My Dinner at Stone Barns

August 9, 2013

Our taxi from the train station narrowly missed the chicken on the driveway; as he dropped us off at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the driver said cheerily, “I’m going to try and hit that chicken on the way down.  It would make a great dinner for my kids.” From the corner of my eye I could see him contemplating the sheep grazing in the meadow, thinking they’d be pretty tasty too.

They would be great – but reducing the experience that Dan Barber and his crew produce to mere food would be to miss the best part of the evening. This is a restaurant unlike any other I’ve ever been to.

You know all the pertinent parts: the restaurant in the former Rockefeller dairy barn raises a great deal of the food that appears on the plate.  They’ve got greenhouses and fields filled with organically-grown vegetables you’ve never heard of, and their pigs forage for acorns in the woods behind the restaurant. There are cows and sheep and chickens, and the Stone Barns team is so intent on recycling that even the bones are turned into charcoal. Nothing goes to waste.   

The place is as gorgeous as a movie set, with a dream-like quality that sometimes makes you pinch yourself (go look at the website).  The flowers! The candles! The beauty of each plate. And the service is superb in a particularly American way; it’s friendly without being familiar.  

But something else is happening here: there’s a communication between the kitchen and the customer that I’ve not seen anywhere else. There is no menu; you simply put yourself in their hands and the staff intuits your desires.  I doubt that any two tables get the same meal. 

I can’t remember a dinner I’ve liked better than the one I had last night.  It was a progression of tiny courses that paid homage to the season. I left the table, after a five hour meal feeling light and incredibly happy. 

The meal was extremely simple. Most of the courses were tiny vegetables that spoke for themselves. A handful of tiny tomatoes that burst into the mouth.  Baby fennel, strident with anise-flavor, curled into a “plate” made of bark.  Infant leeks, so thin they were barely visible, pulsating with flavor. Tiny beans that looked like threads.  Chinese gooseberries. A single watermelon cucumber the size of a marble. A whole eggplant, charred in the ashes, its creamy white flesh scooped out and served with just-harvested sesame seeds and tomato foam. Cantaloupe simply seared and then distilled into a fragrant drink. Little “tacos” made of turnip that we wrapped around lobster and a trio of fruit and vegetable salsas. The parade of vegetables went on and on, occasionally punctuated with a perfectly cooked egg, a gorgeous little cracker, or the astonishingly fine house-made pepperoncini.

The biggest surprise: pig heart “pastrami” so delicious it would make any offal-hater change her mind.  And the single best piece of bread I’ve had in years: a slice of brioche made with heritage wheat that tasted like no wheat I’ve experienced in my life. Served with seductively delicious just-made ricotta and a savory marmalade, it has given plain old bread, butter and jam something to aspire to.  I will never forget those flavors.

This meal was so much fun to eat; I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much at dinner. It led, finally, to a single gorgeous piece of pork – sweet, tender, and just enough. Biting into that rosy meat I felt as if everything that had come before had been a tribute to this animal.

Dessert was wonderful too – peaches with white chocolate, blueberries, and the strawberry cannelloni that’s been on the menu since the restaurant opened. 

It was, for me, a perfect meal.  But I noticed that the people at the next table were eating a completely different dinner; they had more meat, more composed dishes. They seemed every bit as happy as we were. And that’s the main point.  

All through the meal I could sense a silent communication between the front of the house and the back. They were watching what we were eating, figuring out what we liked, adjusting the food.  This is, of course, what you do at home when you cook for your family. But I’ve never before seen that happen in a restaurant.  At Stone Barns you aren’t just paying for a meal, you’re forging a relationship. A relationship so extremely pleasing that all you can think at the end is, “How soon can I come back?”

 

 

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Corny? Indeed.

August 7, 2013

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Been reading all these recipes for corn ice cream, which gave me an idea. What if I just took the kernels off the cob, put them in the freezer, and ate them frozen, all by themselves?

Turns out it's a terrifically refreshing snack. Kind of like instant ice cream. If you take really good local corn,  scrape off the kernels just after it's been picked, you end up with something that bears absolutely no relation to the frozen corn in the supermarket. 

And if you really want something that reminds you of ice cream, try pouring a little cream over the frozen kernels. Amazing!

