1.24.11 Everybody Must Get Stoned
It was my birthday on Saturday and I had the great fortune of celebrating with friends at Blue Hill, the restaurant at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills. You may remember I wrote about another delectable meal I enjoyed there back in May. In a perfect world, I would eat there four times a year. The menu is linked to the seasons and what is grown on the farm—beef, pork and lamb included—and sourced locally. Stone Barns is a beautiful and fascinating place, an educational center as well as a non-profit working farm and a fine dining restaurant; please visit their websites (here and here) to learn more about the many things that go on there.
Blue Hill offers only tasting menus, five or eight courses; wine pairings are available of course. They used to post a long list of ingredients on one side of the written menu, so you could see the palette with which the chef was working that night. Now they have dispensed with that and it truly is like the Japanese omakase, where the diner relinquishes all control. They do give everyone a chance to opt out of anything, so if you don't eat offal, say—or dairy or gluten or beets—you'll never be presented with something you won't enjoy.I visited the current website after the fact and the following list of ingredients was posted, some of which were indeed on our plates on Saturday night:Hudson Valley venison, Hakurei turnips, Jerusalem artichokes, Cosmic and Mokum carrots, Brussels sprouts, Claytonia, Peruvian altitude potatoes, green tomatoes, field celery root, wintered leeks, Emden and African geese, frika, kidney beans, Mulefoot pigs, honeycup squash, Wapsie Valley corn, cellar "hung" tomatoes, Blue Hill Farm eggs, ginger, Blue Hill Farm veal, mibuna, Ossabaw pigs
Upon arrival, we sat in the small lounge by a warm fire and had lovely cocktails. Mine was made with quince juice and quince syrup and was topped with an amazingly frothy head of foam. The dining room is large with high wooden beams, and beautifully lit. Large arrangements of white amaryllis blooms emerged from silver birch logs. Outside the windows, improving ever-so-slighty upon the beauty of nature, perfect glass icicles had been hung from the canopies of bare and twisting wisteria branches. Every detail is perfectly considered.
Here is what we ate:Pristine young vegetables from the farm, presented on long metal spikes emerging from a single wooden plank: cauliflower, carrot, radish, pickled squashA tiny glass of cool beet gazpacho, rich with beef stock and enlivened with horseradish sorbetA beet "slider" with goat cheese on a tiny, sesame-seed encrusted bunCrunchy vegetable chips served entwined on a cluster of metal branches: smoked Tuscan kale, red potato embedded with a sage leaf, cabbageSlices of charcuterie: bresaola (beef) and lonza (pork)Cubes of incredibly sweet beets with greenhouse cress, yogurt, a slice of pickled plum and a slick of pine nut butterThen the lovely and articulate waitress brought out a tray covered with blackened and barely recognizable foodstuffs: a charred lobster, pork bones, a corn cob. She explained to us that Stone Barns has a piece of equipment that has the potential to transform the way natural waste is processed on the farm. In their words, this "biochar apparatus"—also known as a gasifier—is designed to transform biomass (anything from felled trees to paper plates) into a pure form of carbon called biochar. The process of biochar production (called pyrolysis) involves burning biomass inside the gasifier’s steel chamber until oxygen is completely gone, transforming the substance into pure carbon, or biochar, that is free of the volatile chemicals and ash contained in charcoal.Apparently, the use in farming of biochar dates back thousands of years to the Amazon Basin, where farmers added it to the soil to improve crop yields. More recent scientific research has confirmed its ability to improve soil health and accelerate mineral absorption by plants. Stone Barns uses biochar as a natural soil amendment, adding it to compost and soil mixes and holding side-by-side trials to compare plant growth. They hope that plants grown in a biochar mix will have a 20%-40% increase in growth over plants grown without it, providing a boost in production for farmers.Beyond its use in the fields, biochar contributes to the culinary experience: Blue Hill chefs experiment with it on the grill. And thus, for our next course we were treated to:Day-long grilled onion (a Sicilian variety) with four sauces: pickled vegetable, olive tapenade, carrot puree and crépinette, a chopped mix of pork and offal, traditionally cooked in caul fat, that was rich and addictive. This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening. The subtle smokiness of the outer layers giving way to the velvety heart of the onion, and combined with the rich savoriness of the pork condiment, was truly divine.Potato-onion bread, still warm from the oven, with cultured butter from Ronnybrook farm and two kinds of salt: sweet potato and carrot. Whoever said man cannot live on bread alone had surely never eaten this. The elastic, warm crumb and the dark, crisp crust made a heavenly combination.Creamy razor clam and celery root chowder"This morning's farm egg" poached then lightly breaded and fried, with thin slices of pastrami and lardo, and a little escaroleGoose ravioli with spinachBerkshire pork loin and belly with black beluga lentilsToasted and chilled oatmeal with apple sorbet and apple compoteChocolate strudel with chestnuts and dulce de leche ice creamLinden teaBirthday cake: sacher torte with homemade berry jamTiny hazelnut milkshake accompanied by little squares of dark, honey-infused chocolateSTOP! PLEASE, NO MORE! MERCY!It was a lot of food. The portions were all quite modest, but it does add up. Thomas Carter, the genius sommelier, paired all these dishes with 7 wines that were equally revelatory. Favorites were a Frank Cornelissen 'Contadino 6' Etna Rossa, a raw, fruity, biodynamic red; a Lopez de Heredia 'Vina Tondonia' Rioja that was light but full of flavor; and a Rare Wine Co. Boston Bual Special Reserve Madeira from Portugal.The wine flowed, as did the conversation. We laughed, we toasted one another, we basked in the glow of candlelight and in each other's company, we savored the food and the moment. Five hours later (!), we emerged sated, delighted, transformed. This is what it is to be a glutton for life.