Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Breaking bread, and more bread, at Blue Hill

It was Friday night, and AV and I had a birthday party to attend later in the evening. But first we needed dinner, so as usual I turned to Opentable to peruse the available offerings. I may in fact have let out an audible gasp when I spotted something rare right there on my computer screen: a 7PM reservation at Blue Hill for that night! Immediately I snapped it up and called them to confirm the res. I'm assuming somebody cancelled or failed to confirm a reservation for that table day-of, but whatever the circumstances, their loss is our gain. We were on.

We made our way to the West Village and found the buried, subterranean entrance to the vegetable mecca that is Blue Hill. Service was top-notch from the moment we arrived-- we were escorted to our table graciously by the host(s) and several other members of our dining room. And immediately we encountered pretty much the only lapse of the night: it must be said that the tables at Blue Hill are extraordinarily close together. We were seated a banquette against the wall with about 6 inches between our table and those on either side. It was such that you basically couldn't avoid eavesdropping on and/or participating in your neighbors' discussions. Thankfully, our particular neighbors (including an older couple, whose choice quotation of the night was provided by the lady to her husband in reference to her dessert: "Much better than your nuts.") were riotous. But you are taking a gamble when you make a reservation-- bad neighbors = bad meal.

Regardless, we pushed on. We made our decisions, placed our order, and immediately dove into the bread basket. While the butter provided was a bit too hard and also unsalted (and unaccompanied by any salt on the table), I'm being nitpicky-- I do declare that the bread in this bread basket is the best in the city. To wit, I reference the thin, crackly ficelle loaves that are stuffed into the upright cylinder that lands with authority on your table. I implore you, ignore the seasoned flatbread in this jar-- think of it as the baby's breath in your bouquet of carnations-- and go straight for a long, slender baguette. Crack open its crust and watch it shatter, giving way to an air-filled, stretchy interior. Slather with butter and gobble. Repeat. I believe at one point in my meal, after I had consumed two full baguettes, I labeled this "the bread that makes you feel bad about yourself," since you eat so much of it and never really get full. But if this is what self-loathing tastes like, I'll have a second helping.


While our attention was fully diverted to the bread, we were treated to an amuse-bouche. A medieval-torture-device-like contraption appeared with tiny baby vegetables impaled on spikes emerging from a thick block of wood. We rescued the veggies bite by bite and popped them in our mouths; the marinated little bites had great flavor and were impeaccably fresh (not surprising from Dan Barber, of course). A great prelude to the meal.

An artificial forest

After a wait that stretched a wee bit long (cue consumption of second baguette), our entrees arrived. AV had selected the grass fed lamb, with curried chick peas and winter vegetables. I tasted the chick pea mixture, and it was incredibly tasty, spicy and hearty. AV raved about the lamb, which was delicately cooked and sliced across the plate. Definitely a winner.

Lamb 'n' peas

My own selection was the "Eleven winter greenhouse greens and herbs" salad, which came with roasted and confit mushrooms, marinated winter vegetables, lettuce and mustard vinaigrette. This was one of the best salads I've ever had. It was almost preternaturally flavorful, and I kept digging under the lettuce to find bits of the tastiest, most satisfying veggies I've ever encountered. The presentation-- on a slab of slate-- was also fittingly creative for a groundbreaking salad. I could have eaten twelve of these, and if I ever have the good fortune to return to Blue Hill, I will most certainly order this salad again.

There's so much going on here that you can't see...

While we looked at the dessert menu, there was nothing that really jumped out at us, so we paid our bill and headed out to find dessert in the land of gelato (hooray, L'arte del Delato!!). While Blue Hill is certainly not flawless, my gripes are small and relatively insignificant when you consider the quality of the food. With the best bread in the city and one of the best salads I've ever eaten, Blue Hill deserves four Offset Spatulas and a ringing endorsement. If you can snag an elusive reservation, seize the opportunity to taste vegetables that will change the way you think of the food group.

Blue Hill
75 Washington Place

No comments: