I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure that if there is a heaven, it’s a lot like Blue Hill Stone Barns. You arrive by train, the water of the Hudson glistening as you glide along the tracks. The cabs waiting for you to take you to the restaurant aren’t normal cabs: these cabs are clean, the drivers are careful–this must be heaven indeed.
As you enter the grounds, everything is green and bright and welcoming. You get out of the car and you begin to stroll; you’re in no hurry, you got there early so you can take it all in. You walk down stairs and study the Greenhouse: it reminds you of something out of a fairy tale. You continue your walk and you see turkeys in a pen: one of them’s escape and you take a picture.
Suddenly, the ground shakes and something comes charing towards you; your mom jumps and says, “Bye!” and runs with your dad into the restaurant. You turn and see that it’s just a pig in the pig area playing with his pig friends. There’s an electric fence so you’re safe. You continue on the path and behold the most adorable site you’ve ever seen–little baby piglets drinking their mother’s milk:
Your mom’s in the restaurant already having a drink, but this mom IS the drink and you marvel at her resilience as piglet after piglet latches on to her, fighting for a taste:
With Craig, you stroll up a hill and look at cows. Eventually you arrive at the restaurant and, sure enough, your parents are sitting in the bar area–which reminds you more of the waiting area of a spa than an actual bar. You order a drink–an elderflower royale (sparkling wine with elderflower syrup)–and there’s an actual flower in it:
Soon you’re shown to your table–(this account is beginning to feel like a “Choose Your Own Adventure”)–and the light illuminates your table and you are convinced that yes, indeed, this might be heaven.
The food starts coming. The first thing that comes is perhaps the most striking dish you will be served all night; striking, and yet, beautifully simple. Vegetables on spikes, vegetables that were just picked from the farm only a few feet away from where you are sitting:
There’s baby fennel, a turnip, kohlrabi and sugar snap peas and they light up the whole table like flowers or fireworks or maybe both.
And then the food starts coming and coming and coming. There’s carrot soup, served in tall shot glasses:
There are vegetable chips (the green ones are kale):
And then, perhaps a highlight, pea burgers:
All the joys of a hamburger with all the wholesome goodness of fresh peas.
Fried fish on sticks:
Don’t worry about bones, they liquify in the hot oil. You learn this fact from your awesome, awesome waiter, Will, who has very cool glasses and a sharp suit. “And he’s pretty easy on the eyes,” Craig points out. Quiet, Craig.
Meanwhile, the wine you are drinking is killer: it was recommended by the sommelier, Thomas Carter, who is funny and smart and surprisingly assertive in his recommmendations. We were all grateful for it as the white he chose to go with our early courses is outstanding. Here it is, you can read the label:
I love how really good wine tastes really good in a way that merely good wine doesn’t. This wine tasted special and it’s a wine I’d want to drink again and again and again.
And with the later courses, he brought us a red wine from Mount Etna in Italy:
(I don’t mean that literally: he didn’t actually go to Mount Etna in between our courses!)
This too was special and complex and highly memorable. Plus, both these bottles were reasonably priced, which we definitely appreciated.
But back to the food. Remember that cute pig from before? You are now going to eat its face. Meet Face Bacon:
Don’t ask me how they make this, all you need to know is that it comes from the face of a pig, it’s pressed and then fried and it tastes pretty marvelous.
If that’s a bit too fatty, though, you can refresh yourself with these two refreshing elixirs: one made from chamomile, one from an herb called sweet sicily (or is it sweet cecily?)
These were lovely and springy and amazingly refreshing.
Then comes the charcuterie and here’s where I should point out that when I made the reservation, the people at Blue Hill Stone Barns know me from the post I did a few years ago called “My New Favorite Restaurant” which they link to on the Blue Hill Stone Barns website. So there’s a good chance a lot of this stuff they sent us before the meal proper began was bonus stuff that you may or may not get when you go. But you’ll definitely get the vegetables on spikes and the pea burgers and all the stuff we got that first time we went. Please don’t hold this against me, it just happened, and the rest of the meal is the standard meal everyone gets. Ok? So they gave us really nice charcuterie:
And then bread came, really hot crusty bread, with special butter from the Blue Hill dairy somewhere else (I think in Massachussets?) and carrot salt and parsnip salt (they powder the carrot and the parsnip and mix it with salt: I asked):
Oh, and then this came. God, this really was heaven! Heaven is veal bone marrow topped with caviar:
That’s one presentation that’s beyond reproach: it’s simple but so, so dramatic. It speaks to Dan Barber’s skill (oh, I forgot to tell you about this restaurant, those of you who don’t even know anything about Blue Hill: it’s Dan Barber’s restaurant–he’s got two Blue Hills, one in Manhattan (which is where the Obamas ate last week) and this one in Tarrytown, upstate, with a farm on the old Rockefeller estate (how many parentheses have I opened so far? (anyway, Dan won the James Beard Award for Chef of the Year and also was in the Time 100 Most Important People this year) got it??)))))
The last picture I took, before the light went away, was a picture of this lovely, lovely salad:
Every element perfectly placed, carefully placed, with love, that’s what Blue Hill is all about.
So are you convinced that this is heaven? If not, here’s what came after this–prepare to have your jaw drop (it was a lot of food):
Asparagus & Green Garlic with almonds, smoked herring caviar, cured embryonic egg.
(Oh wait, I lied, there is a picture):
Black Bass with Maine shellfish, tomatoes, preserved red beans.
This Morning’s Farm Egg with red fife, ramps, speck.
Morels with fiddle head ferns, asparagus and potato.
Chicken Wings with shaker potato, guanciale, field spinach.
Lamb Neck with fiddle head ferns, chickpeas.
And then there was dessert:
Rhubarb with edelflower, cassis, quark cheese sorbet.
Frozen Mint Marshmallow, strawberries, mint sorbet.
Rhubarb Sorbet with ricotta cheese, white chocolate, and blue hill farm milk jam.
Chocolate with meyer rum toffee and tonka bean ice cream.
And, finally, the weirdest taste of the night: asparagus ice cream with a pickled fiddlehead fern. (The combination of pickle and ice cream made me feel like a pregnant woman with a craving.)
So what can you say after eating all that?
What can you say after eating all that in such a lovely setting on such a lovely day with such lovely service and such lovely company?
There’s not much you can say except that this is as sublime as restaurant experiences get, perhaps more sublime. The fancier meals I’ve had–our meal at Per Se, for example–almost feel strict. The silverware is placed just so, the room is hushed and a bit eerie. But here the mood is laid back; the overriding feeling is one of ease and joy and comfort.
In other words, it’s what you’d want heaven to feel like if there were a heaven. So say your prayers before you go to bed and pray that you might be pardoned of all your earthly sins or, rather, just pray for a reservation at Blue Hill Stone Barns. Even God has to admit, Dan Barber’s version of heaven is as heavenly as it gets.