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Laboratorio del Galileo, The Chef's Table at Galileo Downtown - Failed Experiment.


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Friday evening Roberto Donna hosted a landmark 14 course, 18 taste blowout dinner including a number of truffle courses which I arranged for thirty of us. For many this was the fifth time we have come together for a dinner like this over the past three years, with two previous at his Laboratorio and other blowouts at Maestro and Black Salt. This was the most adventurous of all, even perhaps as ambitious as any dinner he has ever hosted in his Lab. I'm certain there will be many opinions as well as detailed photos from others which will be posted. This is the menu. Please note that the first six courses were unique to the Piedmont region of Italy which he originally is from.

Rosted Veal served with a Tuna Sauce

Roasted Red Sweet Pepper served with a Tuna Mousse

Poached Quail Egg served over Cardoons with Bagna Cauda

*

Thinly Sliced Veal with Celery, Parmesan Cheese, Champignon Mushrooms and White Truffle dressed with Lemon

*

Skewer of Nantucket Bay Scallops and Artichokes served over a Salted Cod Cake with a Black Truffle Dip

*

Duck Stew of Testicles, Tongue, Kidney, Liver, Heart, Skin and Porcini Mushrooms served with a Marsala Wine Sauce

*

Fennel and Celery Root Soup served with a Puff Pastry filled with Dover Sole and Dill

*

Raviolini Pasta filled with Spinach and Foduta Cheese served with Butter and Sage

*

Thin Layers of Chocolate and Chestnut Pasta served with Crayfish Tails and Fava Beans with a Ginger Sauce

*

White Alba Truffle Risotto

*

Trio of Virtual Caviar with Lobster served with a Yellow Sweet Pepper Sauce

*

Trio of Rabbit:

The Front Leg in Sausage served over a Parsnip Puree with a Red Wine Sauce

Loin Milanesa served over Sweet Semolino and Apples

The Back Leg stewed with Chiodini Mushrooms served over Soft Polenta with a Rabbit Jus

*

Cheese

*

Blood Orange Granita

*

Sour Cream Souffle served with a Rose Water Ice Cream

*

Bombolini

The dinner lasted over five hours ending at 12:45 AM; Roberto and five others labored nonstop to prepare what must be as complex and adventurous of a dinner as seen in any Italian restaurant on this side of the Atlantic. Several of the courses elicited breathtaking reactions including the incredible "Duck Stew" which a number of diners raved at length about. Intense flavor, remarkable contrasting textures-as extraordinary of a creation as I have ever tasted. I especially thank Roberto for presenting this to us, believing we were "ready" for such an exceptional experience. My guess is that this is the first time he or any other chef has prepared this for the public in a Washington restaurant. Another remarkable dish was the "Trio of Virtual Caviar..." Even the pasta courses were unique including the "chocolate and chestnut pasta..." The "sour cream souffle with a rose water ice cream" was an appropriate over the top way to end a literal once in a lifetime dining experience. At least four times over the course of the dinner applause broke out for Chef but even then, this was an event that I doubt if anyone could have anticipated. Roberto took chances last night and reached for the moon. I thank him for taking us with him on his journey. A spectacular journey!

I also thank the many who shared extraordinary bottles of wine including Dal Forno, Quintarelli, at least a half dozen 96 point+ '97 Super Tuscans, several 96 point + '85 Californians. Particular thanks to Kirby B. and John B. for sharing, "Crackers" and Roe for their help along with several who trekked (again) from Philadelphia and north of Baltimore for this "memory" which each year Roberto has somehow found a way to top.

Thank you, Chef.

Edited by DonRocks
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Everything but the good part.  Yum....... :)

The good part was in there too.

Apparently duck balls are nothing new for Slater. I'm just wondering what wine he recommends pairing them with. From eG:

Mark Sommelier  Nov 4 2003, 09:48 AM Post #9 

I nominate duck testicles.

When I worked for Jean-Louis, people would tell us how delicious it was, then ask what it is. The answer was always "We'll tell you on the way out".

Edited by crackers
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The good part was in there too. 

