TN: Hoares in NY Pt.2, Blue Hill at Stone Barns

On Sunday we returned to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, with Ian and Jacquie, as
well as Ewan and Jenny McNay from CT. Blue Hill is the restaurant at the Stone
Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, the new nonprofit education center on
the Rockefeller property in Pocantico Hills. The idea is to bring people
closer to the food they eat. We had enjoyed previous visit, and were looking
forward to repeat.
It was too dark to appreciate the barn complex when we arrived, but the
interior was quite nice. High vaulted ceilings, wide wood plank flooring,
floral arrangements. The format is one can choose a 2, 3, or 4 savory
courses. You can mix and match from any section (from the woods, from our
pastures, from Hudson Valley Pastures, etc.) The eggs and chickens are raised
on the farm, the pigs from other sustainable farms in the area (I think the
Stone Barns pigs still aren't big enough yet). Many of the greens are from the
greenhouses, and most of the mushrooms are foraged on the property. We decided
to go with the 4 course.
Ian can better dissect the dishes, but here's the basics:
A few tasty amuse-bouches started off the evening. First, little shot glasses
of a chickpea-soup with cumin, kind of "hummus in a glass." Then skewers with
mussels and marinated cauliflower. Both tasty, but the best IMHO were the last
amuse- skewers with chicken livers and (tender) dried apricots. Yum.
My courses were:
Maine crabmeat and panther soy beans over thinly sliced beets.
Wing of skate in a stew with mushrooms, bean, crab, and a lobster broth.
Cavatelli with bits of house-cured pork
Roasted lamb plus amaranth crusted braised lamb loin, in a mild horseradish
All quite tasty, especially the crab and the lamb. My only quibble was with the
skate, because the reduced lobster broth (though very tasty) seemed just a bit
too intense, one notch more concentrated than it needed to be. I was surprised
at the next course when Ian got the same thing, and declared the sauce a tad
dilute. But I tasted, and indeed it was less intense and salty than mine. One
on the stove a few seconds too much, the other a few seconds too short.
Other dishes I tasted from others' orders:
Berkshire pig 3 ways- pork loin, that cured sausage, and pork belly (uncured
bacon). The pork belly the undisputed winner in strong competition.
Baby romaine lettuce with egg, pine nuts and a tasty pancetta vinaigrette
Striped bass with hen of the woods mushroom and the marinated cauliflower.
There was also a caper vinaigrette that make wine-matching tough for this one.
Mushroom tartelette
Good wine list, with some good choices from around the world. Prices are
reasonable for upscale restaurant. We stuck to less than $50 a bottle.
We had:
2002 Jean-Marc Brocard "Vaillons" Chablis 1er Cru
I thought this might be crisp enough for the lighter dishes, yet hold enough
body for the bigger fish dishes- it did well, except for that caper vinaigrette
with the bass. Floral/flinty nose, rich white (pear) fruit with a green plum
note. Mouth-filling, yet with a delicacy that allowed it to do well with the
crab and scallops. There's a delicious oyster-shell minerality to the finish.
This is a young wine with a future, but it's drinking quite well now. B+/A-
2000 Jean-Maurice Raffault "Les Picasses" Chinon
We thought that Pinot Noir might be the way to go with a red, but the most
appealing choices were above our agreed-upon budget. We decided to choose a
different light red, this Cab Franc was in the low $30s. Medium-bodied with
raspberry fruit and a light leafy quality, a pleasant café-quaffer. Ewan didn't
care for it much, but I found it a very good match with the pig (I was stealing
from Betsy's plate), as well as the cavatelli. B
2000 Ch. Pique-Caillou (Pessac-Leognan)
This was by the glass, as I felt the Chinon was a bit too light for the lamb.
Medium-to-full bodied, ripe blackcurrant fruit. Modest tannins, could use a
little acidic "oomph", comes across as a bit of a simple fruitbomb. B/B-
Some ordered desserts (Betsy was pleased with her walnut cake with fig ice
cream); a couple glasses of a Chambers sticky were around, but I passed. Very
nice evening with nice people. Betsy was happy when she ran into old friends
(people who helped run the Naumberg competition) at the coatroom.
