It’s hard to write about good food without sounding like a manifestly pretentious jackass. But, I am going to do it anyway.
Yesterday, I had lunch at a restaurant called Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Picturesquely situated on an 88-acre organic farm, the restaurant—a series of carefully renovated stone barns—looks like it’s been plucked off a hillside in southern France, and serenely nestled in rural New York.
There was something distinctly Jurassic Park-like about the whole scene. A controlled, self-sustaining habitat with exotic animals and vegetation, complete with restaurant and gift shop, uniformed staff, logo-emblazoned golf carts, and electric fences (albeit with slightly less voltage.) And although it was missing hotties like Jeff Goldblum (yeah, I think he’s sexy) and Sam Neil, there was no shortage of tan, tank-top-clad men raking and weeding and generally looking like they were cast as “Brawny Farmhand 1 and 2.”
I think I was the only one who found the calculated calm a little eerie. But on the flip side, that same near-meditative consideration was given to the meal I had there—which, I think, will remain one of the most thoughtful of my life.
We were seated in a private room overlooking the fields (where chefs in white jackets were harvesting their selections for dinner). Our glasses were filled with an ice tea made from fresh herbs—chamomile and three kinds of mint: pineapple, orange, and lemon. It tasted heady and aromatic, simultaneously homey and yet vaguely exotic.
I could have peaced after the tea and been a pretty happy camper, it was that good. But, lunch was served. In elegant synchronization (perhaps too much so for a farmhouse), large, square white plates were placed in front of us, each with a meticulously arranged dish in the four corners.
On the bottom right was a cracked wheat and quinoa salad with corn, cherry tomatoes, and pistachios crowned with sautéed green and yellow summer beans. To the right of the salad were four pieces of handmade charcuterie: chorizo, mortadella, bresaola, and bologna (I don’t know what Oscar Meyer thinks he’s doing, but it ain’t this.)
In the upper right corner of the plate was a chilled corn soup—smooth, creamy, sweet, refreshing, and unsettlingly perfumey—whose only ingredient, we were told, was corn. I couldn’t reconcile the complexity of flavor I was experiencing with what I have on file in my brain as “corn.” And the more I ate it, the more unnamable it became. So deliciously maddening and alluring, this soup was the pinnacle of the meal.
Finally, in the upper left hand corner of the plate was a trio of cheeses from Vermont with a single dollop of honeycomb and a candied pecan. Eaten together with the warm, crusty, whole-grain bread on the table—the flavors didn’t just marry well together, they were about ready to run off to a polygamist compound in Utah. I also consumed an inappropriate amount of the same warm bread slathered with fresh butter, which was, of course, served at the perfect temperature on rustic slate coasters—the aesthetics of which I was immediately obsessed with. (Too bad the coasters were 50 bucks in the gift shop.)
For dessert, I sunk my spoon into grilled corn ice cream with peaches and blueberries situated on a homemade graham cracker and drizzled with a vanilla-olive oil sauce. It was so good that I spent approximately 10 minutes politely running my spoon over the melty remnants of it and licking it over and over again, trying so hard to maintain some sense of decorum and refrain from sticking my face into the bowl and tonguing it clean. The meal ended on the simplest of notes with impeccable pieces of ripe, sweet nectarines impaled on nails sticking out of a board—like the heads of Louis XIII’s ill-fated enemies.
The meal, like parts of the farm, felt a little fussy in its presentation, but the food itself was actually rather simple. It was like a culinary jazz band—great together, but it’s success, it’s wow-factor, lay in letting the best ingredients take turns having their solo.