Blue Hill: Manhattan’s Farm Feast
I had unreasonably high expectations for Blue Hill, thinking that if it’s fit for our President, it must be astonishingly good. Most of the time, I hate entering a restaurant expecting it to be marvelous or even more than marvelous; it just sets me up for inevitable disappointment. While not what I expected in terms of decor and scene, Blue Hill did not disappoint, at all.
The restaurant itself, located on a quiet block just off Washington Square, is sparsely done. A study in subdued elegance, the walls are unadorned and the color palette is totally neutral. I had imagined charming exposed brick, farmer-themed knick knacks, and an overall more quaint environment. Blue Hill is clean and uncluttered – more modern than I would expect from a) the West Village and b) a restaurant based on farm-sourced cuisine.
Aside from the surprisingly simple design, Blue Hill is delightful. The service is friendly, welcoming, and unpretentious. Our server understood the art of never interrupting a conversation, of pouring wine at a steady balanced pace, and of catering to her diners’ needs. For example, around 10:30pm, just before the dessert course, we added one more person to our party, and we were immediately moved to a bigger table – no fuss!
The food is the main event here, without a doubt. Earthy, inventive, and impossibly fresh, the cuisine represents the pinnacle of the sustainable farming and locavore movement. Sourced from Dan Barber’s Blue Hill @ Stone Barns farm in upstate New York, all of the ingredients taste as though they’ve just come from the earth and been washed by hand in the kitchen sink before making it to the plate. My lovely dining companion Lauren and I went through three courses each. We started with the This Morning’s Farm Egg and the Emmer Wheat Pasta with Shitake Mushrooms and Chestnuts. The egg was perfectly cooked and served savory broth with mushrooms and lamb’s leg confit. It was the type of dish you can’t stop eating, wanting to savor every last bite and sop up the remaining broth with the provided bread. The wheat pasta was the same way – nutty, hefty, savory, with the faintest of hint of citrus – totally irresistible.
The main dishes weren’t tiny or dainty, as you would typically find in such a fine dining establishment. While still beautifully presented, the chef gives you a hefty portion (and trust me, you’ll want it. All of it.) Lauren and I dove right into the Stone Barns Berkshire Pig and the Tilefish. The pig was succulent and moist, doused in a thick orange curry sauce with what looked to be fava and lima beans. The curry sauce, while satisfyingly hearty, tasted a bit pre-fabricated, like Campbell’s soup mixed with high-quality ingredients. It didn’t affect how much I enjoyed the dish, but it definitely stood out as an anomaly amongst all the fresh ingredients. The tilefish was flaky and light, sitting in a pool of Manhattan clam chowder. The mellow fish absorbed the rich chowder and the entire concoction was an innovative seafood delight.
The desserts were unlike anything I’ve ever had. Both Lauren and I opted for a fruit-themed dessert, sharing the Concord Grape and the Apple confections. The Concord Grape was an innovative play on peanut butter and jelly with rich peanut butter sorbet and small cubes of sweet Concord Grape gelee. The Apple dessert included a flaky apple terrine with tart green apple sorbet (scrumptious!) and salted caramel bits. Both were refreshing and immensely creatives spins on dessert – truly delicious but without any guilt attached!
All in all, Blue Hill was a remarkable experience. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was better that way. I was surprised, delighted, tantalized, and completely satisfied. Blue Hill is a special place – it stands out from the growing crowd of locavore farm-friendly restaurants in its refinement. A place perfect for special occasions (2 couples were celebrating their anniversaries there the night I went!), Blue Hill will wow you with its unpretentious vibe, subtle elegance, and daring farm-centric cuisine.