowl held that much flavor.

Homemade whole wheat flat bread, mild padron peppers, fava beans in the shell, all grilled over housemade coals. This was amuse round four, by the way.

A sampling of the house made salumi: salami in the front, Berkshire pork chorizo in the back. We met some of the farm's Berkshire piggies on the tour, including a set of very new piglets (48 hours old! They looked like Boston Terrier pups!) and 440lb behemoths. As I type this I'm beginning to feel weird about it.

And then we were presented with bread (warm slices of Balthazar's potato and caramelized onion sourdough) and these accompaniments: Blue Hill Farm butter, Blue Hill Farm ricotta, arugula salt, Sun Gold tomato salt. The butter and ricotta were both made with milk from Blue Hill Farm, the family farm of the Barber brothers, located in Massachusetts.

Finally it was time for our first official course! Beet salad was beautifully presented with strawberries, purslane, sorrel and homemade yogurt. I love beets with yogurt and I love the shades of fuscia that get created from the juices melding. And speaking of purslane, I guess this is what I was expecting the succulent to taste like, flavor and texture-wise. Coming into this meal I wasn't the biggest fan of purslane but the gumminess that I found off-putting in previous tastings wasn't there.

Perfectly cooked Maine lobster in a mustard sauce with artichoke and corn. Each plate had a full claw and tail. Preceding this was a server who showed us a basket with some of the artichokes that would be used in the dish.

The morning's farm egg in a vibrant green broth of peas and pine nuts. Dan hates peas (a result of growing up eating mushy, canned ones) but he gobbled these up. I had one very teeny issue with this dish. The bowl was too deep! It was very difficult to spoon out all the broth, but don't you worry, I managed to get every drop.

Morning farm egg inside view. Delicious oozing yolk.

Gnocchi dough agnolotti filled with cheese and served with green and purple basil, corn and peas. Yummy, yummy, yummy, I love fresh, simple pastas. At this point, I was getting very full.

DMR can not believe he's going to eat peas two dishes in a row and enjoy both!

Our final savory course was a lamb chop with zucchini, wilted lettuce and a single strand of long, wide ribbon pasta, paired with pork loin medallions and braised pork belly. I'm not the biggest fan of lamb, but this marked the 2nd time in a week that I ate it. The first being a expertly grilled chop (thanks, Ezra!) the previous weekend up in the Catskills.

Dessert #1 - I forgot to take a picture, but it was red gooseberries and tapioca with a goat cheese sorbet. I didn't love it. The sorbet's flavor was eye-squinting tart and overwhelmed everything else.

Dessert #2 for me: cheesecake ice cream with blueberries and dehydrated yogurt matchsticks.

Dessert #2 for Dan: Basil ice cream on shortbread with stone fruit. They stuck little candles into squares of fruit paste to celebrate our anniversary. A cute touch. The desserts were my least favorite part of this epic meal, though. I thought the flavors were too similar. While I love fresh fruit and tartness, I would have loved some additional textures and flavors, like, well, chocolate!
We also had a cheese plate featuring two raw cow milk cheeses from The Dancing Cow Farm in Vermont. These were paired with a cashew caramel and cherry chutney and served with slices of brioche. I don't remember much about the cheeses because I was in a food coma. We did not need a cheese course, even if we were sharing, but Dan was quite insistent. I think we surprised each other because it's usually the other way around with us. I always over order and think we need more food when we don't and he's always trying to rein me in.

Along with our bill we received two little chocolate whiskey truffle squares and an equally petite bowl of fruit (blueberries, strawberries, currants, etc...) to nibble on.

The service was impeccable although with so many servers it was a little confusing who to order drinks from. But used plates were always cleared immediately, our bread basket refilled and water glasses replenished without skipping a beat. A truly special dining experience that I hope to have again one day.

Forgot to mention, dinner took over three and a half hours!

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Blogger Fred Swayze said...

Oh man, I've been anxiously awaiting the write-up! And Dan's faces clearly made the blog all come together. I seriously can't wait to get up there, even more now thanks to this!

August 07, 2009 2:10 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Great review and photos. I am now hungry.

August 07, 2009 2:10 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

This looks amazing! Congrats on getting DMR to eat peas!

August 07, 2009 3:21 PM  
Blogger Molly Neuman said...

What a great post! It was like watching a great PBS food show!

August 07, 2009 3:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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August 08, 2009 8:43 AM  

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