Apparently duck balls are nothing new for Slater.  I'm just wondering what wine he recommends pairing them with.  From eG:

Really interesting observation. Roberto and Jean Louis were the first two Washington area chefs to extensively travel and promote this city in the late '80's and early '90's and were close friends. I wonder any parallels that anyone might see between several of the dishes served in this remarkable dinner and what Jean Louis might have served then. In an e-mail from Roberto yesterday he said to me that:

"I try just to recreate a sample of dishes that I love to eat when I go back home..."

Both the Duck Stew and the Trio of Virtual Caviar were unlike any other dish I have ever had anywhere. While Roberto's usage of these ingredients were his own unique interpretation I am curious how Jean Louis may have used some of them.

About nine or ten people who post on here were at the dinner. I am curious to their reactions to these two and other dishes, especially the first three courses, the white truffle risotto, the Trio of Rabbit and the finishing souffle. (Well...the chocolate and chestnut pasta also comes to mind as does the intensely flavorful fennel and celery root soup and...) Walking around the Lab this was a dinner that generated a tremendous reaction with some strong opinions from those experiencing it. At my end of one of the two 15 seat tables there was spontaneous applause to the Duck Stew from several wives while at least one husband stared vacantly for perhaps a minute and the first bite. Then, his own exclamation of "Wow!" For me, a very real and loud "wow" factor that I doubt any of us had expected. And this was not the only "wow" to the evening's lineup.

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The good part was in there too. 

Apparently duck balls are nothing new for Slater.  I'm just wondering what wine he recommends pairing them with.  From eG:

Crackers,

The menu always reffered to them as "white kidneys". They were an ingredient in J-L's chestnut soup. The soup was a puree of chestnuts, porcinis, foie gras with duck consomme and sometimes black truffles. The garnish in the bowl was the duck lights (poached and sliced) and chestnuts.

Edited by Mark Slater
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  Thank you, Chef.

First, let me echo JoeH's thanks to Chef and his staff for putting together such an extraordinary and festive dinner at this busy holiday time of year. And of course, JoeH is the only one I know who could have coaxed such a meal out of him for all of us,and gathered this group together to enjoy it. There were indeed about nine rockweillers at table - and many other familiar faces from other blowouts, so it was quite a lively gathering. Most of us brought our own wines - the six of us at our end of the table shared a variety of reds - Barolos, Barbarescos, Amarone, Syrah and Pinot - all quite delicious and somehow there seemed to be some ideal matchings despite not knowing quite which wine would be poured during which course.

For those who would like to see photos - I created an album here (if the link does not work, PM me and I'll try something else) so as to not take up bandwidth and bore those who dislike blow-by-blow photo documentaries of meals.

The meal started with a cone of fresh fry bread liberally dusted with crunchy salt. We were admonished to not fill up on it, but who could help it? I mean really!

What followed was a parade of delectibles that included some ingredients, that...ahem...were out of the ordinary. A lot of fuss was made over the duck stew, and it was truly one of the highlights among many, of the evening. there was crunchy skin, chewy tongue and many other parts to ponder, and it was topped off with a very generous slice of fresh roasted foie gras in a dense rich wine broth. After the twittering and snarking died down though, we put back on our "sophisticate" attire and got back to the serious business of eating and watching Chef and his posse create their magic.

I laud Chef Donna for presenting such unusual (for us) dishes. Perhaps the most surprising divergence of opinion at table was about the virtual caviar - some declared it their favorite course of the meal, and others, including myself, found the somewhat "slimy" feel, combined with the greenish-black color to be off-putting. I also enjoyed dipping the scallops into the black truffle dip and then sipping the rest of dip straight up (ok, that wasn't terribly sophisticated of me). The rabbit three way was another highlight, and the blood orange granita fooled me - I thought it was grapefruit. It was perfect though. The cheese course also did not disappoint - there's that (what IS it?) grappa cheese that is so pungent it makes aged horseradish seem like ricotta.

I don't think anybody could have disliked that sour cream souffle though - it was an etherial send-off for the evening.

We do eat well in this town.

