Blue Hill at Stone Barns

There’s no question that farm to table has become a fairly mainstream concept, or at least one that many restaurants claim to embody in their fare. But farm to table is something I have always struggled with in a city like New York, where a dining adventure to, say, the East Village, doesn’t channel any sort of farm for me, regardless of where the meat and veggies were sourced.

For this exact reason, our trip to Tarrytown this weekend was no far-fetched destination, but a worthy train and cab ride to the source of a breath-taking dinner. Thirty miles up the Hudson we cozied up by the fireplace (yes, a real fire!) to enjoy a drink before sitting down to a three hour gastronomic adventure. The “menu” is based on the month you visit, and we were fortunate to hit the transition between winter and spring – a time of year titled “charcoal.”

From paper thin radishes and pak choi to tsa tsai pudding and baby beet burgers, plates come out by the dozen offering the bounty of the season. We were lucky to enjoy an entire course in the kitchen, admiring Chef Barber and his staff of at least 30, meticulously preparing each serving, perfectly timed for each group of patient diners. Down to the pork, the eggs, the cheese and freshly baked bread, all are made entirely from ingredients sourced from the farm, and at this time of year, Barber’s team utilizes all of the ingredients or pickles and preserves those he wishes to use in other seasons.

The most beautiful element of this meal was that the impossibility to tire of any one flavor or component, because the portions were sized perfectly to allow a taste of each. The powerful flavors of these fresh, natural ingredients are not overwhelmed by any preparation or pairing, rather the depth of each is showcased for its own perfection. Even when dessert arrived, a sampling of each was undeniable, particularly the caramel eggs filled with cream and the toffee candies we’ll dream about until next time.

But when push comes to shove, let’s be serious. I’ll always be partial to a chef who believes “taste” is defined as finger-food, and encourages you to wrap your sashimi tacos in blanched kohlrabi. Now that’s my kind of farm to table.

Picoso. Picante. Perfecto.

Following (rigorous) life in San Diego, I took a short hiatus from tequila when I moved to NYC. But to this day, a spicy margarita is one thing I have trouble turning down…particularly on snowy days like today. These sweet and spicy concoctions, always featuring some unique intricacy or accoutrement, balance heat and tang in perfect equilibrium.

Back in the Golden State, at Oakland’s Nido, the Margarita Picosa is white Cimarrón blended with house infused pepper tequila and a splash of lime and orange juices. The rim is spiced salt, similar to Tajin but with a fresher flavor of zest. Had I known they offered it, I would have opted for the lava salt rim, which gives amazing depth to their mezcal-based beverages.

It’s certainly an acquired taste, but particularly when balanced by the omni-present guacamole at such a table, or the smoky mole we sampled on this particular day, the spice finds a balance that I prefer to the often over-powering sweetness of a tart lime original. The beauty here, also, is adding seasonal fruit like watermelon or strawberry – even pear, which lend a natural sweetness and layer of complexity.

At the very least, the kick will keep you (so-cal) warm as the snow continues to fall!