Some places are simply made for occasions. Whether celebrating a birthday, anniversary, holiday, or even just the fact that we still have jobs, New Yorkers are simply made for going out. And New York City does a pretty amazing job guaranteeing its dwellers unbeatable destinations. That is actually one of the very reasons that I continue to live here - knowing that my list of restaurants to try will always be growing. But, having endless options of top notch restaurants right at your disposal can also be slightly overwhelming. What really separates a fun dinner out from an actual monumental occasion? Blue Hill at Stone Barns is the quintessential example of something special for a New Yorker. There are just so many distinguishing elements that separate this culinary experience from the consistent outings we have grown so accustomed to.
First of all, this is not the kind of place that you can go to on a whim. Located in Pocantico Hills, New York, about 25 miles north of the City, Blue Hill at Stone Barns actually requires city dwellers to drive or take a train to dinner! This is typically unheard of for those of us who have become so spoiled by the ease of taxis and subways. But, this is also just the first step in assuring that the night will be different from others. Reaching the grounds and realizing that you are actually dining on a farm will be the next indicator that you are in for a treat. I recommend arriving before sunset so that you can soak in the landscape - appreciating the fact that all that you are about to consume has never left the property. Surprise, number three - there are no menus at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. If you are seated in the main dining room, guests are presented with a daily list of over a hundred ingredients - containing the best offerings from the field and market. Based on dietary restrictions, the chef will then design a unique meal for each table - demonstrating creativity and a true passion for fresh ingredients.
Since I was actually there for a very festive event, celebrating my step mother's 60th birthday, we began the evening with an hour of passed wine and hors d'oeuvres on the indoor patio overlooking the farmlands. Not only was this an amazing way to watch the sunset, but this was also one of my favorite culinary portions of the evening. I was continuously wowed by each and every small treat that was passed around the room. We were offered everything ranging from shots of parsnip soup puree to mini beet burgers to foie gras surrounded by slivers of dark chocolate. While it is truly hard to say which were the best (and I am sure that every one in the room had a different favorite), I kept going back for more of the sea bass tartar tartlets, the potato croquettes topped with caviar, and the wild mushroom tartlets. All of these were so delicious and arriving in such a constant stream that I was actually a little concerned I might fill up before we sat down.
Seated in a private dining room adjacent to the porch, we were presented with menus describing the four course seasonal meal ahead of us - each dish paired with a different wine. Besides the wine list, this really was the only menu that existed in the restaurant that night. The meal began with Maine sea scallops with chickpeas, cauliflower, and curry. This was one of my favorite dishes - probably due to my affinity for Middle Eastern spices. The next course was a potato and ricotta gnocchi topped with locally cultivated mushrooms. My only complaint was that the portion was a little too small. I am well aware that we still had two courses ahead, but I was definitely there to feel completely full by the end - and I am certain that just a few more of these dumplings could not have hurt. The third course was my very favorite - pastured lamb with mokum carrots and toasted spices. This truly felt like a dish that had been directly transported from the farm outdoors.
Even though I had given up sweets for Lent, it took me about 5 minutes into the meal to admit that my willpower was definitely going out the window that night. For our final course, we were served a Bavarian spelt dessert which initially sounded very strange to me. I was even a little disappointed to learn that I had broken Lent for an ancient grain. But, after one bite in, I was quickly reassured. The dish was cooked with cream and spices creating flavors similar to rice pudding, and then served with caramel, poached seckel pears, and a pear-cider sorbet. It was a wonderful, light (yet flavorful) ending to what turned out to be quite a filling meal! And, to seal the deal - to truly fill us to the brim - to let it be known that this indeed was an occasion - the night ended with mini passion fruit macaroons. Yes, even on a farm in Westchester, New York, a chef has figured out how to immediately transport me back to Paris. These really were the real deal - a bite of Laduree or Pierre Herme - quite an ending to what was already a memorable evening.
And so, I leave it up to you as to how you want to define occasion. While we were there last week for a very important one, I think I am still going to stand by and support a very loose definition of the word. For all of my friends and fans out there, my half birthday is approaching at the end of the month. I'm just saying...
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, New York 10591
FOOD RATING (Out of 5):