Like wearing miniskirts after 40, it takes a lot of good taste and daring to get away with tableside carts. When we see a stooped waiter pushing a wheeled contraption our way, several not-so-positive memories flash through our mind. One: a theater-district French restaurant that we visited with our aunt after seeing the original production of Annie on Broadway. (We were quite young, but still—it was a very long time ago.) We remember a copper pan, some stylish wrist flexing and a theatrically bored, tuxedo-clad waiter. The food made no impression at all. Two: we see every sad dessert cart we’ve ever laid eyes on, with out-of-season fruit tarts slathered in slimy glaze; napoleons with crusty, white-and-brown striped icing; and cellophane-sided wedges of chocolate cake that look all right, but you know taste only of gelatin. Three (and this is our favorite): we remember a tacky caterer for whom we once worked, who, during a birthday party for reporter Stone Philips, wheeled a cake out into the crowd only to have the cart collapse when she hit a bump.
Given our cart baggage, we’ve been watching Blue Hill at Stone Barns with some interest. How can they pull off old-fashioned carts with clean, modernist, Blue Hill style? While the cart thing has been trendy for a while—note Eleven Madison Park’s new tableside martini service, or Del Posto’s tableside carving – in theory, it feels not in keeping with BHSB’s less-is-more aesthetic.
In practice, it’s perfect for Blue Hill Stone Barns. Last summer, they instituted their first tableside cart. Diners who ordered tisanes were treated to an almost magical food spectacle. A subtly glowing apparition would slowly become apparent in the dining room. Loaded with beautifully arranged edible flowers, festooned with living herbs and exotic vegetables (like celtuce), and lit with pretty flickering tea lights, the tisane cart emerged, bringing the Stone Barns fields right into the dining room. After the diner made a selection from the twinkling glass beakers and pots, the herbs, flowers and leaves were placed in a glass teapot along with boiling water. The glass pot was set over a tealight, which made the water-swaying herbs glow like emerald strands of sunlit seaweed. It’s a bewitching sight, and better than any floral arrangement on earth.
Okay. But can they pull it off with preserved pork products?
The newest cart to hit the Blue Hill Stone Barns floor features charcuterie. In case you don’t know, Chef Adam Kaye has been doing some magical things with pig over the last year or so. This South African-born great-grandson of a butcher first came to our attention last year with a salami—made from, we’re afraid, a pig that we knew. (Bruno? Bluto? Let’s just call him History.) Anyway, when we took a bite, we’d just returned from Italy, and hadn’t tasted cured meats as robust, as earthy– as unapologetically porky– since the impossible-to-import culatellos of Emilia-Romagna. Our eyes snapped open like roller shades with that first bite. Wow, we thought–this guy’s a freaking goldmine.
Spotting a good thing, BHSB has given Kaye his own course—and if you haven’t been in, go now. Chef Kaye’s house-cured meats arrive displayed on a cart that features an antique, hand-crank Engel rotary slicer (courtesy of General Manager Philippe Gouze’s laser-like antique-ing skills). The cool, miniature slicer is employed to provide luscious tastes of peppery beef salami, silken lanzo, soppressata, a not-so-sec saucisson sec, and a lush, foie gras-esque pork terrine made with hearts, lungs and lots of Madeira. Best of all is Kaye’s witty take on plain ol’ baloney – here a finely ground pork sausage, on the style of Italian mortadella, but also strangely evocative of the Oscar Meyer cold cut. Think of it as the blister-pack luncheon meat of the gods.
Making a spectacle out of cured meats (besides offering delicious food to its diners) achieves two of the goals set out by BHSB. One, it celebrates often overlooked food. So, instead of just slapping a couple of slices on a plate and calling it a day, the BHSB charcuterie cart engages diners in the humble, traditional crafts of butchery and curing meats. The cart also educates diners. By wheeling in a show-and-tell display, BHSB can share the beauty of (to borrow Fergus Henderson’s phrase) nose-to-tail eating, which is the most responsible way to be carnivorous. It’s an important lesson. American traditionally resist foods made with lungs and guts and such.
Of course, beyond the charcuterie cart, the rest of the meal was stellar, too. Chef de Cuisine Josh Lawler, who’s been with BHSB for over a year (unfortunately overshadowed by that Jack-in-the-Box media darling, Executive Chef Dan Barber) is a star in his own right. He comes to BHSB from Telepan and BLT Steak —and prior to that, the Striped Bass in Philadelphia. We saw Dan leave somewhere during our second (of a thousand) courses, so we know that Chef Lawler gets the credit for our incredible meal. BTW—BHSB is finally seating diners in their pretty garden for a course or two during their meals. We felt this was the sexiest moment in a sensual Blue Hill at Stone Barns meal: caressed by warm, fragrant field breezes, we sipped our way through a second bottle of wine while we enjoyed our summery Stone Barns-grown strawberry shortcake. Don’t tell anyone, but we kicked our mules off under the table–it was pretty much heaven.
And speaking of that incredible, very shortbread-y shortcake, BHSB has new blood in the kitchen. New Pastry Chef Alex Grunert comes straight from Bouley and though the new dessert list is still evolving, you’ll be tasting a new hand behind BHSB sweets. Other news: BHSB is sticking with its experimental, tasting menu only policy—at least until the end of summer. According to GM Philippe Gouze, it’s the best way for BHSB to offer diners the fullest experience of what they do.