The blowout dinner at Laboratorio was all about fabulous food and, well, endurance. Endurance for the chefs, greater endurance for the eaters. And, with several diners taking early leave, not all of them made it. All told: 15 courses. 16, if you count the Maalox.
Following pleasantries at the bar, we were escorted into the back chamber of Laboratorios restaurant-in-a-restaurant where three rectangular tables accommodating all 30 of us pushed the limits of the otherwise elegant room. A bit of a flurry followed our entrance while diners searched for seats, musical chairs style.
The meal began with a porcelain spoon filled with a tartare of bay scallops, caviar, and sweet carrots. I have a feeling that this is the type of dish that people pretend they like more than they do.
Then, with a nod to the French Laundry, we received egg shells filled with scrambled eggs. With a fat content rivaling a triple crème, these little containers filled with blobs of butter, cream, and slightly congealed and truffle-bespeckled yellow lumps had little in common with the eggs you ate for breakfast. Indulgent and delicious, these were not your fathers scrambled eggs.
Next we ate butternut squash soup with Jerusalem Artichoke Timballe, crumbled Sausage, Melted Stracchino Cheese and Amaretti Cookies. A one-pot meal, just about every food group, texture, and dining course, was present in a single bowl. Considering that most kids would be scolded for crumbling cookies into their soup, the Chefs addition of sugary cookie bits was a gutsy move.
The combination of savory and sweet continued into the next and in my opinion best course: duck liver custard with lady apple marmalade with a side of roasted foie gras resting on a porcini mushroom. As someone commented: this was liver crème brulée.
Next came a ravioli dish in a cup made from crisped parmesan cheese. This is the sort of food that I would have enjoyed in a large portion as a single entrée. No tartare of bay scallops this!
Following a quadrucci with a ragu of sweetbreads, chantarelle mushrooms, speck and saffron came a perfectly rendered buttery collection of gnocchi that were light and rich at the same time. Left to my own devices, Id happily consume a large trough of these and call it a night.
Lest the mandatory slab of foie gras a course or two back didnt make it clear that we had entered the province of a potential Iron Chef, fine white truffles were delivered next on a diminutive bed of risotto. Whose cuisine will reign supreme? The risotto was just a little crunchy for my taste, but its hard to argue with a generous shaving of truffle. Despite a round of applause, there were no seconds.
A melt in your mouth rectangle of perfumed, perfectly-steamed cod was presented next in a pool of yellow pepper sauce with a fried ball of cauliflower puree.
This should have been the end of the real food before desert, and on retrospect I would have paid an additional $50 had the chef agreed to stop at this point. Alas, the food continued meatily. Gnawing at the fashionably rare roasted baby rack of veal served with oven braised tripe, Tuscan red devil beans and veal feet had me for the first time in my life seriously contemplate joining P.E.T.A. At this point in the meal, the tender pink flesh was just too much like tender pink flesh, no matter how much tripe and veal feet were slathered onto it.
And then, the squab. While the succulent burgundy-colored squab breasts were truly delicious, the accompanying squab legs stuffed with sausage seemed to tax the appetites of all but one eater who miraculously put away the discarded legs from other plates.
The cheese course that followed was nothing special: gorgonzola, fontina, brie. A clever bit of strategy, this helped deter additional overeating.
Obviously, when it comes to desert, theres no such thing as too much food, and fortunately, desert was about to begin. First and best, we each received a chocolate cup filled with passion fruit foam. Indeed, diners passionately defended their deserts when waiters sought to remove them before every last morsel had been consumed. In all fairness to the waiters (who looked as if they had been plucked out of the pages of Italian Vogue) we had been indulging for close to five hours. Perhaps they had a photo shoot the next morning. Nonetheless, they would have to wait for us to slog through the next course of deserts, a trio of pear confections: chocolate pear torte, pear ice cream, and dried pair with caramel sauce. The bomboloni that followed were straight out of Monty Pythons Meaning of Life: one too many, and we were bound to literally explode.
And with one diner haggling over the price of a flight, and others jockeying for their bills and quick exit, explode we did. Filled beyond full, diners scampered outside into the refreshing night air to begin a process of decompression that for some of us is still ongoing.