Edited by crackers
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I was fortunate to attend this event and I add my kudos to Chef Donna for showering us with these unusual gifts and my thanks to JoeH for organizing this event. I got that feeling the one reason Chef Donna went to such creative lengths was that he knew Joe would bring people to his table that would relish the fruits of his efforts.

It is extremely difficult to describe the experience of the individual concoctions other than to say that each was unique in its own way and I enjoyed each. But I will single out two for special mention: the duck stew and the virtual cavier.

The duck stew was a study in textures with most of the flavor coming from the rich delicious duck broth that was ladled in just prior to serving. Ah, but what wonderful textures: there were the crunchy skin, the chewy offals, the smooth foie gras. This is something that I never expected and am not likely to ever experience again in my lifetime. In my opinion, it was the highlight of the dinner.

I also liked very much the virtual caviar. The "caviar" was couscous (I don't know what provided the dark coloring) and the chunks of lobster with the yellow pepper sauce was absolutely amazing. And the service the caviar "tins" was a very nice touch.

What more can I say about the evening other than that I enjoyed very much the company, the food, the wine and the impeccable service.

Bravo to Chef Donna and his staff and hat's off to JoeH.

Edited to add: It was a specatular journey, I do not view it as an adventure in excess (well, in wine maybe). Edited to add that I understand that in addition to Darryl and Darryl, Larry was included in the duck stew.

Edited by Jacques Gastreaux
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Thank you Jacques and Crackers for your nice words. They are really appreciated. I should add that Roberto will never have a more appreciative audience to prepare such an experience for. We had sort of "graduated" to this with two prior Lab dinners, each of which a bit beyond what the general public could typically expect. I think this represented Roberto's vision of seeing how far he could take us; perhaps also how far he could reach on this side of the Atlantic with the ingredients available to him here.

Edited by Joe H
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The duck stew was a study in textures with most of the flavor coming from the rich delicious duck broth that was ladled in just prior to serving.  Ah, but what wonderful textures: there were the crunchy skin, the chewy offals, the smooth foie gras.  This is something that I never expected and am not likely to ever experience again in my lifetime.  In my opinion, it was the highlight of the dinner.

I also liked very much the virtual caviar.  The "caviar" was couscous (I don't know what provided the dark coloring) and the chunks of lobster with the yellow pepper sauce was absolutely amazing.  And the service the caviar "tins" was a very nice touch. 

There is little to add to the previous descriptions except one more big round of applause to both Chef Donna for putting together this spectacular menu, and to Joe for organizing it, as he does so well.

I would say for me, as for many others, the most memorable dish was the duck "stew," which had BOTH the most interesting contrast in textures AND the richest flavor of just about anything I've ever experienced. The truffle risotto was as good as ever, and it is no mystery why it is Roberto's favorite dish to prepare. I believe the coloring for the virtual caviar was squid ink. I also liked the humble little cod cake that served as a base for the scallops--it was good even before dipping it in the truffle sauce. Cod and truffles--that combination alone speaks volumes about the incredible creative mind of Roberto.

Just looking forward to another dinner like this some day soon.

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And once again, my invitation got lost in the mail!  :)

These "blow out" dinners are arranged by Joe for his friends. Those from the board who were lucky enough to attend received a private invitation. We are fortunate enough that they are willing to share their experience and allow us to drool over the photos and details.

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These "blow out" dinners are arranged by Joe for his friends.  Those from the board who were lucky enough to attend received a private invitation.  We are fortunate enough that they are willing to share their experience and allow us to drool over the photos and details.

I was just kidding! Honest! Jealous, but kidding! I've gone back and changed the emoticon in hopes of conveying a more tongue-in-cheek tone.

It sounds like it was a magnificent dinner, worthy of the name "Blowout." I really love reading the descriptions and following along with the photos. This is just one more reminder that we are really blessed with some amazing culinary talent in this area!

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Anyone who would like to attend a dinner like this in the future please send me a private e-mail and I will include you in the list of those that I contact. Currently there are about 125 people on this list. This dinner was $160 prix fixe, $220 with the wine pairing or $15 corkage/by the glass/by the bottle + tax + tip. The cost of these dinners varies with the restaurant; the dinners are biannual.

