Turning 30, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and camping in Fire Island

It's been a busy few weeks. There was a trip to the Jersey shore (where I discovered monkey bread and ate lots of lobster), and then my 30th birthday last week. You might recall that I make a big deal out of my birthday. This year (the beginning of a whole new decade) was no exception.

The celebrations started with a surprise party on Thursday. Daniel and my Mom spent hours cooking a feast for me and all my friends. Together they made roast beef with a horseradish cream sauce, salmon topped with tarragon, a chicken risotto (that I had three helpings of), a vegetarian risotto inspired by my favorite fall lasagna, and a mint-flecked tabbouleh salad.

A bunch of girlfriends brought my favorite sweets. Two cakes from the Buttercup Bake Shop, Kristen's grandma's crumb cake (made by grandma herself that very day!) and batches of chocolate chip cookies and chocolate dipped macaroons.

To say I didn't know something was up would be a lie. A few friends slipped and I made sure to ask Daniel lots of questions. Still, I didn't expect to be so spoiled.

On my actual birthday, I visited my favorite nail salon and then chopped off all my hair. Ok, I didn't chop it all off, but after having long hair for the past 10 years, my new Katie Holmes inspired bob does feel fairly drastic! It was just the change I needed to fully embrace -- (this is the first time I'm officially saying this) -- that I am THIRTY.

After my haircut, my Mom, Daniel and I went to Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a restaurant on the old Rockefeller estate in Pocantico Hills that I've always wanted to try. Just a half hour outside the city, it's a lovely lush spot that was particularly perfect on such a beautiful September day.

So many people told me HOW AMAZING Blue Hill at Stone Barns would be. "It'll feel like your tasting food for the first time!" said one friend. "It was the best meal of my life!" said another. I had high hopes.

The minute we walked in the restaurant, a converted barn with soaring ceilings and tall windows, I felt that familiar rush that comes before any big meal. I loved everything about the place, from the wide plank floors to the rustic centerpieces that looked just like the flower arrangements my bridesmaids and I made for my wedding.

When our server came over to greet us, he started off by saying that the chef was dying to create a menu just for us. He promised it would consist of all our favorite foods. I assumed this was the shpiel given to every diner, but after he kept going on and on, I started to believe he was for real. Maybe my Mom or Daniel had set something up for my birthday? Probably not. Or maybe he knew I worked at Food Network? More likely.

After we agreed to the tasting, our server asked us to list the foods we didn't like. I told him I had recently stopped liking fennel. He promised me a "fenneless meal."

The first few courses were promising. A shot of cold cucumber soup, three little cherry tomatoes sprinkled with salt, and mini tomato burgers. Baby eggplant rolled in sesame seeds and wrapped with pancetta. A roasted cantaloupe soup with house cured prosciutto.

Then came the third course, a tomato and stone fruit salad with a Parmesan flavored foam and a streak of ricotta cheese. Everything was was ripe and full of flavor, unlike the bland supermarket produce that's so prevalent these days. But right in the middle of the plate was a hunk of fennel!

Now, don't get me wrong. I understand that it's just a piece of fennel. But after I've just listened to some guy go on and on about how the chef would be taking my most favorite ingredients and creating the meal of my dreams, I expect him to at least remember to leave out ONE of the TWO foods I said I didn't like.

Maybe we were naive to have thought that the chef really wanted to cook a special menu just for us. That's fine, but our server could have at least acted genuinely sorry when my Mom told him about the fennel I'd found. He just seemed annoyed.

The rest of the meal was good, though nothing really blew us away. I liked the homemade ravioli with meaty mushrooms, but would have been happy with a couple more.

There was also a really interesting string bean salad with shaved mushrooms, a farm-fresh egg rolled in panko and a green gazpacho sauce. My least favorite dish was a minuscule piece of pork that was so pink even my Mom and Daniel (who both like their meat rare) thought it was undercooked.

Dessert was pretty good all around, and I really liked the second one: a sugar plum souffle served in a dainty tea cup and a scoop of thyme-lemon ice cream in the cutest little cast iron pan.

After that, came a plate of hot madeleines with a tiny pot of fresh jam.

Before we left, our server took us on a tour of the kitchen. When the head chef came over to greet us, he made a sarcastic apology about the fennel. This made me dislike the place even more.

Maybe I'm just spoiled or too picky, but when paying over $100 per person, I expect a lot from a place. There are many things that make a restaurant experience memorable and it's not just the food. Take El Bulli, for example. I didn't really enjoy the rabbit brains or snail eggs, but the experience as a whole -- the stunning setting, the warm welcome and unbelievable service -- made it one of my most memorable dining experiences ever. I had thought Blue Hill would be similar and disappointingly it was not.

So, having said all that, would you believe that I'm not ready to give up on Blue Hill at Stone Barns just yet? The location separates it from so many other places and I really do love it's farm-fresh concept. I hear that they have a great brunch, so maybe some day, I'll give it a second chance. I just know I'll never try their tasting menu again.

You'd think after a surprise party and fancy dinner, I'd give myself a rest. I mean, I am THIRTY after all. But no, we kept the fun going and went on a camping trip in Fire Island with a a bunch of our friends the very next morning. Talk about a change of pace. For food, there were burgers flipped with seashells, cheese sandwiches in hot dog buns, and s'mores of all shapes and sizes.

We battled an alarming amount of mosquitoes, had our last swims of the summer, played surfside charades with a flashlight, and danced and sang the night away. I couldn't have asked for a better end to another action-packed birthday.

Here's to a new decade and the beginning of fall!

Blue Hill at Stone Barns
630 Bedford Road
Pocantico Hills, NY

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Judith said...

Lia, just remember what Tim says: 30 is the new 16!

The tomato salad you had at Stone Barns is very similar to the tomato salad I had at the NYC Blue Hill a few weeks ago. I found it delicious. But the foam on mine was tomato flavored and the salad didn't involve anything other than tomatoes. So no fennel or any other non-tomato ingredients.

Anita (Married... with dinner) said...

Belated happy birthday! :)

We ate at Blue Hill NYC earlier this year and were similarly underwhelmed by the food and the service.

I'm glad your surprise party was more successful!

Elle said...

Happy belated birthday Lia. Sounds like you had a wonderful time and wonderful meals yum!

Elle & James

Lia said...

Judith: Since you're a vegetarian, you'd probably like Blue Hill at Stone Barns a lot since there are so many delicious veggies.

Anita: I've been underwhelmed by the Blue Hill in the city both times I've been, so maybe I should have expected the same from Stone Barns.

Elle & James: Thanks for the birthday wishes. Hope you're both doing well!

Cristiana said...

Lia! Eu amo o seu blog! Concordo: os 30 anos são uma grande fase da nossa vida! Para vocês, dias fantásticos virão! Beijos, Cris.

Lia said...

Muito obrigada, Cris! Eu ja estou gostando os 30 anos muito!! Beijos,Lia

Tea said...

Ack, I abandon my blog reading for a few weeks (overwhelmingly huge project taking over my life at the moment) and you go off and have a fabulous (if not entirely fennel-free) birthday--and a camping trip to boot. Here's to a wonderful new decade, welcome! And the haircut is fab:-)

Lia said...

Thanks Tea. Good luck with your project!

Cakespy said...

Sugar Plum Souffle? Sounds like visions of sugarplums will be dancing in my head just thinking of that one.

I love the piglet!

Lia said...

It's a nice vision to have, Cakespy! Thanks for the kind words.


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