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Menu-Free Restaurants

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The James Beard Foundation just named Dan Barber its 2009 Outstanding Chef. That's bad news for menus: Barber ditched them a year ago at his Westchester restaurant, Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Instead, waiters present diners with a list of seasonal ingredients—the only clue about the meal to come. Guests simply decide between five courses or eight (the Farmer’s Feast) and notify the kitchen of any off-limits foods. Plus, “Our servers make a point of finding out how adventurous people feel,” says Barber. “Will they eat offal?”

The fun of Stone Barns is relinquishing the decision-making power to the kitchen, not knowing what’ll come next and spying on neighbors to see what's on their plates. No two Feasts are identical. At a recent meal, I had lamb neck with parsnips, while a nearby couple ate beef. According to Dan, “The kitchen preps at least five dishes for each course in the Farmer’s Feast. There are probably 50 or more different dishes going out on any night.”

All this depends on the season. “We base our menus on the day’s harvest and use what we have from the farm, or other farms, which often comes in small supply,” Dan explains.

In the past year, only three people have refused to give up control of their dinner. The restaurant happily printed them menus.


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