I confess, I was not that impressed when I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns a few years ago. Yes, the setting was phenomenal and we had a lot of fun exploring the grounds on a warm August day, visiting the lambs in their pasture and hutches full of rabbits, and sampling Sungold tomatoes on the vine in the backyard garden outside the cafe. And the food was in fact very good, but sadly, not that memorable. In fact, even now the only thing I fully remember eating was a salad topped with a soft-boiled egg that had been breaded and fried, so as you cut through the egg’s crisp exterior, its briliant-yellow yolk oozed out to meld with the pungent vinaigrette.
You know where this is going already, don’t you?
The menu has changed since the last time I was there—now, instead of a prix fixe with choices à la Eleven Madison Park or Gramercy Tavern, you get the full treatment of what is essentially a farm-to-table omakase. In lieu of a formal menu, you see a list of ingredients that the kitchen is currently working with (pink banana squash, wahoo, Berkshire pigs) and the server reviews your table’s personal preferences, allergies, etc. as you sit down with your cocktails. Our conversation went something like this:
Any allergies or restrictions I should know about? No. Do you like all vegetables and mushrooms? Yes. Do you like all kinds of fish? Yes. Do you have a problem eating eggs where the yolks are lightly cooked and still runny? No. Do you eat all meats? Yes. Even organ meat? Yes.
This is really when it benefits you to open your mind to new tastes, new experiences. How do you know you won’t like a chicken heart until you’ve tried one? And if you’re going to try one for the first time, wouldn’t you like Dan Barber to prepare it for you, dipped lightly in poppyseeds and tasting for all the world like the best version of street fair teriyaki chicken you’ve ever had?
Although the “menu” as described by our server was to consist of a four-course meal of three savory courses and one sweet course for $85, with an optional cheese plate for $14 additional, we ended up with six amuse bouches and five savory courses. It pains me to admit it, but there was absolutely no room in my belly for the cheese before the dessert.
Part of the reason for the course overload is that we were lucky enough to get two bonus dishes that none of the surrounding tables were served: because I made mention of Maine sea urchin on the ingredient list during the menu conversation, we were graced with a farm-fresh egg and sea urchin course, served inside the sea urchin. Lightly heated, less firm than scrambled eggs but still a bit more substantial than soup, this combination was simply mainlining umami. Were I to have unlimited access to uni at home, this would easily replace my weekend egg sandwich. Breakfast of champions.
We also saw the welcome return of the breaded and fried soft-boiled egg, this time served with kabocha squash puree and a sauce charcutiere. Again, the unctuous yolk (yes, foodie word) played off the vinegary tang of the sauce, while the sweetness of the squash added another undercurrent of flavor along with more body to the dish. Unlike the nonexistent sea urchin farm in my backyard, I do have a kabocha squash sitting on my counter right now and am seriously considering replicating this one for home consumption.
I’m glad the menu changed; in the context of Stone Barns’ mission, it makes so much more sense to have the kitchen as your farm consiglière for the day. I felt much more enlivened and inspired after my lunch this time around, even with the damper of rain keeping me out of the fields for animal bonding. After all, most of us are making the trek to the farm with the intention of having an Experience. Why not submit to the moment when you know you’re in good hands?