Grade disclaimer: I'm a very easy grader, basically A is an excellent wine, B a
good wine, C mediocre. Anything below C means I wouldn't drink at a party where
it was only choice. Furthermore, I offer no promises of objectivity, accuracy,
and certainly not of consistency.
Dale Williams
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Dale Williams
Our thanks to Ian/Jacquie for providing the excuse, to Dale/Betsy for organising, and to both for such delightful company :). A few comments below..
Agreed. There seemed to be more experimentation in flavour combinations throughout the meal than had been the case on our prevous visit in June; the chicken liver/apricot was one of several very successful such.
I also had the lamb, but sandwiched between courses of cod (then the lamb), the pig mentioned below and finally bass ditto. My ordering prooked some amusement as to the order, but it flowed (for me at least!) pretty well.
The pig had been the highlight last time, and was again - I gather that the belly is braised in white wine for three days, leaving it without almost any grease, but remarkably nutty and delightfully textured. Just yum.
Jacquie and I had a similar experience on the bass vinaigrette sauce: she was surprised by my comment about the level of acidity (too high) and a quick sample showed it to be a different sauce from the 'same' dish she had ordered two courses previously. That was my only serious quibble, though; the rest was delightful (the cavatelli, sampled from Jacquie, burst with garden flavour and seemed to be the closest to hitting the underlying philosophy; the scallops, served raw, were intensely honey and clean).
All of this is somewhat OT, of course, so:
I bowed out of the choice process, given the level of expertise at the table :).
Yes - this was great both alone and with a mix of foods. I'd certainly go A-. Didn't fade during the three hours in the glass.
Dale's right: I thought this lacked substance and length, although it improved a little on sitting (served too cold for me, although I gather that's normal temp for Chinon). Nothing offensive, just unexceptional.
Dale was good enough to offer both a taste, and then when I smiled upon tasting, a larger serving - thanks :). I thought this a much better wine than the Chinon both alone and with the meat dishes; some structure which the former lacked, and a darker flavour mix more to my taste.
On the other hand, I also had a much stronger difference of taste with Jacquie, who had ordered an Amontillado sherry aperitif, which I found quite undrinkable but she greatly enjoyed. So don't pay too much attention to my commentary :).
This (the sticky) was the Rutherglen Chambers Rosewood Muscadelle. Grainy, strong raisin notes matched well the fig/walnut combo (that I also had). Some treacle, orange and rose underneath. I'm going to track down some of this - very much up my street. A-/A.
I had started with a glass of the Nino Franco Prosecco Rustico; not too impressed, actually. Too restrained, little mousse, some yeast and chalk but not a lot else. B-.
Delightful meal - we had to rush off to get back for the sitter's curfew, and it came as a shock to look at my watch and see that three hours had gone by. Great to have both the excuse and fooodie friends to share it with.
Reply to
Ewan McNay
Ah, the crucial term- "to my taste." One of the best things about sharing a meal with geeky friends is seeing how you relate to the same wine. Sure, you can do when someone posts on a wine you know, but your bottle of '95 BV Tapestry tasted 6 months ago might not be the same as mine tasted last month (aging, storage, bottle variation can all play a part). But here I get a chance to taste the same wine and compare reactions. Useful when reading someone's notes, to know where your tastes tend to coincide and where they differ- and believe me, I've not met a "palate mirror" to mine yet (in fact, some of my tasting friends are more like 180 degree opposites). Now if we can get you and Jenny down to Dobbs for dinner I have a better idea what I can serve you.
Reply to
Hi all,
I'm going to go off slightly at a tangent on this post.
First of all. We had a delightful evening, with delightful friends. This trip has been a voyage of discovery for us, not only oenolgogically speaking, but also in terms of meeting some of the people who write here, and perhaps best of all to act as a catalyst to enable people living near each other to meet face to face.
I really liked this. Subtle, interesting and tasty.
Jacquie didn't agree with you over the chicken liver skewers, which she found "crude". I know what she means, though I don't entirely agree with her. We do quite a lot with chicken livers and I'd have looked to something perhaps spicier and less powerful, however.
