The Blue Hill at Stone Barns experience begins as you turn off the road and pass through the white farm gates. A winding lane borders pastures of cows and sheep. Greenhouses and carefully tilled gardens are lush and thriving.
The restaurant takes full advantage of this bounty. Chef Dan Barber is a leader in the farm-to-table movement, and his inventive contemporary cuisine is built on produce sourced from the farm.
In fact, the entire enterprise is an adventure in exploring the potential of this special place. The property, once a dairy farm, belonged to the Rockefeller family, who donated it in 2003 to help create the nonprofit Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. The founders of the nonprofit invited Barber to partner with them and lead Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the center’s onsite restaurant, which opened in 2004. The restaurant is nestled in a courtyard surrounded by the historic stone barns, creating a rustic but elegant ambience.
No menu is provided. The prix-fixe meal costs $238, and its contents are determined by what is available that day from the farm and local purveyors. An expertly choreographed parade of dishes is delivered to the table by both waiters and chefs. Each course is accompanied by a thoughtful explanation of where the food came from and how it was prepared. This all takes place over a seating of approximately three hours.
Ingenuity informs many of the creations, such as the savory parsnip steak with creamy spinach, rose hip ketchup and pommes gaufrettes. A course of trial potatoes cooked in compost with soil amenders is tender and well-seasoned. The pork belly braised in cider with carrot romesco would satisfy any discerning meat-lover.
The comprehensive beverage program is a worthy complement to the refined cuisine. Wine director Charles Puglia has been building the 1,925-selection wine list since he started at Blue Hill in 2013. “Almost every table orders wine,” Puglia says, “and it’s not rare to have about 40 percent of the tables doing a wine pairing.”
The list covers Bordeaux classics with verticals of first-growths including Latour to 1961 ($4,950), Margaux to 1945 ($5,100) and Lafite Rothschild to 1945 ($7,250). The red Burgundy section too focuses on classic names, with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Rouget, Comte Georges de Vogüé and many more.
High-acidity whites such as Rieslings from Germany and Austria play an important role on the list because of their versatility with food. After medium- to full-bodied reds, these wines are Puglia’s biggest sales category. Benchmark producers such as Egon Müller, Joh. Jos. Prüm, F.X. Pichler and Prager are abundant.
New York wines are also well-represented. Currently, there are at least 60 selections from the Finger Lakes and Long Island, and Puglia intends to add more. But while the focus of the cuisine is hyperlocal, Puglia views the wine priority differently.
“It would be a shame, considering what we are trying to do here with the diversity of different flavors and textures, to just serve American or New York wine,” explains Puglia. “We have that representation, but we like to have the ability to pull different wines that not only tell a certain type of story with a certain sense of place, but also have different flavor profiles.”
Puglia’s offerings go far beyond wine. His program also boasts ales, lagers, ciders and mead, as well as Scotch, Bourbon and other spirits. Cocktails and nonalcoholic concoctions are available too. These diverse elements are important parts of the restaurant’s food-pairing approach. “[The] cider, beer and spirits are really tools in the arsenal for enhancing the guest’s overall experience,” says Puglia. “Guests might get a spirit for one course, followed by a premium wine from California. So there’s a balance to it.”
It’s evident that balance is being struck at Blue Hill at Stone Barns—a happy marriage of locavore cuisine and world-class wine, backed by a team of forward-thinking restaurateurs.
Read the entire 2016 Restaurant Awards package—including the cover story, "Guide to the Growing World of Restaurant Wine"—in the Aug. 31, 2016, issue of Wine Spectator.