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I also liked very much the virtual caviar.  The "caviar" was couscous (I don't know what provided the dark coloring) and the chunks of lobster with the yellow pepper sauce was absolutely amazing.  And the service the caviar "tins" was a very nice touch. 

From the picture it looks like the "caviar" was pearl pasta colored with squid ink and seems similar Michel's Begula Pasta.

Dinner looked wonderful! Glad to at least be able to see the pictures! :)

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This was my fourth dinner at The Lab, the first time on a date (lucky girl), the rest as part of Joe H's Blowouts. Obviously the first time the meal was a "standard" Lab dinner menu, the first Joe H dinner I felt drew pretty much from the same playbook as a "standard" night at the Lab, a fabulous meal, that I would judge slightly better than the first meal because of a couple more bells and whistles. At the second Joe H dinner it was obvious that Chef Donna knew the audience would go for more and comparison of the menu shows that the dishes were much more complex the second time around. Friday night Chef certainly dug deep, I'm sure a stew of duck organs would be a hard sell on a regular Friday night!

My only two critiques were with the Risotto, which I felt was just a tad undercooked, a bit too al dente, it had not reached the complex creaminess that last year's risotto soared to. I also felt that the crawfish ravioli fell flat, the ginger broth to sharp and overpowering of the pasta and delicate flavor of the crawfish.

Otherwise each dish was a culinary adventure. Much has already been said about the winning dishes. but the highlights for me were the black truffle dip (the waiter laughed when I downed the left overs in the shot glass), duck stew, the virtual caviar, the souffle, and the trio of rabbit, and fennel soup...and of course the bomboloni!

Thanks again, Joe, Chef Donna, and his staff.

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My only two critiques were with the Risotto, which I felt was just a tad undercooked, a bit too al dente, it had not reached the complex creaminess that last year's risotto soared to.  I also felt that the crawfish ravioli fell flat, the ginger broth to sharp and overpowering of the pasta and delicate flavor of the crawfish.

I think that the Risotto texture depends on when it was dished. I found that last years was as you described this years (too hard and not complex enough), while the bowl I had this year was perfectly cooked, and while simple in flavor, hit all the right notes.

I agree about the crawfish dish. I tried the pasta alone, and if it were not for the color, I would not have been able to tell which was chocolate and which was chestnut. I don't think that it was the sauce that hid the flavor, I just think that it was too delicately flavored.

One thing that surprised me was the veal dish. I generally do not like celery (especially when raw), but I had a piece of the dish without it, and found its flavor to be flat. With the crispy celery the flavor perked-up.

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One thing that surprised me was the veal dish.  I generally do not like celery (especially when raw), but I had a piece of the dish without it, and found its flavor to be flat.  With the crispy celery the flavor perked-up.

That's funny because I had the same conversation with Camille-Beau, I can't stand celery but just using the celery leaves added a nice flavor.

I agree that the pasta on the crawfish dish didn't really give any sense that one was chocolate and the other chestnut, but I also found the ginger sauce to bit too sharp, the ginger flavor need to be mellowed...perhaps add some more butter!

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As a point of comparison, what follows is the menu from a 15-course Laboratorio dinner arranged by JoeH in the fall of 2004. Photos here.

*Tartare of Bay Scallops, Caviar, Sweet Carrots

*Scrambled Eggs with Black Truffle served in Eggshell

*Butternut Squash Soup with Jerusalem Artichoke Timballe, Crumbled Sausage

*Melted Stracchino Cheese and Amaretti Cookie

*Duck Liver Custard with Lady Apple Marmalade and Roasted Foie Gras with Porcini baked in Papillote with Duck Jus

*Ravioli del Plin with Butter, Rosemary, Veal Jus and Parmesan Cheese Cup

*Quadrucci with a Ragu of Sweetbreads, Chantarelle Mushrooms, Speck and Saffron

*Potato Dumpling with Fonduta of Gorgonzola and Walnuts

*Risotto with White Truffles

*Chamomile Steamed Cod Fish with Fried Cauliflower in a Yellow Pepper Sauce

*Roasted Baby Rack of Veal served Oven Braised Tripe, Tuscan “Red Devil” Beans and Veal Feet

