Chef: Dan Barber
Cuisine: American, Farmer’s Feast!
Price: 12 courses $208; 8 courses $148; 5 courses $108; 4 courses (Sundays only) $88
Address: 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY 10591
Hours: Wed-Sat 5pm – 10pm; Sun1pm-10pm
Jen’s and my restaurant wish list is realistically never-ending and constantly changing. Blue Hill at Stone Barns though has been at the top for a while. We are both huge fans of the farm-to-table concept and enjoy trying restaurants that support the locavore movement. On our last couple visits to California, we’ve frolicked around the gardens and orchards after our lunch at Farmstead. And I, despite my carnivore habits, was blown away by the quality of the food at the biodynamically focused (and vegetarian) Ubuntu. Living in New York City, the closest we can get to farm-to-table is via a few restaurants, such as ABC Kitchen, the Greenmarket, maybe joining a CSA, and our very own Aerogarden (which is currently growing some amazing basil and tarragon).
Still nothing in the city compares to a real farm visit, and Stone Barns Agricultural Center exceeded all our expectations. Nestled in the beautiful town of Pocantico Hills, the agricultural center has always been a fully functional farm. John D Rockefeller donated it to the state to be run as an educational center in honor of his late wife, who was passionate about supporting local farming and agriculture. Today the center is not only a farm, but it also runs cooking and food education classes, holds various events, and houses Blue Hill, an outpost of Dan Barber’s NYC restaurant of the same name. (Check out our Blue Hill, NYC review as well!)
When Jen and I visited the center, we took the insider’s tour, pranced around the fields on our own, enjoyed a drink on the outdoor terrace, and closed with an epic dinner at the restaurant. The tour was one of my favorite parts, because you could see exactly what was ripening up right before your eyes. Stone Barns values its soil and uses crop rotation to ensure that nutrients that are depleted get returned with the subsequent crops. For that reason, each crop comes back to the same section of land only once in 7 years. All the fertilizers are natural and all waste gets composted. The grazing of the animals is also rotated so that the bigger animals sort of “mow” the grass. The medium animals such as the pigs “rake” and open up the earth with their shovel-like snouts, and then the smaller ones such as chickens pick out all the insects and do the clean up work.
Other highlights of the tour include cooing over the baby sheep napping snuggly on their beds of hay, watching the pigs laze around the mud, and chasing the chicken around their egg-mobiles that are parked in a lush meadow. Basically, this place is a hippie food utopia.
Visiting Stone Barns reminded me of everything I read about Alice Water’s work spearheading California cuisine and in all of Michael Pollan’s books. (Yes I lived in Berkeley and yes I am thus biased towards those two). Our tour guides actually mentioned that Stone Barns models some of their methods, such as chicken “processing”, after Polyface Farms and other farms mentioned in Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma. The whole trip bridged my love of learning about production and my greater love of eating deliciousness.
As for the restaurant, Blue Hill opened in 2004 as a partnership between the Barber family and Stone Barns. The farm sells 70% of its crops to the restaurant, and thus what gets planted and served is a collaborative process between the chefs and the growers. The farm also experiments with crossing certain plants and animals to breed certain characteristics. Recently, they have been trying to grow a purple colored curly pea I believe and mate two different kinds of pigs. Stone Barns is also looking to produce more sustainably farmed foie gras with their Toulouse geese. Wild geese will normally fatten up and store calories before a typical fall/winter long flight season; however, domestic geese loose their wild instincts very quickly and do not go through the same seasonal changes. However, the goal is to maintain a sense of “wildness” so they naturally will fatten up! But I digress.
The restaurant sits atop a rolling hill overlooking the land. The outdoor terrace epitomizes serenity — we were sitting there by ourselves, enjoying a cocktail to the the sound of the running creek. A gentle breeze carried over aromas of smoky hay from where the chefs were smoking pigs. Inside, the center of the restaurant is a communal service station over which hang gorgeous floral arrangements. The ceilings are high and the space light and airy, yet it still retains its farm feel with the wooden beaming and outdoor views.
