Review: Blue Hill at Stone Barns

Ultimate indulgence, for some, is found in Vegas, Disney World, or various unmentionable arenas. I found mine at Blue Hill, Stone Barnes. The working farm boasts two locations of its infamous, no-menu dining adventure: one in Manhattan and one just north of the city, in Pocantico Hills, NY.  Upon arrival, two friendly valets whisk your carriage away  (should you happen to arrive via one) and direct you to the fairytale-like castle to meet the host. As you walk through the tall, brick passage you can't help but note the vast farmland surrounding the fortress. With various growing greens, sheep herds, and pastures (where your soon-to-be-dinner grazes), an unusual calm takes over. Am I really just 30 miles away from the city? The overly friendly host, ever so peacefully and extremely breathlessly inquires your name and the time of the reservation. "We're so glad to have you here! Would you like to be seated early? This is no problem at all! I'll take you to your table right away!" And just like that, we were swept away to a cozy booth, set just for us (a calmly, smiley twilight zone-ish atmosphere, but we went with it).

Among the hundreds of people dancing at our feet and panting with anticipation to serve us, was our beaming waitress. She approached us with two menus and began to illustrate the process of the experience to come. Blue Hill has no set menu. Each day boasts a new harvest and intricate creations based on availability of produce. The only choice you must make is the five or eight course menus-hey, if you're going to party, might as well do it right. This was a no brainer for us...bring it on! Six of the courses were to be savory and two sweet, however, this does not account for the multitude of small bites prior to and following the feast. 

As the waiters glided across the dining room floor, whisking away the empty plates as soon as the last bite disappeared, providing new silverware with each course, folding napkins, pouring water, tidying the table, and making sure that every detail was perfect, the smile did not leave our faces. Pure indulgence and pampering!
Aside from the impeccable, unpretentious, kind, and attentive service, the food was indescribable (which I shall attempt to describe). With each foretaste, course, and sauce your taste buds squeal with excitement and surprise. 
The perfect start to an amazing evening was the fresh garden vegetable display. Impeccably aromatic veggies, skewered onto a wooden vessel, tasted as if picked just minutes before. Baby zucchini with flowers, carrots, broccolini, tomatoes, and cucumbers. Simply tossed in a bit of salt and very mild olive oil-which enhanced the richness of the flavors. Next, fresh baby squash, wrapped with house-made prosciutto and sesame seeds. Each component distinctly separate on the tongue as the combination tied the flavors together. Fresh and extremely tender. Flash fried green beans from the garden were crunchy and perfectly seasoned. House-made charcuterie with a baked crisp bread followed, boasting a gently salty flavor.

As the starters flowed, the anticipation grew with every bite. Mini burgers (with sesame seeds), corn dogs (skewered baby corn, flash fried and seasoned to perfection), peppered melon (three varieties), bone marrow with American caviar (in an incredibly authentic presentation-in the actual bone!)

Each new silverware placing provided clues to what was to follow. An oddly shaped spoon-perhaps we'll be scooping up a sauce? A fillet knife-what type of meat will we be carving? In addition to the above clues, we were presented with various other leads. A freshly polished silver platter supported two gritty, long-stemmed greens, which seemed to be picked that morning. Our waitress explained the origin of Celtuce, as she sliced open the dirty stem and allowed us to take a whiff of the nutty, fresh aroma. She [thankfully] explained that we were not to eat the grimy Chinese lettuce in front of us, and that this was a simple demonstration of what was to follow. As we parted with the sample presentation, our prepared Celtuce made its appearance. Lightly grilled, with equidistant grill marks so perfect, they appeared drawn-on. The green was accompanied by a pine nut sauce and was as crisp and fresh as its demo (minus the dirt).

Our next tip emerged as a platter of coals. We were informed that the farm participates in a program where any organic matter is used as the heating source. As we zeroed in, bones, sticks, and other organic variables were dispersed among the familiar charcoal. The following course was submerged in the coals, overnight, for 24 hours, resulting in an incredibly moist, sweet, and tender onion! The presentation, as immaculate as others, was on two wooden planks, served with a slew of sauces: jicama cream, poached blueberries, olive tapenade, and avocado sauce. Although the star of this course slightly resembled a bit of the female anatomy, it appropriately melted in your mouth with each bite.

As our stomachs began to expand, some freshly baked, piping hot bread made its way over. Presented with a mild organic butter and a trio of salts (tomato, shiitake, and red pepper). Each subsequent course attempted to outdo its predecessor. A gentle white fish, quickly seared, sat atop a slightly sweet tomato coulis. The morning's poached egg with a white bean-vegetable broth, sported pickled yolk shavings atop. The pig parts included stomach, blood sausage, and snout, among others and were supported by a crisp grilled eggplant square.

As the final savory course arrived, we were in shear bliss. The braised beef rib, presented with an eggplant tapenade, was moist and delicious. While we attempted to remove every ounce of meat from the bone with our silverware, our waitress was in the process of reading our minds. She appeared with two rectangular plates, each holding one napkin, a small bowl with chilled water, a lemon wedge, and an aromatic herb. As she sat the new tools in front of our stuffed faces, she calmly offered, "Please feel free to use your hands". We were in shock. How can this place get any better? They require you wear jacket and tie, yet you can eat with your hands!

