Morten Sohlberg and Min Ye, partners in the Smorgas Chef restaurant group, have been worrying about the sources of their ingredients since they opened their first eatery 10 years ago. “We were concerned about where the food was coming from, and we grew tired of Sysco and others, because they didn’t have trustworthy sources,” Sohlberg says. “We wanted to make sure when we were saying, ‘This is what’s on the menu,’ we could vouch for it.”
Three years ago, they decided the only way they could really do that was by operating a restaurant supplied solely by a farm they owned. So they bought a Catskills homestead — dubbed Blenheim Hill Farm — and on May 19, they’ll open Blenheim (283 West 12th Street, 212-243-7073), the restaurant supplied by that farm, in the West Village.
“It took three years to be able to exclusively produce our own food,” says Sohlberg. “But we’ve been able to practice run all this produce on our own restaurants.” And as an added bonus, he says, “We control the flavor along the way. We don’t have to guess. The flavors are extraordinary.”
The farm raises both animals and vegetables: The team is raising three different kinds of pig — including Berkshire and Mangalitsa — plus cows and sheep, and produce is grown year-round in a hydroponic greenhouse that allows the group to experiment with about 30 different crops. “We’re not as locked into the normal difficulties that other farmers are facing since everything is going to our restaurant,” says Sohlberg. “We can grow and fail and be okay with it. Failure is part of what we do.”
But that growing cycle will make the restaurant’s menu change frequently — Blenheim won’t offer beef, for example, when it doesn’t have a cow to slaughter, and it will use every part of every animal.
That presents a formidable challenge for Blenheim’s chef, and Sohlberg and Ye brought on Justin Hilbert, who was last at Gwynnett Street, to tackle it. He’ll cook, according to Sohlberg, “frequently evolving, personally inspired farm-to-table food. He’s taking a lot of tradition and mixing it with some modern flavors and approaches to cooking.” Hilbert has been on board for about a year, working in complete secrecy on the farm, where he’s tweaked growing procedures and trained staff.
He’ll serve both an a la carte and tasting menu, and while the opening day list is still in flux — Sohlberg says it depends upon exactly what’s ready to harvest — you can expect dishes like fiddlehead ferns in goats butter, wood pigeon with boiled peanuts, turbot with ham and ramps, and lamb with spinach and yogurt.
His board matches a drinks list that takes its cues from the food philosophy; barman Jonathan Russell, formerly of Mas (Farmhouse), will also use farm produce for his cocktails — both alcoholic and non-alcoholic — and will change the offerings frequently. Opening day pours include the Ice Plant Gimlet made with gin, lime, dolin dry, simple syrup, and muddled ice plants; the Hot House Paloma, a blend of anejo tequila, grapefruit, and thyme soda; and a non-alcoholic Maple Egg Cream built on fresh farm cream, maple sap, maple syrup, and seltzer.
As for the space, Sohlberg designed it, and he was intent that Blenheim not look like every other farm-to-table restaurant in the city. “We’re trying to stay away from reclaimed wood,” he says, though notes that a barn beam runs the length of the otherwise simple and modern dining room. He reserved plenty of quirk for the private dining area, though, which he’s calling the toolshed: “The room is entirely built by tools from the 18th century that we found at the farm,” he says, and it’s lit by lamps made from old 18th century milk jugs that farmers once used for target practice.
Blenheim will be open for dinner nightly and for weekend lunch.
See a couple more photos on the next page.