*Squab Breast Profumato Ai Sapori del’Asia served over Roasted Autumn Vegetables and Squab Leg stuffed with Sausage and Blueberries served with a Squab Jus Reduction

*Cheese

*Passion Fruit Foam in Chocolate Cup

*Warm Chocolate Pear Torte with Pear Ice Cream, Dried Pear Slices and Caramel Sauce

*Bomboloni

Edited by crackers
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I agree that the pasta on the crawfish dish didn't really give any sense that one was chocolate and the other chestnut, but I also found the ginger sauce to bit too sharp, the ginger flavor need to be mellowed...perhaps add some more butter!

This reminds me of the basic cooking advice of an old friend, which was....when in doubt, add butter. When in serious doubt, add more butter.

Edited by johnb
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I'm really much better looking than Roe's photo with breadsticks sticking out of my mouth implies!  And typically much better beahaved too.

All in good fun.

Well, I have this to say. You are, indeed, better looking but I have never seen you well behaved! :)

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Perhaps, in 58 years, a dish without parallel.  And, at our dinner.  Wow!

Why doesn't Roberto offer this on an "as you dare" and/or call-ahead basis for his Laboratorio diners? It would get him worldwide attention, I believe - it's just the hook he needs to get the press to take note. Roberto, are you reading? Do it.

Cheers,

Rocks

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He told me that he has served it before in the Lab "but not too often." I don't think this is a dish that the general public would appreciate IF THEY KNEW WHAT WAS IN IT. Otherwise, just on the basis of taste, it REALLY was delicious. That's part of the guilt associated with this for some: it should not have tasted nearly as good as it did. A GREAT dish-just from the perspective of taste.

There were several huge slabs of foie gras that he sliced for this; given the cost of this it may be prohibitive for a regular Lab dinner at what he charges. Ours' was also something of a jaded group and ready for an adventure like this. This was the kind of event that he could go all out for, knowing there were 30 willing and worldly judges/guinea pigs waiting to be challenged and thrilled.

He also told me that this is a "typical dish that I enjoy when I go home." I'm not certain how often this is even served in a restaurant in the Piedmont; I suspect that this is a special occasion dish there, perhaps mostly in someone's home, even then the home of an extraordinary cook. But I must add: this was his interpretation of it. I'm not so sure that I would want to taste anyone else's.

A Great Chef inspires trust; we and a number of ducks put our lives in his hands that night. While the ducks weren't so lucky our trust was rewarded!

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I don't think this is a dish that the general public would appreciate IF THEY KNEW WHAT WAS IN IT.... 

There were several huge slabs of foie gras that he sliced for this; given the cost of this it may be prohibitive for a regular Lab dinner at what he charges. 

Dishes like this are what 3 Michelin Stars are made of. Ignore the general public, charge whatever needs to be charged, and make this a signature dish.

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My fiancé and I went to Maestro on Saturday night and celebrated a bit early.

My husband surprised me tonight with a special Valentine's Dinner at Galileo Laboratorio. We did the 6 pm seating, only 7 couples per seating. It was an 11 course dinner and we added the wine pairing (6 wines). Chef Donna is in Italy, but his executive chef put the dinner together and it was one of the best I have ever had. I tried things I never would have ordered on my own. The courses were not announced in advanced, we only learned of them as we were being served. I could hardly move by the time the meal ended. It was the most expensive meal I have ever had, and one I will never forget. Here's what we had: (1) tuna tartare with sour cream mousse and caviar served with a blood orange dressing (2) Roasted duck liver with poached quincy apples and a quincy apple sauce, (3) cauliflower soup with garlic timbale, fresh sea urchin, pancetta and chives, (4) reginette filled with ricotta, burrata and asparagus served with a butter and sage sauce, (5) gnocchetti di patate served with taleggio cream and fresh black truffles, (6) risotto with lobster and asparagus, (7) a tin of virtual caviar with bay scallops served with a yellow pepper suace, (8) roasted baby lamb in a basil crust served with roasted porcini, soft polenta and a black olive sauce, (9) bicerin, (10) warm chocolate cake served with poached pears, pear ice cream (in a chocolate/cherry shell) and pear sauce and finally (11) bomboloni (italian donuts). ANYONE HUNGRY NOW??