 

 

 

 

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Summer’s Most Refreshing Food

August 6, 2013

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This is gazpacho season.  I like to keep a pitcher in the refrigerator, and pour out a little cupful every time I feel hunger coming on.  It’s refreshing, good for you – and about the easiest thing you can possibly make.  But most of all, it’s completely seasonal; gazpacho is great now, and for about another month. And then its time has passed.

Classic gazpacho is basically just a liquid tomato salad. You take a bunch of very ripe tomatoes and whirl them in a blender with a few compatible vegetables. I generally add onion, cucumber and a small amount of garlic.  Salt and pepper. Some olive oil and a bit of vinegar.  Then you let it rest in the refrigerator, allowing the flavors to get acquainted.  

 When it’s time to eat, you can simply stir and slurp.  Or you can dice up a crunchy vegetable or two -  cucumbers, peppers, carrots – and a leaf of basil, parsley or celery.  If you have leftover pesto, it’s great on top. A few fat homemade bread crumbs, another little dash of olive oil, and you’re ready to be refreshed. 

Vague recipe: 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes (you don’t need to peel them), half an onion, a peeled cucumber, one clove of garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil and the same amount of good vinegar. Salt and pepper. Blend. Thin with a little water if you like. That’s all there is to it. 

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How to Cook a Perfect Peach

August 5, 2013

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Just made the peach galette from the Masamoto family’s wonderful book, The Perfect Peach.  I reduced the sugar in their recipe, and while I have to admit that my galette doesn’t look nearly as good as the one their jacket, it smells fantastic and was great fun to make. Can’t wait to serve it for dinner tonight. 

Peach Galette (adapted from The Perfect Peach, which was just published by Ten Speed Press) 

For the pastry

1 cup unbleached flour

1 tablespoon sugar

pinch of salt

1/2 cup cold butter

1 egg

1 1/2 teaspoons milk

1 tablespoon cream

sugar for sprinkling

 

For the filling 

1/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons flour

pinch of cinnamon

5 or 6 ripe peaches

squeeze of lemon juice

 

Make the dough by blending the dry ingredients and cutting in the butter.  Then whisk the milk into the egg and mix into the butter and flour mixture.  Form into a ball, wrap in wax paper, and refrigerate for a couple of hours. 

Allow to warm for about 10 minutes, then roll into an 11 inch circle, place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet and put in the refrigerator to chill while you preheat the oven to 375 and prepare the peaches.

Peel the peaches and slice into 1/4 inch wedges. Toss them with the flour and sugar, squeeze in a bit of lemon juice.

Remove the pie dough from the refrigerator. Leaving 1 1/2 inches on the outside, cover with the peach slices, arranging in a spiraling circle.  Pleat the outer edges of the dough over the peaches and brush the dough with the cream. Sprinkle sugar over the cream and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 50 minutes, until the crust is golden.

Cool on a rack. 

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Where to Find a Perfect Peach

August 3, 2013

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Let's get this out of the way at the beginning: they're expensive.

They're also extremely rare. Finding a perfect peach in modern America is almost impossible. There are whole generations of people who think that peaches are supposed to be crisp and crunch when you take a bite. But these are real peaches: so fragrant their perfume drives you mad. And so soft and juicy you're tempted to climb into the bathtub every time you eat one.

They're also remarkably seasonal: I wait for these all year.

So if you're like me, and you dream of peaches, you'd choose one of these wonderful Frog Hollow peaches over chocolate cake, ice cream – or just about anything else you can name.

And if you're like me, you'll be ordering some from Farmer Al this week. Wait and you'll be out of luck. 

 

Would you like to throw a stone at me?
Here, take all that’s left of my peach.

Blood-red, deep;
Heaven knows how it came to pass.
Somebody’s pound of flesh rendered up.

Wrinkled with secrets
And hard with the intention to keep them.

Why, from silvery peach-bloom,
From that shallow-silvery wine-glass on a short term
This rolling, dropping heavy globule?

I am thinking, of course, of the peach before I ate it.

Why so velvety, why so voluptuous heavy?
Why hanging with such inordinate weight?
Why so indented?

Why the groove?
Why the lovely, bivalve roundnesses?
Why the ripple down the sphere?
Why the suggestion of incision?

Why was not my peach round and finished like a billiard ball?
It would have been if man had made it.
Though I’ve eaten it now.
But it wasn’t round and finished like a billiard ball.
And because I say so, you would like to throw something at me.

Here, you can have my peach stone.

-Peach, D.H. Lawrence


 

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