Sep 14, 2008

blue hill at stone barns

Blue Hill Restaurant at Stone Barns is an interesting experiment. Stone Barns, as they describe themselves is a farm, a kitchen, a classroom–an exhibit, a laboratory, a campus. One that is focused primarily on sustainable farming by actually doing it, teaching it, and for lack of a better term, marketing it. Blue Hill is a way of showcasing that work.
The farm and restaurant are located about 45 minutes north of Manhattan. After a long wait, our reservations finally came up. There is about a 2-4 month reservation wait depending on if you want lunch or dinner. One question I have regarding the barn is whether it is economically sustainable. I believe there is some kind of tie in with the Vanderbilt family and they may even have an endowment. It was such an impressive operation that it seemed unlikely that membership, produce sales, and the restaurant could actually carry the expenses.
The setting is fantastic. The farm itself is beautiful and it's nice to see the different pastures with Berkshire pigs, cattle, chickens, sheep, turkeys, etc. roaming freely and open for all to see. It was clear they used a farming technique similar to that outlined in the book the Omnivore's Dilemma where you try to set up a virtual cycle. One animal's waste byproducts are another animal's feedstock. The 'barn' is actually an extremely pretty, well designed campus and features a cafe, a market for the produce, the Blue Hill, restaurant, and what I presume are classrooms for the various educational programs there.
Blue Hill, located on the campus, is a gorgeous barn-like structure, tastefully decorated. It was pretty clear from the outset that the entire organization is focused on excellence. And excellence in everything. How the food is grown, how it is prepared, how it is presented, how it is served. Nothing seemed half-hearted. The bread was some of the best bread I've ever had. The butter was clearly made from the milk they get from their dairy cows. Coffee was individually brewed. Everything was served on beautiful tableware. These small things tell you how seriously they take their craft.
A number of times interesting raw ingredients were trotted out along with an interesting story about them. The strange picture picture above is a 'hen of the forest' mushroom. It was huge. The lady carrying it talked about how they work with local mushroom hunters to secure theirs. I'd never heard of the mushroom let along tasted it before. It was used in a scrambled egg salad that was remarkable.
Afterwards we walked around the campus which reminded me somewhat of the vineyards of Northern California. It's a serene setting and everything has the feeling that significant thought and effort went into it. Again, excellence at every corner. We eventually wandered into their small market area where they sell residual produce that isn't used at the restaurant and cafe. We picked up a couple dozen eggs that I'm excited to use tonight.

All in all I would have to say it was one of my top 3 dining experiences. There was little you could point to regarding improvement. I expect we'll be back soon.

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