Welcome to the first installment of bennbreaksbread.com!
Exactly one year ago after an arduous hike, I ate at a restaurant in Cold Spring, NY called Hudson Hils. After leaving the restaurant on my drive home I thought, I've been eating fantastic food for years now and I have not been doing anything with the information on these extraordinary restaurants. This day exactly one year ago, I decided that I was going to start writing about food and critiquing the actual restaurants that I was dining at. Fast forward one year later and nearly 40 tumblr posts, I took it upon myself to become a little more official, a little more substantial, and a little more professional.
For the one year anniversary of my blog and the launching of this website, I needed to eat at and review a restaurant that would match the magnitude of this occasion. I employed the help of my long time friend Caitlin O'Brien to track down the most bourgeois and elite dining experience that would be accessible in our area. I chose Caitlin to carry out this task because she was with me one year ago when I wrote my first review on Hudson Hils in Cold Spring. After a couple weeks of research Caitlin suggested that we eat at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
In June of 2015, San Pellegrino named Blue Hill at Stone Barns #49 of the top 50 restaurants in the world. I really wanted to experience the cooking of Dan Barber ever since I saw his spotlight on the Netflix series Chef's Table. His use of local ingredients and sustainable practices is something I can appreciate being that the majority of the restaurants I review are farm to table. Blue Hill at Stone Barns is located in Pocantico Hills, NY, a two hour ride from where I reside in West Hartford. Little did I know on that two hour drive that I was about to have the best meal of my life.
These were the first three arrivals to the table. The vegetables from the garden were exactly what they were, vegetables from a garden presented beautifully on a nail board. I had never heard of a flea beetle radish before, and when they brought the plate to our table a second server followed with an actual poppy plant pistil. He shook the pistil over the plate, looked at us and said "fresh poppy seeds from the garden" and briskly exited. It was half creepy and half awesome, but that combination suits me perfectly. Thirdly they brought over the orion fennel, which I did nothing with and let them take away, but I do appreciate fennel.
The needles in a haystack were funny, as it was a bowl of hay with tiny needle like crackers in it. They were delicious for as small as they were. The flax crackers were awesome. I am trying to remember what the seasoning on top was but it isn't coming to me, sorry. The nectarine wrapped speck arrived to the table in a bowl of bone charcoal. Charcoal was actually a reocurring theme in the meal, so remember that later. This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. For as simple as it was, it was one of the tastiest things I have ever put into my mouth.
Okay, now shit started getting real. Has anyone ever eaten part of the watermelon rind and thought it was good? I remember when I was younger my mother told me if I ate the yellow part of the watermelon I would get a stomach ache so I never did. This was very tasty. I actually threw it in my mouth at the same time as the piece of lamb tenderloin. The combination of these two flavors at once was very intense and something I have never tasted before in my life. When the blueberry tortes arrived at the table, they were covered in a pile of leaves, and the server told us we had to "find them". I removed the leaves, laid them on the table, and to my surprise found two small discs. These were the tomato blueberry tortes. There were a few other ingredients in them but they are escaping me right now. Nonetheless, these were great. I love anything with blueberry. Now, cucumber rings… I didn't even know you could make yogurt into a powder, let alone onion yogurt. After I was done eating my cucumber ring, I licked my finger and rolled it around in the yogurt dust. I sat there sucking on my finger while the surrounding millionaires stared at me, and i didn't give one single fuck. One reason why I did not give one single fuck, was because we had our own personal maitre d' name Gian. Gian made me feel so at home and not out of place. Having him there made this meal so much more enjoyable. Gian was cool and told me he actually used to be in a punk band that played at the Webster Underground. We hit it off from the beginning and I was glad to have him as my contact person for the night.
Throughout the evening, the pace of the courses sped up and slowed down based on how fast we were eating, and our interactions with Gian. Gian was never far. Every time I needed a non-alcoholic cocktail, Gian was there to make my flavor selection for me. He made me a lemon verbena tonic and a watermelon sumac cooler. The next course threw me off a little bit. Out came a board with wires, and strung amongst the wires were the "weeds from the garden". These were actual edible leaves accompanied by a charcoal mayo. I hate mayonnaise. I keep it out of everything. The only thing that is acceptable to eat mayonnaise with is tuna fish. This was different. You took the weeds and sopped up the mayo and ate it. When the weeds were gone there was, still with a good amount of mayo left on the plate. Once again I found myself fingering the food and sucking it off my fingers while the mid state NY elite watched me. I got so happy when a little gold claw footed chalice-like plate arrived at the table. Atop a bed of sesame seeds sat two small "burgers". These were nothing more than two small house made buns with a zesty tomato mixture in between. No meat whatsoever. I ate it all in one bite, while Caitlin savored hers in two or three.
The ham sandwiches were cured ham raised on the grounds, served with a house made cracker. This was excellent and I was pissed that I could only have one! The next arrival to the table were two fruity little white porcelain duck feet which carried half an eggplant atop. Inside the eggplant was egg and caviar. When this dish came out they brought us thin, long caviar spoons with a claw on the end that almost looked like a piece of medical equipment. We were halfway into the meal and I was still being blown away. The gazpacho julep was just that, a small little portion of gazpacho that you drank through a straw. It was very tasty.