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This city is indeed fortunate to have what I sincerely believe are the two best Italian chefs in America, Roberto and Fabio. For that matter I will put dinner at Maestro or Roberto's Laboratorio on par with anything I have experienced at the three Michelin star Le Calandre (outside of Padua and similar to Maestro in style) and the three Michelin star (and John Mariani "best restaurant in the world") Dal Pescatore near Mantova. As much of a rave as these comments are the world is becoming more aware of each of them with every passing day. As their fame grows so does the international acceptance of Washington as a great restaurant town. Add Citronelle to these two along with the Inn at Little Washington and you have four restaurants the equal of any four restaurants in any North American city. Factor in Roberto's appearances on the Today show this week and the upcoming rematch with Morimoto on Iron Chef America and our city receives even more attention.

I would also suggest that Roberto's infamous "Fear Factor" duck stew is perhaps the single most intense and challenging dish I have ever had anywhere. Even today, almost three months later, I still remember the exclamation at my table at the Lab when a wife moaned that she never knew a male could taste so good...

A by now legendary photo of a Lab dinner:

http://share.dell.shutterfly.com/action/sl...d=1139976443919

Edited by Joe H
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and the three Michelin star (and John Mariani "best restaurant in the world") Dal Pescatore near Mantova.

Nothing John Mariani says has any credibility with me - his writing is nothing more than paid advertising under the false guise of criticism.

Add Citronelle to these two along with the Inn at Little Washington and you have four restaurants the equal of any four restaurants in any North American city.

Make it five: Eric Ziebold at CityZen recently cranked out a tasting menu that rivaled, equalled, or perhaps even surpassed any I've had at Citronelle in years.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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I probably will agree with you but for authenticity she grows her own saffron and raises her own chickens. When I parked my rental car in Dal Pescatore's lot on a summer afternoon I left the window cracked about two inches or so. When I returned three hours later there were chicken feathers all over the interior!

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My celebration seems so much smaller after reading this! I would never have lasted through 14 courses! :lol:

The first time we went to the Lab was a Smithsonian dinner which had a total of eight courses. I thought THAT was fantastic! We had two or three Smithsonian dinners there over a year or so and Roberto once asked me if I had been to his "regular" Laboratorio dinner? I didn't really understand him and he told me that it was 12 courses. Whoa! Anyway, over the years we've had a number of 12 course Lab dinners and they have all been extraordinary. We've also left sated after everyone!!! The three Lab dinners I've arranged there ('03, '04, '05) were all efforts to do absolute blowouts that stretched the limits of what a person could experience. It's also dinners like this which will see multiple truffle courses, "duck stew", "caviar", etc. He knows that he has an appreciative, deranged audience that lives for each new taste he can create. Still, some people have told me that 14-18 courses are just TOO much!

I've just never understood restraint, though. This fall......

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This is one of the best restaurants in the United States. Roberto Donna personally cooks for you, only a few feet away if you are at table #7. Galileo and the private kitchen/room called Laboratorio (which seats up to 30) is closing on Saturday, September 2nd for an indefinite period of time. It will re-open with the re-opening of Galileo sometime in the spring/summer of 2007. In the interim Roberto & company are moving to Arlington but there will not be a Laboratorio. For anyone that would like one last pass at the genuine excellence which is Roberto in his Laboratorio this is it. Laboratorio, along with Maestro and Citronelle are the only four star restaurants on Tom Sietsema's list. I personally think that he is as talented, as good, as delicious (pick an adjective) as anyone in Italy. Roberto is a gift to us. If you have ever thought about going to the Lab this truly is your last chance.

