Pasticceria in Bergamo, Italy (2007). Photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
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NEW YORK CORNER: Blue Hill at Stone Barns by John Mariani
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR: RIGHT BANK BORDEAUX SHOWS OFF 2007 VINTAGE
by John Mariani
PAMPLONA WITHOUT THE BULL
by John Mariani
Photos by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery
NEW YORK CORNER
by John Mariani
Photos by Michael Moran
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY
Not since Louis XIV moved his palace to Versailles in 1642 has a chef and dining room been more blessed by largess than Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York, about an hour's drive from Manhattan.
Set on 80 acres of the
Barber gathers many of his ingredients from the Center’s farm—all raised without use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides—along with sheep, turkeys, black pigs, and hens. Barber’s definition of “fast food” is food that came up from the farm that day, sometimes minutes before being cooked.
New York architect Asfour Guzy gutted the old barn to install the restaurant, for which British artist Ben McLaughlin painted a huge triptych evoking the land and seasons of the Hudson Valley.
Blue Hill’s winelist, with 750 selections and 15,000 bottles is one of the finest in the U.S., overseen by sommelier Thomas Carter. It is particularly rich in small estate American labels, including New York State, many from vineyards devoted to sustainable farming. Most amazing are the scores of terrific wines priced under $50 on the list.
So why a review of Blue Hill now, four years after it opened? Because I feel that it has taken that much time to become the singularly superb restaurant I hoped it would be from the start. Back in 2004 I found the concept, the dedication, and the beauty of Blue Hill wholly admirable, but I also found the food too precious, even pretentious. Everything seemed topped with stringy, flavorless micro-greens that got stuck in your teeth. Portions were small, sauces minimal, and flavors lacked real intensity.
Now, however, after two recent visits—one at twilight in autumn, another on a cold winter’s night—I found every aspect of fine dining has come together at Blue Hills, from the perfect temperature for butter and cheeses to the hearty seasonings of the farm-made charcuterie and the crusty, yeasty breads.
You can choose anything from anywhere on the menu, categorized as “Greenhouse/Field,” “Ocean/River,” “Handmade Pasta,” and “Pasture,” or go for the 7-course “Farmer’s Feast” ($110) or the 4-course “Stone Barns Dinner” ($78). The kitchen always sends out a few amuses, like the juicy little tomato burgers with herbed goat’s cheese, or a shooter of what might be described as V-8 Juice made by a master chef.
Whatever vegetables you order, they will possess all the tenderness and sweetness of the season. Thus, greens and herbs plucked that afternoon from the greenhouse come to the table with warm mushrooms, pistachios, and “this morning’s” soft-fried hen’s egg. Right now root vegetables star in a beet salad with cheese torchon, walnuts, and mâche lettuce. Cobia—not the most flavorful fish in the sea—is enhanced with a pistou of winter veggies and beans, while gnocchi pasta dumplings come with local cheeses, sweet potatoes, and chestnuts; tortellini are packed with pumpkin purée and dressed with hazelnuts, escarole, and shiitake mushrooms.
Some of the best grilled Spanish mackerel I’ve had came with marinated spaghetti squash and the farm’s yogurt, while braised hake is served with winter fruit and “black dirt” spinach from Orange County.
Among the meats there is Hudson Valley venison with farro grain from faraway South Carolina. The lamb is brought in by Rabbi Bob from upstate New York, and Barber serves it with chickpeas, hummus, and squash. The farm’s own black pigs are the basis for a pork dish with smoked ham hocks, fromage blanc dumplings, and celery root.
Don’t neglect a cheese course, which may include Mrs. Quicke’s Clothbound Cheddar from Devon, England; Selles-sur-Cher from the Loire Valley, and Accapella from Petaluma, California.
And for dessert go with the chocolate bread pudding with chocolate sauce and coffee ice cream or any of the season’s fruits in items like the cranberry soufflé with yogurt sorbet. desserts.
Cooking in such a gorgeous Hudson Valley setting with access to the freshest and best ingredients allows Barber (right) and his kitchen brigade to experiment in synch with the natural order of things. Now, after four years, that synchronization is fully engaged, from farm to table, with results that make you wonder if this is what it was like in the Garden of Eden before Eve ate that apple.
Blue Hills at Stone Barns is closed Mon. & Tues. 3 courses, $65; Four courses, $78; 4-course “Stone Barns Dinner,” $78. 7-course “Farmer’s Feast,” $110.
NOTES FROM THE WINE CELLAR
Right Bank Bordeaux Producers Give a Peek at the 2007 Vintage
by John Mariani
Indeed, the American antagonism towards all things French hit wineries immediately. “Before 9/11, seventy percent of our exports were to the
Only slowly have exports to the
Raynaud was in
Fortunately Cercle Rive Droite producers have not suffered the dramatic slump other French wine regions have. Consistency from vintage to vintage has been the key. “Through technology we have learned how to make up for the kind of poor vintages we used to have, like 1972, 1973, and 1974,” he says. “Now, even when we have terrible weather, frost, and mildew we cannot control, we can compensate in many ways with a smaller, healthier crop. The simple training of the vines is so different than before; we remove buds and leaves and reduce the size of the crop; we don’t use screw conveyors to bruise the fruit and mix them with weeds. This all means healthier grapes, so that we can manage to make good wines even in weak years, and great wines in very good years.”
The 2007 vintage, of which I tasted about 30 examples poured for the trade and media at Chanterelle restaurant in
The topsy-turvy weather resulted in an uneven harvest in some parts of the region, but the best of the 2007s have emerged with good, soft tannins, balanced alcohol levels, and plenty of fruit flavors.
