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The Greatest Dining Room in Westchester

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After five years of wistfulness, we finally attended Blue Hill at Stone Barns annual Sausage and Beer dinner – and it turned out to be an auspicious night to suck down a few locally-brewed beers. The event marked the public debut of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture’s party space, the Hay Barn, which holds a lucky 270 guests. (Prior to the debut, BHSB events were held in an intimate space — max 64 guests — located behind the 100 seat restaurant.) The Hay Barn lies across the plaza from the restaurant, and is operated jointly by the Center and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Readers might be familiar with the modestly-scaled ground floor of the Hay Barn, which is used for educational programs. The new space occupies the top floor of the building, and was previously unseen by the public.

Sadly, thumbnail-sized blog pics do not do this space justice. Taking a page from Frank Lloyd Wright (and Restaurant Daniel), the room is accessed through a tunnel-like hall, featuring pearly Venetian plaster, winding vine branches and a restricted, narrow perspective. It’s the set for the spike, which is simply an explosion of space: soaring Norman-revival stone walls (many times the height of a person) are up-lit for drama, with multi-story windows and rustic, opera-sized chandeliers. Elegant window panels emphasize the space’s sweeping verticality, while brawny, rustic candelabra – looking like silvered Black Forest branches – add intimacy and flicker to plushly-clothed tables.

Prior to its re-conception as an event space, the Hay Barn was used for Rockefeller estate hay storage. Until about 2000, it was stuffed with feed, its highly textured walls home to colonies of swallows and bats, whose toxic remnants had to be painstakingly removed by specialists. While construction of the Hay Barn’s event space was completed in the summer of 2008, its finishing touches (and final permits) delayed the room’s public debut until now.

BHSB is currently booking events at the Hay Barn, though I wouldn’t hold your breath. Access to the stunning room, which seats nearly three times the capacity of the dining room at BHSB, will be fairly exclusive. According to Stone Barns’s VP Irene Hamburger, the restaurant will close to create parties that honor the Center’s mission. On these super-special occasions, the restaurant’s A-Team will be diverted to Hay Barn events, which – we should all just get over it – will be quite expensive.

Architectural grandeur aside, the Hay Barn’s debut was practically a hoe-down – a beer and sausage love fest that felt more like a family party. At the party’s center were the awesome talents of Chef Adam Kaye, whose recent absence from the Blue Hill at Stone Barns kitchen had reverent salumi-fiends pining. Kaye is definitely back in the house, as witnessed by the re-appearance of the Gouze-mobile – actually, a BHSB cart loaded with an antique, hand-crank meat slicer, this time, showcasing locally-raised venison sausage.

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