We paused for a moment to reflect on the fantastic feast as our dessert courses made way. Poached cherries in their own broth were served with house-made mint sorbet. A corn bread cake along with fresh sugared berries and lemon ice cream. And to complete the meal a board with a multitude of sweets: sugared fresh red currants, chocolate covered almonds, fresh picked strawberries, and real honey comb!

Three and a half hours later, comfortably satiated, baring huge grins, we thanked our gracious hosts and parted with this fairytale farm. On our way out we waived good-bye to a flock of sheep, being herded by an overly zealous dog and were still in an excited daze. Were we drugged? Is this place real? There is no doubt that the Blue Hill adventure never ends and we'll be back again and again (funds permitting) for new perceptions of ecstasy.
630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, NY 10591


Review: Chimu Peruvian Steak House

This Peruvian steak house is conveniently located in Williamsburg/Greenpoint Brooklyn. Having passed its black awning and colorful windows numerous times, we decided to give it a go.

Upon entering the cave like nook, we were instantly greeted by two eager employees, questioning our seating preference. Considering the pleasantly warm environment we'd just escaped (approximately 101F), we chose to stay indoors.

As our eyes adjusted from the blaring sun, we were able to begin appreciating the cozy den. With gently flowing water gardens, dimly lit candles, and low hanging mini lights above each table, the romanticism is undeniable. Small, neatly set tables, a humble bar, and our equally sized waitress were no indication of the portions we were about to ingest.

Our dining experience commenced with a complimentary bowl of popped corn kernels. These tiny, crunchy, addictive, poppers were slightly salted and accompanied by a small bowl of spicy cream sauce. We weren't sure as to the purpose of this accessory, but gladly topped our kernels with the creamy concoction. Later, we'd learn to dab a bit of it atop our entrees as well.

We chose to start with fried sweet plantains-a favorite-and Chimu nailed it. Tender and piping hot, the generous portion arrived in an ordinary, round white plate. No garnish. No fancy layout. Simple and delicious. The moist, luscious bites disappeared within minutes. With the extremely attentive and speedy service, our main dishes were not too far behind. Picande de Mariscos, a diced potato stew with seafood, was cradled in a massive square bowl. Is there a bottom to this thing (I thought to myself while whiffing the flavorful aroma)? Aside from potatoes, the gigantic portion carried shrimp, baby octopus, calamari, soft shell crab, clams, mussels, Peruvian cheese, and veggies. Unlike any 'mixed seafood' entree I've seen. This dish was loaded with seafood! The flavorful broth, with its hints of red peppers, tomatoes, and coconut, was extremely flavorful and made me crave dipping bread (for soaking up the goodies).

My companion's entree of choice was Milanesa de Carne, Peruvian style basil spaghetti with flank steak. The green pasta came out, supporting an extremely generous portion of steak (overall, four friends could have enjoyed splitting our entire meal). With refreshing hints of fresh basil, the pasta lacked flavor (a bit of salt would have helped), however the steak's profile was the opposite. Draped in a sweet and buttery red wine sauce, the endless piece of meat was a success.

We'll be back Chimu, we'll be back. Especially for the famous Papa Rellena (mashed potato stuffed with beef, black olives, and egg), as well as a multitude of other authentic favorites we couldnt cram into our stomachs this time.
482 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY  11211


Frozen Chocolaty Banana Slices

This is by far the easiest and one of the most delicious ice-cream alternatives in the summer (or any season for that matter), makes 4 sliced bananas:
4 bananas-pealed, sliced on a diagonal into 1/2 inch ovals
12 oz walnuts
12 oz bittersweet chocolate (Scharffen Berger makes a great one)
1 T Grand Marnier
Optional-1 t cinnamon
1. Lay bananas on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, in one layer; place into the freezer and freeze for one hour.
2. Place walnuts into a blender and grind until fine; transfer into a wide bowl.
3. After the bananas have frozen, using a double boiler, melt the chocolate over medium-low heat, stirring constantly; add Grand Marnier and mix well (add optional cinnamon here).
4. Working in thirds, take the bananas out of the freezer; quickly dip each piece into the chocolate, then into the ground nuts; place dipped bananas back onto the parchment paper and back into the freezer. Wait 15-20 minutes and enjoy!


Zucchini Salad with Brie and a Grand Marnier Sherry Vinegar Reduction

This salad has great savory/sweet flavors. I really like enjoying it with a hearty, toasted multi grain baguette (topped with a bit of parm). The light dressing really brings out the flavor of the fresh veggies. Ttry topping it with grilled chicken breast for your non-vegetarian friends (serves 2):
1, 6 oz zucchini
3/4 cups sherry vinegar
2 T Grand Marnier
1 packed cup fresh arugula
1.5 oz red onion-thinly sliced
3 oz brie cheese-cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 T dried cranberries
2 T toasted walnuts
salt-to taste
freshly ground pepper-to taste
3 T the best olive oil you can get your hands on
1. Trim the ends of the zucchini and cut it in half; using a mandolin, thinly slice the zucchini halves; stack the zucchini slices on top of each other and thinly cut them lengthwise.
2. Pour vinegar and Grand Marnier into a small sauce pan; reduce, over medium-low heat, until the mixture thickens (and reduces by a bit more than half).
3. Lay arugula into a salad bowl.
4. Top with zucchini, red onion, cheese, cranberries, walnuts, salt, and pepper.
5. Drizzle the sherry vinegar reduction and olive oil over the salad.