Help me make sense of my Blue Hill experience?
I had a disappointing experience at Blue Hill recently. But instead of writing a bad review I want your input so I can make sense of my experience.
The thing is my disappointment can simply come from unreasonable / inappropriate expectations, so it can be my fault instead of Blue Hill's.
So I want your thoughts on this: What should I have been expecting from Blue Hill? Why is it so highly regarded? What do you guys like about it?
I have read every single review on Blue Hill I can find on google (some before, some after my visit), but I would really appreciate it if you guys can be as concrete as possible. Until now I have only read things like "the lamb tasted so fresh" or "the porkchop was the best ever", which I find pretty vague and not useful to ground my own experience. What does it mean for the lamb to be fresh? What made the porkchop so good?
The more particular, concrete and specific you guys are, the better I can orient my expectations and experience.
Thoughts? Let's get the discussion started!
I would be surprised if the meat served at BH is not aged. The best meats are not cooked right away after the animal is killed, this may be true for fish or poultry, but not for red meat. I have not been to BH and they may or may not have excellent meat, but the argument here about freshness makes no sense to me.
Beef is a rarity at Blue Hill. Lamb is usually on the menu, but I'm pretty sure it's not aged. I hope you can visit Blue Hill and discover what is meant by freshness, which at any rate applies more to its produce than its meats.
I believe I've said this before but Blue Hill is an often misunderstood restaurant. It does not hit the flavor crescendos of nearby Babbo (which I enjoy immensely) nor does it revel in absurdity like wd50 (ditto). Personally, I'm glad it does neither. What it does do is deliver ingredients of extraordinary quality in creative, almost symphonic arrangements. The intention is that each and every ingredient communicate its full depth of flavor without having to compete for attention. I gently submit that this can sometimes be interpreted by first-time visitors as limited execution or, worse, blandness.
This is not to say that this approach always makes Blue Hill the better restaurant. It's food, not religion, and if it doesn't fulfill a promise equal to the total on the bill then you should hesitate to return. However, the suggestion some have made -- in the past and not necessarily on this thread -- that the emperor is less than fully dressed implies, to me, a mismatch in expectation that perhaps warrants another, more attuned visit.
It's probably my favorite mid-priced resto in the city. My expectations aren't "fine dining," whatever that is, but rather simple, flavorful food using high-quality sort-of-environmentally-correct ingredients in a pleasant atmosphere with good service. Trust me, that's a hard combination to find.
I could see, however, that if you were expecting a cutting-edge menu or a hip, stylish crowd that you'd be disappointed. I have eaten there a half-dozen times and never been let down. They do, however, run out of some things on the menu, especially specials, more than I'd like.
I attribute that to their focus on buying locally, but maybe they're just bad planners...
As to why comments like "the lamb tasted so fresh" and such, I'm not sure if you're familiar with the background of Blue Hill and it's source Stone Barns. Stone Barns is a sustainable farm that is funded by the Rockefeller foundation up by Tarrytown, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, as well as Blue Hill (in NYC) both use all their ingredients (may not spices?) something like 90-95%of their ingredients come from the farm.
This is essentially the locavore/organic movement where the ingredients are freshly picked / slaughtered, etc. So the animal meat is usually more flavorfull because they're feeding on ingredients other than grain like the mass animal houses do, and the meat is fresh because its just been killed recently.
In the same way, fresh vegetables that are seasonal are more flavorful because they're not being engineered to be large and they've been picked a couple days ago, not two weeks ago and they're just getting to the grocery store now.
I have not been to the Blue Hill in the city but I was up at Stone Barns, and part of what I liked about it was the simplicity of their menu using the ingredients that they have, its very seasonal and appropriate, and that they allow the flavors to come out. So I think the expectation is not for it to be a show, but a simple, well done meal, in a pleasing environment. The food is not the best I've ever had, it isn't luxurious or gluttonous, I think it's just fresh.
I hope this helps a bit.
Hi! Thanks for the post.
No, I know the background of the restaurant, Dan Barber and the subsequent partnership with the Rockefeller family very well. What I don't get is what people mean by "animal meat is usually more flavorful... meat is fresh". I just didn't know how to taste it, I guess? I honestly, sincerely couldn't taste any difference (in terms of the meat itself) between the lamb in Blue Hill and the one I had in, say, Anthos. That is the essence of my question. What does it MEAN that meat tastes fresher?
I would say that, at least for me, some items taste very intense. Like essence of pork/beef/whatever, and a smaller portion really satisfies me. I want to eat little parts at a time to really savor the flavor. And a lot of times, the flavor is more complex, you get more subtleties and undertones. Maybe that helps?
There was a tautness and a denseness to the pork chop I had at BHSB. When I cut into the meat, it felt more like a real muscle than most meat does. (Not to be confused with toughness--the pork wasn't tough. Rather, the muscle put up some resistance to my knife, so I had to push harder, but with a slicing motion, not the sawing motion used to cut through tough meat.) If you think of dry-aging beef as allowing the muscle tissue to break down, this was the opposite situation; the muscle was solid. While not tough, the meat had some chew to it, but the chewing rewarded me with lots of juicy flavor. At least this is how I remember the pork chop two years hence.
I lived in San Francisco for several years and Blue Hill always reminds me of Alice Water's famous Chez Panisse. They also attempt to let the ingredients shine rather than using rich sauces and spices as mentioned above. I find that this works maybe 50% of the time. I've had great dishes there and then good dishes which I've liked but thought that I could have done myself on a good day. And I do love that they source many of their ingredients from their farm in Westchester. I tend to walk in on the weekends at closing time in very casual clothing (ready for a late night out) and they are totally friendly and professional. The staff is really knowledgeable about every aspect of the food. And the prices really aren't so bad. You know, it reminds me of the way Zagat has a separate favorite category. I think Blue Hill is one favorite restaurants, but not necessarily at the top of any other categories.
I agree with you Shane.
Blue Hill is no Per Se, Jean George, _____________ (fill in the blank) and shouldn't be included in their company when rating first class, upscale restaurants.
And as far as I am concerned, that is one beautiful comparison to Alice Water's famous and highly regarded Chez Panisse. I remember eating there many years ago and because I happen to enjoy healthy foods minus the heavy, rich sauces and spices, it would naturally make sense as to why I am enamoured of Blue Hill.
I can also see how others into much more experimental or ambitious presentatiions, would not understand what the hype of Blue Hill is all about.
i prefer the stone barns version and even with a relatively enjoyable experience, i still think the food took a back seat to the entire experience of being up there (out of the city, comfortable environment, nice room, great night). the food was merely okay.
the village version doesnt have the other elements that i enjoyed about stone barns so we're left with the food. its not bad at all but it doesnt wow me whatsoever.
Okay, here's mine:
1. The ambience of the place was appealing to me because it was not pretentious. The patrons seemed down-to-earth and I happen to like that.
2. Our server was nothing short of wonderful. She was not only very knowledgeable, but pleasant and friendly to boot.
3. The food seemed fresh and certainly was tasteful to my tasebuds. (I do admit that for me less is more.) I am not in the majority of those who prefer rich sauces and extra added things to my fish/meat/poultry. Simple, clean, tasteful and fresh to me is best. This I found in abundance at Blue Hill.
4. Menu choices were appealing to me.
Minuses: Perhaps the tables are a bit closer together than I normally like but not obtrusively so.
Ditto the noise level, which was okay. (These are nitpicks)
Lucky for me, I happened to have an "up" experience there and I will return until the time that it let's me down.
But you, yourself never said what it was that turned you off. So what was it?