I was not too impressed by the mussel/cauliflower mix which I found ill considered. Lacking in subtlety if you like. Interesting divergence of opinion!!
My aperitif was an Oloroso Metusalem (Byass) which was delightful (Ewan even liked it!). I felt it went pretty well with all the nibbles.
I wouls agree that there was a lot of experimentation with flavour, but I feel I should sound a note of caution here. Others have remarked upon the significant divergence in flavours between different appearances of the same dish, 20 minutes apart. That shouldn't happen, _especially_ if one is being daring with unexpected flavour combinations. Such experiments (IMO) are only really successful if extreme care is taken over the balance. I know I am judging harshly, but at >$250 per couple all in, I think one should be tough.
I have to cast a slight question mark over the competence in the kitchen. I don't know whether it's the creator of the dishes who is not quite as talented as he thinks he is, or whether it's in the execution. In one or two dishes, I got a slight impression of muddle. If I'd asked someone, "Why did you add this ingredient?" I am not sure I'd get a convincing reply. That said, the overall standard WAS extremely high, and the concept is laudable and noteworthy.
I had:- Scallops (glorious, no criticism possible) Wild Mushroom ragout in fingerling potatoes. Excellent, though I'd have prefered the overall dish to have fewer strands of flavour, to allow the mushrooms to sing. The skate. Cooked to perfection, but again I kept asking myself "Why ever did he put that component in"
Finally, I had the pork, (loin, belly and sausage). The meats were wonderful as was the saucing, but again I found the accompaniments a bit over elaborate and perhaps even muddled.
As for the wines, I've talked about the Sherry. I agree with Dale over his assessment of the Chablis, and with his slightly muted comments over the Chinon, which wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped.
I felt that the prices were a little on the high side.
Fair comment, though I'd have hoped for better at the price.
Anj old friend of mine from our Australian trip, which is why I suggested it as a possible wine for the desserts we chose.
Agreed, and (as before) I've been ultra tough in my criticism.
PS Thanks to Ewan for making the booking.
Reply to
john shaw
Thanks for the interesting comments (I don't agree with all the comments re food, but indeed the bok-choy accompaniment to the pork could be described as muddled!).
I would quibble with characterization of wine list as high, though. I think it comes down to expectations. By what I'm used to this was quite fair. Most higher end restaurants in NY area have markups that range from 2X (lowest I've seen) to 4X. I'm happy if markup is less than 2.5, and resigned to 3X (if above 3X, I'll buy a wine by glass and then just have water).
In this case, the Chinon and Chablis were $32 & $50 respectively, if I remember correctly, which is almost exactly 2X retail. That's pretty much in line with rest of list. Offhand, I remember the Trimbach CFE at $70, Vietti Arneis at $36 or 38, '00 Fleur la Gue at $42 (I was thinking of suggesting this one if it seemed almost everyone was getting lamb), '95 G. Mascarello Monprivato at $120 or 125, one of the big boy '02 Sancerres from a Cotat at $80, etc.
The one wine that I thought had a high markup was the Grosset Polish Hill Riesling, at $60. But a look at winesearcher shows that it apparently has undergone a price jump since I last bought, priced more like $30 retail than $20. Yikes.
In any case, I know of no NY area serious restaurant with comparatively cheaper prices. Which is why I tend to really limit my wine buying in restaurants!
As you said, the most important thing was the people. Thanks for your visit, all 3 nights were fun (I'll try to have TNs up re last night soon)! Dale
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Dale Williams
One other comment about this experience. I agree with Ian that the variations between the same dish are a bit disappointing. One thing I wonder about is the fact that we dined on Sunday night. My experience (or I should say what I have gleaned from my ITB friends) is that in most kitchens Sunday/Monday are the lead chef's night off (to rest after the weekend insanity).
Ideally a kitchen should hum along whether or not the chef (whether Keller, Grey, or in this case Dan Beard) is present. But I've had to accept long ago that this is not an ideal world. Next time I book a visit to Blue Hill, I'm aiming for a Th (imo the likely top night of the week- before the weekend crush, but with a team getting ready for weekend).
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