Ask for table #7. Five feet from where he stands. There are a few reservations left.

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This is one of the best restaurants in the United States. Roberto Donna personally cooks for you, only a few feet away if you are at table #7. Galileo and the private kitchen/room called Laboratorio (which seats up to 30) is closing on Saturday, September 2nd for an indefinite period of time. It will re-open with the re-opening of Galileo sometime in the spring/summer of 2007. In the interim Roberto & company are moving to Arlington but there will not be a Laboratorio. For anyone that would like one last pass at the genuine excellence which is Roberto in his Laboratorio this is it. Laboratorio, along with Maestro and Citronelle are the only four star restaurants on Tom Sietsema's list. I personally think that he is as talented, as good, as delicious (pick an adjective) as anyone in Italy. Roberto is a gift to us. If you have ever thought about going to the Lab this truly is your last chance.

Ask for table #7. Five feet from where he stands. There are a few reservations left.

I'll wager an Andrew Jackson that Roberto never returns to that DC location. In fact, I'd wager this may be your last chance to enjoy Roberto's cooking at that level for a long time.

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I personally think that he is as talented, as good, as delicious (pick an adjective) as anyone in Italy.

But maybe not as good as anybody in the US. Angelo Auriana, the longtime former (though kinda current, at least temporarily) executive chef at Valentino can outcook Roberta any day of the week. Except maybe Sundays, when Angelo doesn't work. Angelo is incredible. Roberta is merely pretty great.

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But maybe not as good as anybody in the US. Angelo Auriana, the longtime former (though kinda current, at least temporarily) executive chef at Valentino can outcook Roberta any day of the week. Except maybe Sundays, when Angelo doesn't work. Angelo is incredible. Roberta is merely pretty great.
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I was at Valentino in L. A. about three years ago-I have not been to the Vegas outpost. I strongly disagree with you and that is an understatement. If Don is right and Laboratorio is not reopened a year from now as planned we will miss Roberto at his kitchen in the same way we miss Jean Louis.

There will still be stories circulating about his "Duck Stew" years from now...

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[it would also be nice to get some supporting detail for your claim that Auriana "can outcook Roberto any day of the week."]

Sure. I didn't take notes on my Laboratorio meal, but I thought it very, very good. But there was nothing transcendant about it. I didn't find myself still thinking about the cuisine two days later. Whereas I've had multiple meals cooked by Angelo Auriana that I'm still thinking about, some of them 18-24 months after the fact. He knows from transcendence. He is also a wizard when it comes to pairing food and wine, particularly in reverse. By that I mean you can give him a list of wines and he'll come up with a menu with dishes selected specifically with the pairings in mind. (Sometimes, he'll even do it on the spot. That is, you send a glass to the kitchen, and a food pairing materializes a short time later.)

Two examples, from notes on meals I had at Masque:

With 1997 Marcassin Marcassin Vineyard Chardonnay, a cardoons tortino with sepia ragu and toasted hazelnuts. The tortino was otherworldly, like a savory flan. Great textures – and an interesting contrast: I loved the tortino vis-à-vis the sepia, the former soft and spongy, the latter just slightly chewy. Fava beans and the hazelnut pieces added additional textural contrast. Interestingly, each bite of the tortino seemed better than the last. Somebody noted that it seemed so simple that you almost forgot how great it was – until you had another bite. I could’ve eaten 10 of them. Great match with the Marcassin, which can be a difficult pairing because of its massive size and high-toast/grilled hazelnut profile.

With 1998 Donnhoff Norheimer Kirschheck Spatlese, venison carpaccio: When this dish came out, a bunch of us were thinking there was a mistake - that we were supposed to be doing a red-wine course. Silly us. This was one of the best food-wine matches I've encountered this year (2004). And on its own, the carpaccio was great, too. New Zealand venison, which made our NZ visitor quite happy. Inside, bits of parmesean and swiss chard. Garnished with garden herbs, but who needed them? It was all about the meat. Three pieces to a plate. I wanted a dozen. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. When Angelo emerged from the kitchen later, he said that, of course he was going to do venison with the spatlese. That's why he's the chef and I'm just the dumb diner.

