Blue Hill at Stone Barns a once-in-a-lifetime dining experience

If the current locavore food movement were a religion, a trip to Blue Hill would be its trip to Mecca.

Blue Hill is perhaps best known around the country as the site of the Obamas’ New York date night dinner. That’s the Manhattan location, a good restaurant in a city crowded with good restaurants.

Here's an interior photo from Travel and Leisure. Click through for their review.

To know the real Blue Hill is to make a trek about an hour north to Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Here superstar chef Dan Barber and his family run not only a lauded restaurant but also a real working farm – it’s the very definition of farm to table dining.

For example, a review on Serious Eats starts:

Reviewers and food writers like me often throw around words like gutsy, important, and groundbreaking with impunity, and the result is that these words have lost their impact. So at the risk of doing just that, I am hereby proclaiming that Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the combination working farm and restaurant presided over by chef and partner Dan Barber, might be, just might be, the most important and gutsiest restaurant in America right now.

Food & Wine names it one of 10 restaurants that will change your life.

John and I felt lucky to get 6:30 p.m. reservations on a Friday evening. Then we sat at our table in the bigger than expected dining room and saw numerous other open seats, so apparently we didn’t win the seating lottery.

There are only two choices on the menu – the five-course farmers feast or the eight-course version. One of the parade of wait staff taking care of our every need explained the amount of food is the same, it’s more a choice of how many dishes you’d like to sample.

Faced with a choice of two foolishly expensive meals, I decided for us: the eight-course feast with wine pairings for each course. If you’re making a trip to Mecca, you go all the way, right?

Our first amuse bouche was veggies skewered upright, like in this image from ArtichokeHeart.

We were still early in our pre-dinner cocktails when a lovely amuse bouche arrived – artfully arranged fresh vegetables held aloft on skewers rising vertically from a block of wood. Then another amuse, and another, in rather quick succession. At one point I think we had three partially finished nibbles on the table.

I began to worry they were rushing us through so they could turn our table for a later seating. The food was tasty, especially little bite-sized beet burgers and single kale chips for each of us, but the pacing felt we weren’t keeping up with the conveyor belt.

Before we’d finished a half dozen pre-meal snacks that preceded the actual eight courses, the parade slowed to a more manageable pace, giving us a bit more time to savor the flavors of each dish. We spent about five hours on this bacchanal, with nearly all of that time spent with a plate and a glass in front of us, and much of it being doted on by one or more servers.

Our waiter asked us about allergies or preferences before the meal started, so John asked for no scallops or eggs and we both answered no to a question about organ meats.  Our requests meant that sometimes we got the same item for a course, other times we ate different things.

Not having taken notes, we’re hard pressed to recall a single specific course. Instead we carried away an overall impression of an exceptional meal, a blur of well-executed dishes, nicely paired great wines, superb service and lovely atmosphere. It’s more about the total being greater than the sum of the parts.

And speaking of the sum – I can safely say this was the most expensive meal we’ve ever eaten. Perhaps by twice. Including tip, it was in the ballpark of the monthly rent of my two-bedroom apartment in Ann Arbor.

So we probably won’t be back, but I consider it a tuition payment in my studies of locavore food. Or a tithe to the church of farm to table dining.


Categories: food and drink

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1 reply

  1. Thanks for writing up your Blue Hill experience, makes my mouth water just thinking of the place! I can relate to the conveyor belt feeling at the beginning of the meal as it was like that when I dined there. It overwhelms your senses with the bounty of the farm, in a good way (IMHO) =).

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