Thursday, January 19, 2006

BHSB2: Return to Stone Barns

Since Adam goes back to school this weekend, we wanted to do another dinner at Stone Barns before he left. We wondered if we would be remembered from our last visit, but weren't sure how to find out. Luckily, we didn't have to do anything at all. We were seated right away, and I noticed the maitre d' who had shown us the kitchen on our last visit speaking to our waiter immediately before he (the waiter) came to our table. Since the waiter greeted us with a casual familiarity instead of the normal "so, is this your first time dining with us" routine, I suspected that the maitre d' had recognized us and told the waiter (who looked like a cross between Christian Asmar and Jimmy Kimmel). This was confirmed when the maitre d' himself came to the table to welcome us back and say that "the chef would like to cook for you tonight." We were going to do the tasting menu anyone (not realizing that the menu had changed since our last visit), but how can you say no to that? So, we specified that we don't eat meat or poultry, and without knowing what to expect from there...

Cocktail sidebar: I ordered the "carnivale" cocktail, which included some sort of pumpkin puree, campari, orange juice and least, I think it was vodka. Couldn't really taste a lot of the alcohol, but it was very interesting, savory and refreshing (odd, I know). I could really taste the pumpkin. Adam ordered the elderflower champagne cocktail, which he had before, tasted pretty much like a slightly off (not in a bad way) champagne.

We were brought an array of amuses to start. I'm not sure if this (and the petite fours at the end) are part of the newly revamped restaurant (they were closed last week for "renovations" in the kitchen - no idea what - and the menu structure is totally changed) or a tasting menu perk. Anyway, in the order they were set down:
-celery root soup: warm, as good as could be expected, don't love celery flavor
-herbed parmesan crisps on a stick (so they looked like giant lacy lollipops): as advertised, but I'm the perfect audience for that sort of thing
-whole mini white turnip: ate the green too, plain but crunchy and fresh, better as a concept ("here! eat this lovely fresh vegi from our garden") than an actual amuse
-fresh sardine on spice bread: amazing, and I expected to think it was awful. The spice bread tasted almost like gingerbread (but with a softer, breadier texture), and you could taste the freshness of the sardine for all its fishy saltiness. Baffling, but it worked
-beet "burger": beet tartar on a mini bun, surprisingly sweet, with just a hint of mustard

The first course of our tasting was a large sardine with a sauce of soy beans, apple, fennel, and parsley. It was a bright green color from the soy beans and parsley, and each flavor of the sauce was detectable on its own while blending together in a light, wonderful combination. Had it been with some other fish, I think this could have vied with the second course as my favorite of the meal. However, while I now appreciate sardine as something more than just the slimy, canned, absolutely foul pizza topping, I am not a fan of its strong taste.

The second course was fluke with roasted fennel, blood orange, and mustard. The sauce was a bit sour on its own - I wasn't sure at first if the citrus was grapefruit or orange, but it worked amazingly well with the delicious fluke. Fluke isn't a fish with which I'm familiar in its cooked form, as my only previous experience with it has been in ceviche form (like the appetizer at Le Bernardin, which I had enjoyed last Christmas). This was our favorite of the meal.

The third course was ricotta ravioli (in a gnocchi style, not sure what made it ravioli) with parmesan foam, pureed sweet potato, roasted chestnut, and mini brussel sprouts. I have no idea where Stone Barns gets these mini brussel sprouts (having never seen them in a store), but I love them in any way they are included in a dish. This very wintry vegetarian dish was perfectly suited to my tastes, and I enjoyed it a great deal. However, it wasn't surprising in the way that Barber's outstanding fish dishes can be. The chestnuts were oddly starchy, almost dry tasting (in the way that a wine is "dry," not actually a wetness classification), which were interesting with the richness of other parts of the dish.

The fourth course was a faro stew with "two hour" poached egg on top. I'm not sure how an egg is poached for that long, but the results was a creamy, light, so-barely-cooked-it-melts-on-your-plate garnish. The taste of cinnamon was pleasantly and surprisingly strong in this stew, which was much better than the faro dish Allison had on our last visit. The whole thing was very comfortable and hearty, another excellent winter vegetarian dish. I am starting to have a greater appreciation for faro, a grain that I've often associated with too "granola" for my taste vegan cooking.

The last savory dish was poached lobster with cabbage. Since we weren't really sure how many courses to expect, this was a pleasant, not-entirely-expected end to the savory part of the meal. The large pieces of poached lobster were soft and succulent, and the cabbage, which had been stewed overnight in port and raspberry vinegar was a nicely sweet-and-tart accompaniment. I'm not usually one to rave about lobster (just not my thing), but I really loved this preparation of it.

We did the cheese assortment before dessert, since I've never had their cheese and was in the mood. The cheese itself was good but not outstanding: a fixed combination of a cheddary cheese with a smooth, fruity jelly, a creamy, rinded (is that a word? it had a rind) goat with candied pecans, and a mild stilton with pickled fennel. The condiments were suprisingly good, especially the pickled fennel. I'm now will to declare that I don't actually dislike fennel.

We ordered our regular desserts, but were first brought a pre-dessert of apple cider gelee, apple puree, and a green apple sorbet. This was similar in structure to the quince dessert from our last visit, but the execution was much better. It was a fresh, light palate cleanser that I ate in its entirety, enjoying each part and the combination of textures and apple flavors. We ordered the same pumpkin souffle, again enjoying it. Our second choice was the seckel pear, which was poached and stuffed with walnuts, with a walnut cake and saffron sabayon. The walnut stuffing was a good addition to an otherwise very normal poached pear, but it was an enjoyable dish nonetheless.

For the first time in our Stone Barns experience, there were petit fours at the end of the meal: coconut-coated marshmellows (loved them!) and cocoa-coated almonds (a bit bitter in the way of real cocoa powder, very good but I think Adam enjoyed them more than I did - I was just too full).

Needless to say, the service was excellent throughout the meal, with both an attentive waiter and a maitre d' who stopped by a few times to check in and chat. Unsure of what to expect from the bill, since we hadn't seen a menu, we were pleasantly surprised to see that although we'd been charged $125 for the tasting menu, they had deducted $100 from the bottom of the check. We asked to see the menu after paying the bill (which has been completely restructured) and realized we'd essentially gotten a 5 course tasting for the price of the 3 course. I'm not sure where the $125 figure came from (not listed on the menu), but can't complain. Sadly, since Adam will be back in Cambridge for the foreseeable future, I'm not sure when we will return, but I can't wait!


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