There have been many, many other incredible dishes, including a whole raft of them at a white truffle dinner we did 2004. Foodie friends came in from around the country for this one, and all of us wound up declaring it our meal of the year. For me, it was top two all-time, rivaled only by the best of my meals at French Laundry.

With 1982 Krug: Nantucket bay scallops with frizzled parsnips.

With 1996 Jadot Chevalier Montrachet Les Demoiselles: a single seared prawn served with Chilean turbot and a carrot coulis

With 1985 Jadot Bonnes Mares: sunchoke panna cotta with truffles

With 1974 Gaja Sori Tilden: sweetbreads wrapped in beef tongue served with baby bok choy and truffles

With 1978 and 1982 Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano Riserva: foie gras tortelli with white truffles and white truffle risotto

With 1994 Harlan and 1982 Cheval Blanc: Three hour braised beef cheeks.

I think about that meal often.

I'm not saying I dislike Donna's cuisine. That couldn't be further from the truth. It's just that I don't agree that he's the best Italian chef in the US. Then again, I didn't go to the truffle dinner Joe organized at Laboratorio, so I'm not sure I've tasted his cooking at its best. But I would expect that he's usually operating at a pretty high level at the Laboratorio, and I thought my meal was pretty representative based on what I've read about the place.

I was at Valentino in L. A. about three years ago-I have not been to the Vegas outpost. I strongly disagree with you and that is an understatement. If Don is right and Laboratorio is not reopened a year from now as planned we will miss Roberto at his kitchen in the same way we miss Jean Louis.

There will still be stories circulating about his "Duck Stew" years from now...

Three years ago, I believe Angelo was already in Sacramento preparing for the opening of Masque. At the very least, he had one foot out the door at Valentino. And I believe that it's true that he was not at the top of his game when his Valentino run was coming to a close. He's admitted as much.

(By the by, Angelo has never had any involvement with Valentino/Vegas. That was opened by Piero Selvaggio with one of Angelo's former sous chefs, and it is, quite frankly, a disaster.)

We should do a bi-coastal dining tour. You set up a dinner with Roberto, and I'll set one up with Angelo. Then, we can really get down to the business of comparison. I suspect that if they're both in fine form, we'll be splitting hairs (not to mention one hell of a dining bill) by the end. I'll bring the mag of 82 Gaja San Lorenzo. Deal? :)

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I have not been to Masque, at least not yet, but it does sound like a plan!

One thought: the best dinners I've had have tended to be special dinners (perhaps like your special dinner in '04). The last dinner I organized at the Lab, a dinner at the three star El Raco de Can Fabes (outside of Barcelona where Santimaria wanted to impress a visiting two star chef and we asked-and were-served the exact same 18 courses), strolling through the kitchen at K-Paul's in New Orleans with Chef Paul in 1981 and having, literally, a taste of everything (then all of this being served to six of us at a four hour blow out), an experience at Maestro, a dinner at Le Francais when Jean Banchet was there in 1980 and I had lost 142 pounds on a diet, going five pounds over with the intention of gaining all five pounds back in one special pre-arranged four hour meal with friends-and did it!

I've also had extraordinary experiences that were what the restaurant offered to everyone everyday. I do include Laboratorio in this as well as Maestro. I know of nowhere else where a chef of the stature of Roberto cooks six or seven feet from you (at table 7), where you can walk up and talk to him while he stirs, where you can watch the dish prepared and assembled literally within feet, all the while sipping wine and talking and laughing with him. For me he has several dishes that I believe are the equal of any I have had anywhere. In these I include his "duck stew," virtual caviar, several risottos and several pastas (including an orgasmic gorgonzola dolce ravioli). I also factor his personality into this presentation: for me I am having dinner in his kitchen, with him cooking specially for me. At that table the rest of the room does not seem to exist.

For wine pairings I am hopeless and without taste: I drink red with almost everything except dessert.

Regardless, something special is coming to an end on September 2nd here. (I hope it is only temporary but, as Don, fear it may not.) