Blue Hill at Stone Barns, was recently awarded two stars in the Michelin 2020 guide, the first year the guide included dining establishments in Westchester County, New York. Blue Hill was the only restaurant in the county to earn a coveted star.
Although the official recognition came as a surprise, it wasn’t totally unexpected–especially by food critics and those who have dined at Blue Hill. There’s been speculation that the raison d’être of the guide expanding its purview north of Manhattan to the Hudson Valley was to finally recognize this unique, world-class dining experience.
Since its 2004 opening, both Chef Dan Barber and the restaurant have garnered numerous awards (including ones from the James Beard Foundation), and the restaurant has ranked consistently near the top of annual lists of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
We are fortunate to live in a small village (Pleasantville) within the same town as the hamlet of Pocantico Hills (Mount Pleasant), just 10 minutes away, so we have been able to dine at Blue Hill on several occasions over the years. It’s pure serendipity for food-lovers to have a destination restaurant like Blue Hill almost at their doorstep.
Based on our experiences, here are some things first-timers should know:
What is the setting like?
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, often called “Blue Hill” by locals (who may be unaware that its sibling restaurant in Greenwich Village has that name), is only 25 miles north of midtown Manhattan. But provincial New Yorkers often refer to this and any other locale north of the city and south of the Canadian border, some 350 miles away, as “Upstate.”
The restaurant is situated on an 80-acre farm that straddles both sides of a bucolic two-lane road. During the day, you might even see sheep or cattle grazing in the pastures. Initially, no one was sure that the restaurant could succeed at a sparse location with so few local residents and no commercial enterprises.
Chef Barber once told me, “Lots of people were telling us it wouldn’t work, that people from the city wouldn’t make the trek, but we had the advantage of a really singular, extraordinary location.”
Not only is the surrounding area beautiful but it also has a storied history. Dotted with forests, lakes, streams and the site of the Union Church (with its magnificent Chagall windows), much of the land (some 4000 acres) was once owned by the Rockefellers. Over the course of years, as part of the family’s commitment to the preservation of open spaces, the Rockefellers made land donations to New York State, including what became a public parkland, the 1400-acre Rockefeller State Park Preserve (worth a visit).
What is the dining room like?
Banker and philanthropist David Rockefeller (who died two years ago, and was the son of John D. Jr.) set aside 80 acres the family property to create the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture as a tribute to his wife, Peggy, a co-founder of the American Farmland Trust.
The restaurant’s contemporary 75-seat dining room is in a former dairy barn with a dramatic trussed roof that was beautifully restored. Tables are generously spaced with an eye-catching floral display on a long table at the room’s center. It’s hard to imagine that you are sitting in what was once the family’s dairy barn in the 1930s but the large windows help remind you that you’re on a working farm and your meal is truly farm-to-table.
There is no paper menu, per se, because menus vary according to season, availability and the whimsy of the chef. Instead, diners receive a small journal called “Food and Pasture” that describes month by month the foods and ingredients you’re likely to find on your plate. Of course, the wait staff will ask about any food allergies, aversions or preferences and tailor your meal, accordingly.
Thus, it’s very unlikely that any two meals you have at Blue Hill will be the same. In fact, on the same night, your meal may be different than that served at the table beside you.
Is it true that you eat some courses with your fingers?
Part of the theater of Blue Hill is its artful composition and presentation of the foods you are eating. Almost as much thought seems to go into serving vessels as the plated foods themselves.
The table settings are by no means stuffy and some courses even encourage relaxed nibbling with your fingers. Some of the handmade tableware is for sale at the restaurant’s on-site boutique, The Blue Hill Market.
What is the food like at Blue Hill?
Needless to say, your meal is likely to be different than other dining experiences you’ve had before. Every visit to Blue Hill is characterized by the element of surprise no matter how many times you’ve been there. Your meal will be veggie- rather than meat-centric. In fact, you’ll be dazzled by the variety of farm-fresh vegetables served, including new breeds of old standbys.
The kitchen emphasizes sustainable foods grown directly on the farm or those that come from other small producers in the Hudson Valley. It aims to help eliminate food waste by inventive preparations of some foods( or food parts) that although nutritious, fell out of popularity.
Also flaunting the convention, the bread course may come at the end of the meal so as not to spoil your appetite.
How long does the dining experience take?
Meals at Blue Hill are relaxed and savored slowly—in a setting that is attentive and unrushed. In fact, your dinner may take three or four hours or more. And it can be daunting to count the number of small courses served, which typically exceed 20, 30 or more in one meal.
The wait-staff are not only food servers but also food educators, individuals who will patiently explain ingredients, their source, and be able to knowledgeably answer any questions. This is consistent with Chef Barber’s goal of changing the way we eat through education.
How can I make reservations?
It has never been easy to snag a table at Blue Hill but it’s likely to be even more difficult now that this world-class destination restaurant has been anointed with Michelin stars. A recent article in Eater listing the new Michelin-starred restaurants in New York noted, “Stone Barns, however, might just be the toughest table of them all, with scant availability throughout December.”
Blue Hill partners with OpenTable (see link on Blue Hill website here to make reservations). You can get lucky though because the restaurant does maintain a last-minute cancellation list.
IF YOU GO
Blue Hill at Stone Barns is at 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, N.Y.
From Manhattan, visitors can take a taxi or car service, or take Metro-North from Grand Central Station (about a 35-minute ride on an express train), getting off in nearby Tarrytown on the Hudson Line. A taxi ride from the train station to Blue Hill takes about 10 minutes.
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