sunday in new york

the next morning i awoke to the smell of coffee brewing. D and i did what we always do after such a meal: we sat together and made as many notes as we could about the experience. we split and shared each of the petits fours, savoring them with our coffee. in this way, we are able to make the evening’s dinner extend on into the morning as well. we got cleaned up and headed downtown to a restaurant called french roast. we brunched on omelette lorraine, croque madame and bowls of café au lait. it was a fine, sunny day and we walked around lower manhattan all afternoon. we shopped at balducci’s, which has moved into a renovated bank building and looks truly spectacular inside. the place was clean and tidy, the shelves were full and the prices were not too over the top. i picked up some candied orange peel for this year’s fruitcake, as well as a tube of san marzano tomato paste.

as evening approached, we headed towards the village and our reservation at blue hill. we were early, so we stopped outside the restaurant for a couple of minutes for D to have one last cigarette. we heard someone ranting on about palestine and the middle east and they were headed our way. D and i assumed the standard newyorker position…eyes down and focussed away from the voice. mercifully, he passed us by but latched on to the limo driver waiting for his client two doors down. this poor soul got the full tirade from our political science professor-on-the-street. unfortunately, he had nowhere to go. we, on the other hand, were able to retreat into the welcoming refuge of the restaurant.

blue hill

it’s an intimate space, all low-ceilings, close tables and indirect light. there’s exposed brick and waiters in oxford shirts and long aprons…quite the opposite effect of the previous night’s grandeur. it was, actually, a welcome relief. although we were early, the dining room was not quite full and we were seated immediately. we ordered cocktails instead of wine…a square one organic vodka martini for me (can anyone tell me whatinthehell “organic” vodka is??) and a gin rickey for D. we were given menus and a wine list, but there was no indication of a tasting menu. all we had in our hands was an a la carte list of first courses and entrees. we inquired and were told that the tasting menu had been so popular at the first seating that they were no longer able to offer it that evening. as a note of disappointment crossed our faces, the waiter promised that if we would like, “the chef will cook for you…whatever strikes his fancy.” well that did it! my favorite thing in a restaurant of this caliber is the luxury of not having to choose. i am grateful when the chef has already done the marketing and the cooking and is prepared to tell ME what to eat. isn’t that what i’m paying for when it’s someone in the kitchen that i trust? so, without any sort of printed information, we were off on our culinary odyssey. (given the fact that we never got a written list of dishes, i will forgo the usual menu descriptions here.)

we started with miniature zombie glasses filled with a bracing green gazpacho. bright with cucumber and garlic, it was served with a garlic tuile. this was just enough to get the gastric juices flowing and really sharpen our appetites for the dishes to come. next followed a glass coupe of heirloom tomato salad topped with a bright red tomato sorbet. the third week in september is still high season for tomatoes in this part of the country and these were bursting with flavor.

what came next was another gazpacho, this time a somewhat larger portion of a smoother, richer version of this classic andalusian soup. this round was topped with a perfect quenelle of a savory yogurt sorbet. this one had more body and more oomph to it, but was still quite refreshing. then we were presented with a tomato financier with basil. here, the classic french nut cake had been baked in a lower sugar version and topped with a tomato and basil salad…another variation on this late-summer theme. we were impressed with the gutsiness of serving such similar dishes for these first two rounds and with the success they exhibited in their subtle differences.

there followed a salad of baby greens, haricots verts and baby wax beans in a slightly creamy vinaigrette. it bears mentioning that most of the produce here comes from the restaurant’s own farm at stone barns, the former rockefeller estate up on the hudson river. everything was wonderfully fresh, tender and flavorful.

now we were ready for a more substantial plate. how about salmon? how about a cube of it, lovingly poached to a melting tenderness? what if you took that and placed it atop a stew of wild mushrooms—chanterelles, honshimeiji and chicken-of-the-woods, to be exact? now surround that with a clean, refreshing lettuce broth and you have a plate of pure pleasure.

next came the entrée…berkshire pork served three ways. there were slices of roasted loin; a pair of chewy edged, falling off the bone tender ribs; and a piece of deliriously fatty, crispy belly. these all rested atop a yellow corn and quinoa combination that contributed texture and sweetness to the dish. it was like all the best parts of a summer cookout, brought up to the next level. in fact, the whole meal was a series of riffs on that theme: the best of late summer cooking. there was almost nothing presented to us that was not a purely seasonal dish.

there was a small break in the action here, setting the stage for the sweeter courses to come. first was a cool salad of stewed blueberris, topped with a scoop of fromage blanc sorbet and sliced, toasted almonds. this dish straddled the line between savory and sweet, drawing us over into the world of confections.

a full blown dessert came next: pain perdu brulee. a slice of brioche, soaked in a rich batter and griddled to perfection. the outside was a crispy, sugary shell and the inside was a molten, eggy custard. this was floating on a sea of mixed berry compote and topped with lemon thyme ice cream.

our waiter had asked us in the beginning if we had been to blue hill before. we recounted our dinner there three years earlier and our fondest memory: a plate of financiers served with a pot of apricot jam, which arrived with the coffee. he assured us he would find this for us again that night. true to his word, there arrived a course of financier again, but this time it was a plated version, studded with fresh blueberries and served with more of the lemon thyme ice cream.

as we drank our coffee, one final, miniature plate arrived, graced with a pair of perfectly ripe shiro plums. we savored these final bites of summer, our stomachs perfectly full and our heads abuzz with the cocktails and the laughter we had shared. this meal, although completely different in character from our experience at daniel, was equally as satisfying to the two of us. when we headed out to the street, D stopped on the sidewalk for a bit of decompression and a post-prandial smoke. there was a van parked in front of the restaurant, being loaded by one of the waitstaff. turns out it belonged to the chef, who came out just behind us and asked about our meal. it was great to be able to share some of the joy in our experience directly with him. a highlight of each of these evenings was the opportunity to meet each of these culinary wizards.

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  1. Trackback: Lists of Food(s) « Jasoneats

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