There are times that I can not for the life of me understand what Michelin inspectors see. More often than not, it is wondering why a restaurant does not have more stars. (Among others, see Aimo and Nadia, Saison and Daniel) In this case, I can not for the life of me figure out how this place has a star. At best, it was fine. Throughout, it was confusing.
This restaurant is the baby sister of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Chef Dan Barber's well-reknown 2-star restaurant focused on the very best vegetables that can be grown. This restaurant has been known to be a much lesser version of BHSB, but recent reviews seemed to indicate a turn for the better with its change to "Family Meal" style following COVID. I decided to give it a shot.
The meal comes in 4 courses, each of which is a bevy of various dishes. The first course was pretty good. Nothing blew me away, but some solid flavors. However, the fluke was cut in large rectangles, making it difficult to eat. One bite? Too much. Cut it? That didn't go well. It's a fairly amateur mistake that made me wonder who was driving this kitchen.
Things got worse with the 2nd course. The eggs were, well, eggs. Flatbread was quite good. But a bowl of ricotta and olive oil? It didn't really go with the bread. Were we supposed to just eat spoonfuls of it? When the server asked about the course and we mentioned this, she offered no clarity on how the various components were intended to be enjoyed.
Course 3 provided very solid pieces of beef. And a salad! Man, was I looking forward to eating a salad from Blue Hill!!! The various lettuces were piled high and looked so inviting. Until you ate it and learned that it was drowned in dressing. Not over-dressed. Drowning. So each bite was a mouthful of slightly pickled vinaigrette. I included a photo of a few of the smaller leaves to show how completely drenched they were. The disappointment to try to enjoy these greens but having to (unsuccessfully) push through all of that dressing is difficult to understate. And just head-scratching for Blue Hill. It's about the vegetables, right??
Fourth course? Dessert. What could go wrong here, right? Well, one of the three desserts was...an apple. A cut up apple. Take a minute and think that through. I'm at a 1-star restaurant. I'm paying $150 for this meal. And for dessert, you provide...a cut up apple? It would be humorous if you didn't think through that someone, while menu-planning, said "How about we just cut up an apple?" And no one said "I think we may be better than that..."
Our server was quite nice. The general manager found this blog and came to say hello to me - I assume because of it. (I didn't see him talking to other tables.) He offered a lot of his experiences and opinions on where we had been and were going to next. And that's all I'll say about that.
Why, Michelin? What did you see here? I desperately tried to find anything that I would slap a star on. It wasn't there. The contrast between this place and Frevo or Jua or Rezdora (all 1-stars) is stupefying. This is the same level? Not on your life. Even Rocca, my favorite (star-less) place in Tampa plays at a different level.
A few of the staff, when explaining the format etc. kept saying "This format isn't for everyone. Some don't like it." I think they're misunderstanding what people are turning away from. In fact, when we cheered upon seeing the salad, the server said that so many people sadly leave the salad alone "because they are full".
That's not why.
There seems to be undercurrent of justification that pervades this place. "It's OK that many people don't like what we're doing." They would be better served by evaluating what they are delivering and why it is not resonating. This is a good restaurant. But that's it. If they aspire to the upper echelons of dining, they would be better served by taking a clear look at what they are delivering and why it is so sup-par for Michelin restaurants.
I wanted to love this place. I really did. This experience will not only keep me from returning, but also keep me away from Stone Barns. It was that off.
Replying to Steven Smith
What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.