Not long ago, a 6-part series debuted on Netflix called Chef’s Table. From the director of the popular documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi (SOON LEAVING NETFLIX! GET ON IT!), Chef’s Table profiles six award-winning chefs as they cook and talk about food. Similar to Jiro, the series is beautiful, and vibrant, and if you are at all into food, it’ll make you incredibly jealous of anyone who gets to eat at their restaurants.
One of the featured chefs, Dan Barber, has a restaurant in Manhattan called Blue Hill. Seeing as I was visiting NYC this summer to see friends and my younger brother David, I had to experience Blue Hill for myself. As soon as I booked my flight I went on OpenTable to make a reservation for two at the restaurant. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Except they were already completely booked. Difficult difficult lemon difficult. The recent announcement that Barber’s other restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, had just been named one of the 50 best restaurants in the world probably didn’t help matters. But I kept checking, every week, because people cancel, right? I checked again my first day in New York and still no luck. Things weren’t looking good for ol’ B-rad.
I decided–whatever–I was just gonna have fun with my brother; and there are plenty of other amazing restaurants in NYC. So Sunday afternoon, we got lunch and did the most classic of NYC activities, mini golf on Randall’s Island. After honoring RANDALL, GOD OF PUTT PUTT, we turned our attention to dinner. I filled David in on the Blue Hill situation, told him there was almost zero chance of us getting in, but we agreed to try anyway.
We walked in and I did my best to sound desperate as I asked the host maître d’ if there were any open seats; he said, “Well we don’t have any seats in our dining room, but you can take those empty seats at the bar,” as if he was casually talking to his friend Mike from Bushwick, and not someone who had spent the past month obsessively checking OpenTable for cancellations.
But hey! We were in! Check and mate. EXCEPT–I had just spent the day walking around NYC and playing mini-golf in 90-degree heat. I was dressed for success… mini golf success. Yes, I was about to eat at a trendy Greenwich Village restaurant, run by one of the top 50 chefs in the world, wearing cargo shorts, dirty running shoes, and a red Popeye t-shirt I bought at Target ten years ago. Like the great Charles Barkley, I felt turrble. I just thought there was no way we were actually getting in!
Despite being dressed for brunch at Perkins, there was nothing I could do about it now, so we dove right in with cocktails. David got a mezcal-based drink with fresh fruit muddled at the bar by the gorgeous and charming Rachel. David thought it was the best cocktail he’d ever had; I thought Parlour did it better. (Take that New York!) I got the Billy Holliday: goat’s milk-washed gin, with lemon, honey, and black pepper. Best. OMG. (I’m sorry, New York. Please forgive me.) I’m washing all my gin in goat’s milk from now on.
For food, we both ordered the Farmer’s Feast, a 5-course tasting menu of the day’s offerings. You can tell a restaurant is fancy when they bring out mini-courses before your first course. Blue Hill had five of those. They started each of us with a slice of white cucumber. Best cucumber I’ve ever eaten (which, you’re about to notice, will be a theme). Next came a simple, raw turnip with some pistou. As David said, “Normally if I see something on the menu with turnips, I won’t order it. But that just blew my mind.”
Next, we got raw radishes with a celery and white chocolate purée. I never knew a radish could taste like that. I don’t even know how to describe it; it was the most radish radish I’ve ever eaten.
Next came a vine of four cherry tomatoes with smoked cheese. By this point David and I were having a moment, and all we’d been served were some raw veggies. Finally, to round off our taster courses we got fermented rye bread with toasted sesame seed butter. As I learned in the documentary, Chef Barber creates his own wheat strands, so I was really looking forward to the bread, and it didn’t disappoint. Nor did it disappoint the second time. And it certainly didn’t disappoint the third time. I would’ve gone a fourth round (FDC loves our bread), but I felt guilty that the guy in a faded Popeye t-shirt was eating all their bread.
After all that, our actual first course arrived: “Summer Fruits and Vegetables;” not to be confused with all the summer fruits and vegetables we had just eaten. The course was a simple salad with cherry tomatoes, sugar plums, cantaloupe, wax beans, and cucumber. You may not think a “simple salad” would be that exciting–Perkins’ definitely isn’t–but keep in mind I just raved about raw turnips and radishes.
Next came the roasted monkfish accompanied by some corn and fava beans. I imagine there’s a wrong way to prepare monkfish, but the only people who have ever made it for me are Dan Barber and Gavin Kaysen, so as far as I’m concerned it’s the tastiest fish in the world. Blue Hill served it thinly sliced, highlighting the delicacy of the fish. Served with corn that was the most corn I’ve ever corned and fava beans that fava the most fava I’ve fava fava’d in my fava–this was the best plate of food I’d ever eaten.
That is, until Course Three arrived: “This Morning’s Farm Egg.” Now readers, I’ve eaten a lot of eggs in my life; I know what an egg tastes like. I love the food, but it’s hard to impress me with an egg. This was the best egg I’ve ever eaten–the best thing I’ve ever eaten–in my life. The hen could’ve laid that egg directly into my mouth, already poached, and it wouldn’t have tasted as good as this egg did. It held its shape even after I broke the yolk and started carving pieces from it. I was able to eat the whole thing with a fork, and there was none of that excess runny egg to mop up from the plate at the end. That shouldn’t be possible. The whole point of a poached egg is that the yolk is supposed to be runny, yet somehow this yolk was and it wasn’t. It was firm, delicate, earthy, rich, with a thick mouthfeel that just floored me. It came with roasted beets, pancetta, and horseradish cream; all of which was amazing, but dat egg tho.
It was so good I forgot I was wearing cargo shorts.
Next came the Blue Hill Farm Pig. The chef presented four different cuts, accompanied by puréed eggplant, pine nuts, and farmer’s cheese. Still amazing, but compared to the egg and monkfish, I wasn’t as blown away. The belly cut had a delicious crispy skin, however, that David almost didn’t eat because he thought it was a bone. His comment after eating it: “Oh… That would’ve changed things.”
Then the fourth course: “Blue Hill Farms Grass Fed Milk.” I was honestly hoping for a straight-up glass of milk and was prepared to be wowed. To my initial disappointment, it came out as a milk sorbet. POP QUIZ: Wouldn’t “milk sorbet” just be ice cream? If you answered “Yes,” um… you clearly didn’t understand where this was headed. Milk sorbet: the icy consistency of sorbet, the milky taste of ice cream. It. Was. So. Good. Even more mind-blowing was the bed of Stone Barns honey gel it rested on. Who can know for sure, but I feel like this must’ve been what the ancient Israelites encountered in the promised land.
Our fifth course was just called “Peaches.” (Real talk: the hardest part of this review was deciding whether to link to the Presidents of the United States song, “Peaches,” or the song, “F*ck the Pain Away” by the artist, Peaches.) The peaches came on a plate with blueberries, grilled corn ice cream, and almond sponge cake. The grilled corn ice cream stole the show for me in this dish, but probably because I’m a nice Midwestern boy who’s a sucker for all things corn.
Finally, we were treated to a little post-meal bonus plate of “first of the season apricots and blackberries,” and boy, I could really taste the first-of-the-seasonness.
Overall, this was a meal I won’t soon forget. I wish I could go back again right now, but I’ll have to wait for another trip to New York. And next time I’ll leave the shorts at home.