Thursday, July 8, 2010

Infused Spirits at Blue Hill and Stone Barns

Walking on velvet green/Distant cows lowing/Isn't it rare/ To be taking the air/Walking on velvet green
-jethro tull

Dear Mouse,

Last week, i had the best meal of my life.

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.

Food of the Fairies ... And the Future

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.

"You guys are going to have the Best Meal Ever", was the Doctor's pronouncement as we drove up the enchanted, winding driveway to the farm and the big stone building atop the hill at dusk. Fireflies were appearing in the perfumed air, heavy with grass-scented summer. The lowing of cattle and bleats of lambs followed us in the gathering dark as we approached the courtyard. We looked forward to making their acquaintance and , perhaps, eating them.

As we swished onto the cool stone rectangle lit on all sides by the restaurant's windows, the towering cathedral-like 'event space', and the charming "BHSB Cafe" area (open during the day for snack versions of the treats inside) I could have sworn I heard Life as We Know It receding behind me, its wide oak doors quietly 'whoosh'ing shut as we prepared for liftoff. This is,mind you, before we even ENTER THE RESTAURANT or LOOK at any food. There was but one way to go. Onward.

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.


I better get cracking lest this become The Return of the King of blog posts, so let me just say this: The 'Menu' at BHSB is a list of seasonal ingredients, or "what the chefs are working with right now", and a choice of two tasting menus. Some of the items on the list - I am being wholly serious - I had never heard of. I felt like we had shot light years into the future, where people eat things like "firecrackers", "Claytonia", "sweet cicely", "red fyfe", and "bright lights chard". I mean, what?

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:



"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).
Also, a basket of fresh, crusty 'onion bread' with little pots of colorful flavored salts - carrot (orange), beet (purple), and asparagus (green). Sprinkle some on your bread with homemade butter and experience a cloud of beet (or carrot) flavor. It's magical. (Food in Cloud Form = The Future).

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.

Rich, fatty, salty medallions with braised dark green lettuce and eggplant puree/caponata type deal.

A 'Sacher Torte', which, I will admit, up to the writing of this post I heard as "Soccer Torte"... mystery solved ... which was a tiny, deep chocolate rectangle of cake with a layer of raspberry jam under the black icing. Accompanied by a dollop of lighter chocolate mousse foam covered in crunchy toasty chocolate shavings and golden cherries scattered over.
Also (my favorite thing the whole night) a bowl of tiny summer fruits from the farm: tiny teensy raspberries, tiny flavorful alpine strawberries, wineberries..?? and golden, sweet-tart SUGARPLUMS which are everything their name promises. Like an apricot and a plum and the best peach had a baby and named it sugar. You betcha visions are still dancing in my head. (Growing childhood fantasy in fruit form: the Future.)

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.
I'm not gonna lie; it costs a lot, especially for two actor/writer/teacher/musician types. But, really, for what and where it was... and the incredible, seamless, flawless presentation and service (no pretension, nothing overdone, EVERYthing perfect) I think it made sense. And setting the money aside for something so special, planning for it in advance ... and then getting there to find it completely lives up to expectations is just a great, great thing. and it wasn't just the food. The food could only have been more fresh and local if, say, we had BEEN the chickens ourselves. Every detail added up to a seamless, dreamlike, beautiful experience I'll remember forever. Farewell, New Planet; I hope to beam up to you again some day. (The Winter Menu, perhaps???)

The Boo


M. said...

"Invisible Meat = Food of the Future"

Favorite. Line. Ever.

Also, a good band name.

Anonymous said...

I LOVED this well written, and so funny, and because I've also eaten there, so accurate! It's a mind blowing experience and an absolutely perfect birthday dinner - it was my 'special' birthday dinner last year, if you get my drift and like you.....absolutely cannot wait to go again.
Feelin' the love.....xoxoArn.

Keri said...

oh my, I am still giggling about the rainbow video, a description of what you felt while eating. This can only be appreciated by those who truly go bananas over simple good food. Really funny.

Linus said...

I love your post, and I'm a little overawed by the double-rainbow video. (I suspect I've been on that drug, and I'm pretty sure that's why I stopped.)

Anonymous said...

how do you do that? make the words turn into taste treats and visual delights wonderful wonderful - gonna get there when I'm 75 or some fantastic worthy celebration, yes?

grand! faieries and magic and - seems right up your alley


luis18 said...

you had me at, 'Yes, you can drink on MetroNorth.'

this little fantasy meal should be turned into a children's book. It'll give little kiddies happy dreams.