The next course was a tomato and cucumber with horseradish. The tomato was good. I'm not a huge fan of horseradish but these three flavors together were very special to me in my heart, LOL. The farmer's cheese was high on my list of favorites for the evening. Paired with pluots and a chocolatey balsamic drizzle, this only cheese of the night was the best cheese. The scallop was one of the more involved dishes of the meal. It was cooked perfectly and dotted with pimento and baby corn. It was probably one of my favorite looking dishes.
So the coppa and sprouted grain bread were awesome and I ate them together. Around this time something else arrived at the table that I forgot to take a picture of. The same bread arrived at the table toasted with "single udder" butter. Single udder butter is butter made from just one cow, and not a bunch of cows like that horse shit you get at the grocery store. I don't know what makes it like that, but this butter pretty much tasted like candy. It was the best butter I have ever had in my life. So good that I forgot the take the picture. The japanese eggplant in sweet fern was concerning to me. It showed up at the table still smoldering. The fern was burning and making this awesome incense-like smell. I then cut the eggplant under the fern into small pieces and dipped it in the cantaloupe tears, which were a fragrant sauce that paired nicely with the eggplant.
When we were done with the last course, Gian came over to our table and pulled it away from us. He extended his hand and said "I would like you to come on an adventure with me". Caitlin and I both laughed out loud and without question followed him. He took us outside to where one of the student cooks was laboring over a huge intricate grill, equipped with a pulley system. She told us that the charcoal they use for grilling certain items at Blue Hills is made up of only animal bone and lobster shells. The student cook said to us "You guys look like you like hot dogs." At the same time Caitlin and I looked at each other with the same look like, "what are we, white trash?", but when I saw the kind of hot dogs she was referring to I quickly changed my sassy little tune. She then handed us each a "beet-furter". This was pretty much a beef and pork hot dog with beets that gave it a nice red color. They were served with fermented apple mustard and kirby pickle relish, two things I never put on a fucking hot dog! Yet this instantly turned into the best hot dog I had ever eaten. We hung around with her for a minute and talked about her history as a cook, then went inside for a small tour of the bakery. After this we were led back to our table.
It was getting to the point where I almost felt full. I was really wondering if any huge portions of meat would come out. I did however miss photographing a delicious duck dish that was paired with peach and apricot pit puree. The next dish was a wahoo taco. What the fuck is wahoo? A fish?! I originally thought it was like tuna, but it is almost like barracuda, a fish I am less familiar with. This was tasty, and I used the entire hot sauce and charcoal dollop on it. The squash and beet bolognese was good enough. To be honest I can't even remember it. All I can remember was the small twig on the plate, wondering what it was and why it was there. Gian offered no suggestions and kindly told me to shut up.
The blueberry and milky oats were the first dessert course to come out. It consisted of crunchy grains and oats, blueberries, a small piece of cake and a scoop of greek yogurt gelato… I think. Now that we were starting to get into the dessert courses I needed to treat myself to espresso. I got a double and Caitlin got a single. Even this presentation was phenomenal. Next was the zucchini bread served on a cut piece of log that was stabbed with a long antique knife. As I pulled the knife from the log, Gian gave me a funny look like I was going to kill somebody, but I wasn't going to, because my belly was full and I was happy.
The dessert board arrived and I was in awe, because other than the season fruits, I did not know what anything was. So, from left to right: grapes, peaches, chocolate bark (that consisted of puffed grains, dark chocolate, gianduja, raspberry and strawberry), white chocolate corn curry puffs, husk ground cherries, and benne seed caramels. Gianduja is a sweet chocolate spread containing about 30% hazelnut paste, that was invented in Turin by a chocolatier name Michele Prochete during Napolean's regency (1796-1814). See, I know some shit... This dessert was mind blowing, excellent and so very innovative. I will be returning to Blue Hills just so I can have this dessert. Then the chocolate board arrived at the table and as I ate it I was trying to put my finger on the variety of tastes I was experiencing. The dark ones were dark chocolate with mint, and the tan ones were caramelized white chocolate with blue basil. Having this be the last taste in my mouth was the perfect ending to a perfect evening.
My rating system is based on a 1-10 scale. 1-5 don't even exist because I would never put myself through a meal like that. 6 is bad but there was at least something on the menu worth writing about that would save the review. 7 is your average dining experience, something I would take my parents to. 8 is above average, something new, exciting, innovative and worth going back to. 9 is exceptional, like the top three meals I eat a year will usually be a 9. When I started food writing I told myself I would never give a 10, just like some professors never give a 100. But today I am going back on my word and I am making an exception...
I HEREBY GIVE BLUE HILL AT STONE BARNS .....
10 MOTHER FUCKING LOAVES!!!
Never in my life have I had such a dining experience. I may one day have better, but in my 37 years this is the best meal I have ever consumed. It was more than the food, it was the presentation, the experience, the ambiance, the Carnegie steel beams that hung atop the dining room, the attention to detail and most importantly... Gian.
For more information or a reservation, visit online at https://www.bluehillfarm.com/dine/stone-barns
This is the first of many #bennbreaksbread posts to come. Check back for new installments and thank you for reading my first official review. Next week is not so nice... I'm going to get back to my roots with a scathing review of a new local CT restaurant that you may have heard of or enjoyed, BUT I DIDN'T.. Check back next Sunday for the official dirt.