Here is my full report on Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It was an unforgettable experience. I don’t want to give away all the surprises in case you end up going there, but fortunately the menu changes daily/hourly so it is unlikely that the dishes would be the same next time around.
First, there is the Stone Barns farm itself. The grounds were formerly part of the Rockefeller estate and are now the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a nonprofit farm and education center (lots of ideas for the HFM center here). Before the meal, you can take a tour of the property and meet the creatures you are about to consume. There are acres of greenhouses for vegetables and greens. The animals, sheep, pigs, geese, and chickens, live in seemingly pleasant accommodations, and are the “happiest animals” he has ever seen. Seeing the farm before the meal provided a greater sense of connection to the food.
The Stone Barns complex includes the farm, the Grain Bar, a gift shop, and Blue Hill restaurant. But to call Blue Hill a restaurant is disservice; it was an interactive entertainment experience. There is no menu, simply a list of seasonal ingredients. The host starts the meal by asking if there are any dietary restrictions, and then it begins. First, they bring out simple dishes: micro greens skewered on nails, mini carrots resting on a piece of bark, two mini asparagus served on a stone. Each dish is brought out and announced as though it were a dignitary arriving at a state dinner. “Fresh parsnips. With seeds!”
About an hour in, the host came by to notify us that the “meal was about to begin.” Had it not begun already? The host came by with a cart that displayed some of the raw ingredients for the day’s meal. Since we visited the restaurant in the dead of winter, there were a lot of canned goods and cured meats. The dishes change on a daily and seasonal basis, depending on what is available to the chefs at that exact moment.
The presentation is half the experience. Food was served on stone, bark, tree trunks, metal Christmas trees, handmade pottery, etc. At one point a whole stalk of Brussels sprouts was presented on a skewer, along with a miniature saw with which to cut them. Each dish is more surprising and creative than the next: fish tacos with gourd “taco shells” and watermelon hot sauce, beet hot dogs, celery root tea. I was on the edge of my seating awaiting the next confounding concoction!
But the fantastical presentation and creative dishes are merely half of the experience. What is even more mind-boggling is that while the hosts are serving you, they are also observing your reactions and calibrate your meal accordingly. I ordered a beet cocktail at the beginning and made some comment about how much I loved beets. Throughout the course of the meal, there were at least five dishes that featured beets. A coincidence? Maybe, but it was eerie. Diners at the tables next to us had different dishes, so it seemed each dining experience was unique.
It turns out the surprises were only just beginning. About halfway through the three and a half hour dining experience, the host came to our table and said he wanted to take us on a field trip. He whisked us away through the barn and into a private dining room in a former seed starting shed.
In the private room, the host told us that he “pegged us” as interactive types and that he had a special dish just for us — It was an entire bunch of kale served on a tree trunk. This was not just any kale. It was exceptionally sweet and tender since it was grown outside in the winter and was exposed to wild temperature fluctuations. There were giant iron garden shears for cutting the kale and a slate shingle (fetched from the roof) that was splattered with a Jackson Pollack-like array of sauces and grated cheese. We laughed at the thought that here we were at a fancy restaurant snipping off bits of raw kale with shears. The flavors were amazing and we ended up finishing the entire bunch of raw kale! I’m pretty sure that’s the longest paragraph I’ve ever written about kale…
Upon conclusion of the private dining room interlude, we were led back into the main dining room, where our table was restored to pristine condition. The dishes became progressively heartier, and relied more on meats, especially pork. The meal culminated in a large plate of pork in various forms (crispy, sausage, etc.). At this point, the host could tell that I was struggling to finish the plate, and he made the call to pivot to dessert. Dessert included berries on a beet sorbet, smores, sweet potatoes with smoked whey, a postmodern caramel apple, and eggnog-flavored eggs on a filo dough nest.
As the epic food coma set in, we requested to have our after-dinner drinks by the roaring fire in the lobby. The clairvoyant service continued until the very end: as soon as the bill was paid, our coats were ready by the door and the valet was waiting with the car by the entry! From start to finish, the entire meal was a meticulously well-thought out experience that left us full and in awe.