I've been on the road, performing and teaching a bit! since then (Go Chicago Slam Team Go!) and carrying this experience around with me like a tiny torch, waiting for the moment that I could blog. I've been telling the story to anyone who will listen until I feel like a Hollywood screen writer in a pitching food porn. Now I will attempt to do it justice.
One year ago in Maine, Helena turned to me as we were pouring bacon grease over a salad and said "Next summer, for our birthdays, we should save up some money and have dinner at BLue Hill at Stone Barns." She painted a picture of this kind of earthly paradise: part farm, part high-end restaurant serving food from that farm, seasonal tasting menus, rolling hills, etc. And, unlike many plans you make with someone who is cutting your hair after a night steeped in vodka, this one stuck.
We met at Grand Central already quite beside ourselves after a straight four days of text messages about everything from the "July Ingredients" list on their web site to what shoes should be worn to the (fancy) farm. I knew it was going to be a rare night when the guy at the Grand Central wine store uncorked a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc for us and provided plastic cups for our train ride up the river. (Yes, you can drink on MetroNorth). 45 minutes later we poured ourselves into fancy dresses and glittery accessories and headed (courtesy of Helena's sweet roommate The Doctor and his car) along the winding river to our destination.
That's me in the doorway, losing my religion.
We clicked our way reverently through the low-lit, glass-candle -flickering, marble and wood bar area, all eyes upon us (so I imagine; I was wearing a fiery orange mini dress and carrying a gold sequined bag, so maybe it was just they thought I was a traffic light). At reception, they ask you immediately and politely if you'd like them to call a taxi to pick you up later. Why yes, we would.
Perusing the cocktail menu in the bar, I start to get the feeling I am not in Kansas (or even recognizable restaurant-land) anymore. They offer a Pickled Ramp Martini. An Elderflower Royale. "Infused Spirits" in a variety of flavors including: 'Fig & Fennel', 'Oat & Honey', 'Golden Beet' and more. I was paralyzed with indecisive joy. Helena, however, had an agenda. "Do you think", she asked the bartender, her cornflower blue eyes wide within her halo of golden hair, 'you could make us a Pimms Cup"?
A Pimms Cup, if you haven't had the pleasure, is a delicious, cool, fizzy, perfect summer cocktail featuring a mystery scarlet-hued British liqueur, ginger beer (or 7Up), and usually some mint and a cucumber slice. The bartender apologized for not having ginger beer, "But I could make it with fresh ginger; would that be all right?" Why yes it would. It was, of course, the Ultimate Pimms, and they didn't charge us for it. (But dont quote me on that.) Helena was down to the cucumber slice and a puddle of flavored ice and still wouldn't let the server take it from her.
You choose either an 8-course Menu, which involves 2 desserts and, I imagine, a tapeworm, or a 5-Course Menu. They'll ask if you have allergies, or strong dislikes, then they take it from there and just bring you things. You can choose, for an additional fee, to have a wine pairing with each course. We went with the 5-course tasting menu; no wines.
There are, alas, no photographs allowed at BHSB (we took the ones in this post surreptitiously and it wouldnt have done the food justice). So, just to help give you an idea of the experience:
AND, WITHOUT FURTHER ADO:
"Sweet Cicely Spritzers" (tiny, cloudy, fizzy beverages tasting of lemon and mint) with local baby vegetables from the farm. A tiny chorus line (radish, mini green tomato, mini zucchini) bathed in salt water and presented on metal prongs stuck into a block of wood. They looked like they might start dancing any moment, so I made sure to eat them all.
Lightly Fried Wax Beans
Lightly Fried Zucchini Skewer coated in sesame seeds (and pancetta, which you could taste but not see. Invisible Meat = Food of the Future.)
Slices of fennel salami and cured pork shoulder accompanied by towering , crunchy, savory, 'Red Fyfe' flatbread.
Chunks of seared? mullet, a fish I would never have ordered, which is one of the benefits of putting yourself in their hands. Complicated, intense sea flavor. Accompanied by a corn salad with chanterelles and mustard sauce. (From here out, Helena and I are repeatedly whispering the menu to each other in order to memorize).
A poached egg, brand-new as of that morning, in a bath of bright green pea-and-pistachio broth.
Gnocchi with ricotta, fennel seeds? and lettuce foam (lettuce foam).
Wave of Nausea, accompanied by temporary dizziness and clamminess of the hands. Experienced first by me, then Helena. We both recovered rapidly. I can only assume we were overwhelmed by sensory stimuli and joy. When dining intergalactically, there can be some issues with the altitude.
Pork. Rich, fatty, salty medallions with braised dark green lettuce and eggplant puree/caponata type deal.
FIFTH - DESSERT
Oh yeah, just another sprig of sugar-coated red currants and a few more cherries with your coffee.
And that was Blue Hill at Stone Barns.