Finally, onto the food: it was phenomenal. Jen and I went a bit overboard by ordering the 12 course menu; I think 8 would have been the sweet spot. All the menus are chef’s choice for courses and according to the server, the same amount of food. But 8 just seems like it would have been more manageable. However, there is not a single course that I found mediocre — the preparation, the plating, the service — everything was impeccable.
Weingut Jäger Riesling Smaragd Ried Achleiten 2009
Sunchoke soup with foam; farm vegetables
Sunchokes are a species of sunflower native to Eastern North America. I could smell and taste the sunflower oil undertones in the soup shooter. Each garden vegetable was fantastic; we devoured them whole along with the greens.
Polenta and coppa
Coppa is a popular Italian cold cut made from the shoulder or neck of a pig that is very similar to prosciutto which comes from butt or leg (yes I looked it all up). I love all charcuterie and this cured pork neck was fantastic. I had also never had polenta in a flatbread form; I am always used to seeing it as more of a porridge, and I loved this crunchy/salty combo.
Cod and shrimp fishballs and greens with phytoplankton
This amuse almost sounds like a Discovery Channel special. We’ve got a whole oceanic food chain on this plate, and I’m on top of the food chain!
Asparagus with pancetta, sesame seeds
Smoked and dehydrated kale, Adirondack potato, parsnip
Very delicious “veggie chips”
Beet yogurt with grape nuts and candied beets
The candied beets were boiled, their sugar was then concentrated, and then whole concoction then grated over the beet yogurt… yum
Pork liver terrine with caramelized chocolate
One of the richest dishes ever; I know pork is sometimes served with sweet sauces, but this caramelized chocolate packed an extra sweet yet bitter kick, and yet the crispiness of the chocolate and the smoothness of the liver terrine was a shock to all the taste buds, in a good way
Mushroom and Ramp Burgers with almonds and goat cheese
I hadn’t really come across ramps before; apparently this garlic/olive hybrid (in flavor) needs to be foraged and only really grows for a couple of weeks a year. But it is so rich in flavor and went beautifully with the woodsy mushroom burgers.
Dandelion soup, Maine razor clam salad
Very refreshing chilled soup!
Asparagus, ramps, and fava shoots with almond shavings
This course also showcases the elusive ramp; all the greens were so fresh and flavorful
Heirloom grain brioche, Swiss chard, and pepper with freshly made ricotta from the Blue Hill Farm in Massachusetts
Freshly made ricotta=wowza.
Brook trout with asparagus and lemon
Parsnip steak and beet ketchup
Potato onion bread with butter, whipped lardo, and two types of vegetable salts: parsnip & sage and carrot
This was ridiculous; I mean obviously lardo will be so indulgently rich, but with the flavored salts it was out of this world
Poached egg, potato cream hap shoots
Goose egg pasta
Don’t thing I’ve ever had anything similar before. It was such a simple pasta course, and I actually and surprisingly appreciated the simplicity and the flavors of the pasta, versus the sauces and the hoopla around most pasta dishes
Duck, duck heart with lettuce and heirloom grains
Pork face: cheek, jowl, ear, snout with carrot dip
We saw these pork faces in the process of being smoked on the terrace, and the scent of the salty hay was mouth-watering good. Every park of this face was amazing, so amazing that somehow we either forgot to take a photo or lost them. Oops.
Ginger sorbet with lemon verbena soup and fennel
Great palate cleansing
Raw sheep’s milk cheese, Jasper hills cheese, apple gelé, rye pretzel
Green apple, yogurt sorbet with fennel
Flourless chocolate tarte with beet purée, pink peppercorn ice cream
This was Jen’s favorite dessert… beets and chocolate are amazing together!
Chocolate lollipops with pear brandy dipped in milk jam
Assortment of chocolates in flax seed
Herbal infused tea with honey
The honey is from the bees on the farm!