I spent a good THREE MONTHS trying to make a reservation at Stone Barns. THREE MONTHS. This place is in high demand, people. So plan in advance, especially if you want to dine on a weekend (which you should so you can check out the farm).
So you drive out to this idyllic Westchester farm, and you go inside, and sit down, and man this is a pretty restaurant. All quiet and elegant and cow horn candle votives (!) and a huge, beautiful wooden farm-housey table in the middle of the room with fresh flower center pieces that look like they were just picked outside and assorted legumes (!!). Each table has a whole service team that’s comprised of several waiters/servers and a team leader. The team leader is there to answer any questions you might have and basically liaise between the diners and the kitchen. They also come around to the table occasionally with fun props (jars of grains, a glass nest with three eggs, a charred lobster head, ie: things that only I would call “fun”) to provide educational information about the way the farm is run and where the food you’re eating is sourced. I got along really well with our table’s team leader, she could tell I was super enthusiastic about the whole experience (read: embarrassing The Boy) , so she was really forthcoming with all kinds of extra details about the food, etc.
We decided to do twelve courses because, I mean really, why fuck around? After you choose your number of courses the team leader will ask if you have any dietary restrictions, allergies, or things you just don’t like. I told her to bring it on. Bear in mind: There are lots of things I don’t particularly enjoy eating, like raw fish or really just fish in general, but this just didn’t seem like the right place to be a picky eater. I wanted to go into this experience with a totally open mind, willing to try anything. It paid off. Ok, I’ll quit blabbing and cut to the food.
Course 1: Small bites
Fennel, radish, cherry tomato, husk cherry, some kind of bean I didn’t recognize, and a tomato water gazpacho shot.
Radish with brown butter.
Kale chip, potato chip
Mini tomato burgers
String bean fries
String bean wrapped in sesame-covered pancetta (exceptionally blurry, I know!)
Summer melon with cracked black pepper and watermelon vinaigrette.
Course 2: Raw fish whose name I can’t remember (eep!), with summer corn and melon.
Course 3: Herb salad with heirloom tomatoes, summer melon, and plain yogurt. Easily the most delicious yogurt ever on the face of the earth. Less like yogurt and more like cheese. This photo is so gray, but in person this dish was very vibrant and colorful!
Course 4: Whole grain brioche toast with cracked black pepper, fresh ricotta cheese, and kale marmalade
Course 5: Roasted onion with selected condiments (pickled pepper jam, chicken liver mouse, olive tapenade, and… uh oh… um, some kind of aioli?)
Course 6: Wild brook trout with corn and black trumpet mushrooms
Course 7: Linguine with fried egg yolk a la carbonara with zucchini ribbons and bacon
Course 8: Ostrich egg pasta with tomato confit sauce
Course 9: Salt roasted turkey breast with spinach and beans. Plus, how sweet is that plate?
Course 10 (hmmm, that’s not right… this should be course 9. That must mean one of the earlier plates wasn’t supposed to be a “real” course… the brioche, perhaps?): Assorted cuts of pork (loin, jowl, snout, boudin noir, and… the rest are failing me), and various vegetables from around the farm including fairytale eggplant, fennel, squash, zucchini, sweet carmen pepper, broccoli, kale, chard, black trumpet mushrooms and… some more.
So that concludes the dinner portion of the meal. At this point my eyes are drooping and I’m fantasizing about unzipping my dress on the drive home so my belly can breathe a little. And then our table leader comes over and offers us the option of adding on ANOTHER course. For cheese. Now, I know this is going to sound crazy but… who the hell can say no to cheese? Bring it, lady! So we ate the cheese. I don’t have a picture of that, because I scarfed it down before The Boy could even unzip the camera bag. That was actually a running theme throughout the night, the food was just so delicious and beautiful looking it was hard to think of posterity before taking a bite. Anyway, so a lovely cheese plate (something blue and something softer and mild with apricot marmalade and pickled okra), and then on to dessert and coffee (thank god! I was more worried about The Boy driving home after this dinner than if he’d drank an entire bottle of wine!).
Course 10 (who can really count at this point?): Raspberry sorbet with grape concord sauce, elderflower jelly, and honey
Course 11: Peach melba with raspberries, vanilla ice cream, and crème fraiche panacotta.
Course 12 (finally!): Hazelnut chocolate praline with hazelnut mousse.
And The Boy rolled me home. Not really, but you get the idea. So that’s 12ish courses or 13ish, rather. So decadent. Halfway through the meal The Boy and I were already scheming about how we could go back and have someone else pay for it. I seriously wish I could eat like this every day. Well, perhaps not in quantity, but certainly in quality. I was also really surprised by how much I enjoyed certain things I typically “don’t like.” Like the raw fish. Of course there were other things that I still didn’t like, fennel, for example, is one of my least favorite foods. But at least now I can say I definitely don’t like it, because I’ve tasted it in its finest incarnation. Too often I feel like I walk around with these preconceived notions of food, judging it by the way it looks, or what I thought of it as a kid, rather than how it actually tastes. I think it’s good for the soul to every once in awhile revisit ideas that you’ve had for a long time and check in, make sure they’re still relevant and you’re not just operating on autopilot.
One of the coolest aspects of this whole experience came at the end of the meal, when our table leader offered us the chance to see inside the kitchen. They were mostly in clean-up mode at that point (it was 12:30 am), but it was still really neat. She also explained how the whole dining process works, which was kind of unexpected. I knew that the menu changed every day, but what I didn’t realize is that actually each table has a totally custom menu, hand-written by chef Dan Barber based on the dietary needs and preferences you voice at the beginning of the night. WOW. That’s so incredibly… I don’t even know. Just wow.
Thank you Stone Barns. It was a meal that changed my life… Whoa… that’s pretty weighty.