I was particularly delighted that the taste of the various terroirs, all dominated by merlot in the blends, were maintained: Wines from Fronsac, like Château Moulin Haut Laroque, Château Dalem, and Château de La Dauphine, were silky and had good mineral qualities; Pomerols like Château Bonalgue, Clos du Clocher, and Clos l’Église were already pretty forward and promise to be delicious upon release; the wines from Saint-Émilion châteaux, like Barde-Haut, Pressac, La Rose Perrière, and Clos des Jacobins, had the characteristic brawniness and woody tannins of the terroir, with a powerful burst of fruit. Alcohol was for the most part kept under 14 percent.
At prices that will retail between $35 and $50, these wines should sell well, though they are in a niche of French wines for those who particularly love the subtle complexity of Right Bank Bordeaux.
Cercle wines now sell 40 percent of their production in
John Mariani's weekly wine column appears in Bloomberg Muse News, from which this story was adapted. Bloomberg News covers Culture from art, books, and theater to wine, travel, and food on a daily basis, and some of its articles play of the Saturday Bloomberg Radio and TV.
JUST HOW OLD IS BOURDAIN?
"I don't know which is worse: to be packed in a room with a lot of people half your age, in which case you feel like an idiot, or even worse, go see someone you've really loved for a long time, like Elvis Costello, and you look around and see all the other original fans and they're all old and hideous just like you. It's a totally depressing experience."—Anthony Bourdain in Fodors.com.
FRESHEN THAT FOR YOU, MR. KUTCHER?
According to the Wall Street Journal, actor Ashton Kutcher and wife Demi Moore celebrated his 30th birthday at the New York restaurant Socialista with Roberto Cavalli, Molly Sims, Liv Tyler, Gwyneth Paltrow, Madonna, and Bruce Willis, unaware that the woman bartender mixing up caiparinhas had apparently returned from a vacation in Honduras with a case of Hepatitis A, which, according to the NYC health Department, is spread "primarily through food or water contaminated by stool from an infected person." As a result the Health Department asked the worldwide press to spread the news, in hopes of finding all the people in attendance that night at Socialista when the bartender was working and to tell urge to get vaccinated.
To all public relations people: Owing to the amount of press releases regarding Easter dining events, I regret that it is impossible to list any but very special events.
* From March 15-April 27 The Kitano New York's Hakubai will offer an Early Bird Special for its acclaimed Kaiseki Menu at $58 pp. from Call 212-885-7111. www.kitano.com.
* From March 19-April 1, NYC's Japonica celebrates its 30th Anniversary with special fixed price menus at $65. In addition, guests will receive a complimentary glass of plum wine, and an anniversary flight of sakes will be served for an additional $10. Call 212-243-7752.
* On March 18 in L.A., Stefano Ongaro, owner and wine director of All' Angelo Ristorante, and Dalla Terra(tm) Winery Direct(r), host a celebration of Northern Italy with "A Night in Piedmont" with Chef Mirko Paderno. $145 pp. Call 323-933-9540.
* From March 20-April 20 owner Mehanni Zebentout and Chef Jose Salgado of Nomad in NYC will feature an Algerian Wine Series with a selection of Algerian wines paired with housemade North African mezzes for $5 each and wines for $12 a bottle.
* On March 25 at Ty Warner's San Ysidro Ranch, in
* From March 26-30, during the 22nd annual Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival, several culinary events will be featured: March 28: “A Fireside Chat with John Mariani,” publisher of The Virtual Gourmet at the Windsor Court Hotel, $35 pp; March 29: “Back to the Land,” with Chef John Besh and John Mariani, at Besh Steak, Harrah's Casino, $35; March 30: “The Gulf Menagerie,” with Kit Wohl, author of New Orleans Classic Seafood, offer culinary tips, techniques, and friendly banter at the Ritz-Carlton, $35, incl. autographed copy of the book. March 30: “Play with Your Food,” with Julia Reed, Scott Gold and Robert St. John, who will explore how food is a lens through which to view the rest of life.; at Muriel’s
* The White Barn Inn in
* Zephyr Wine Adventures has announced its 2008 schedule, incl. a 5-day multisport tour of
* From April-Dec, 2008, in Beverly Hills, CA, the Luxe Hotel Rodeo Drive is offering a 2-night “Ready for the Paparazzi Package,” with accommodations, a welcome amenity, complimentary glass of wine or cappuccino in Bar 360, dinner for two in Café Rodeo, 4 passes to Sports Club/LA -Beverly Hills, a personal hair consultation with celebrity hairstylist Jose Eber, an appointment with a personal shopper and makeup application at Saks 5th Ave. Rates start at $379 per night. Call 866-LUXE-411.
* On April 3 NYC’s Japan Society presents its annual sake tasting,”The 100-Year History of Sake” with expert John Gauntner, author of The Sake Handbook, and a rare opportunity to taste sakes debuting in Japan's spring 2008 National Sake Appraisal. Tix $35/$30. Call 212-715-1258; visit www.japansociety.org.
* On April 3 in
* From April 2-5 the Taste of Vail spring food and wine festival will feature 35 chefs, owners and sommeliers from over 50 wineries. Proceeds go to a variety of Vail Valley charities. Guest chefs incl. NYC’s Terrance Brennan of Picholine and Tony Aiazzi of Aureole, Joseph Manzare of Zuppa in San Francisco, and Curtis Lincoln of The Brown Palace Hotel in Vail. Events incl. The Après Ski Wine Tasting; The 4th Annual Colorado Lamb Cook-Off; The Mountain Top Picnic featuring a martini bar at at the scenic Eagle's Nest. And moore. Visit on Vail Mountain. Visit www.tasteofvail.com.
* On April 3 Lagunitas Brewing Company will showcase fine beers At Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto in
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." To go to his blog click on the logo below:
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991). Click on the logo below to go to the site.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, Naomi Kooker, Suzanne Wright, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin .
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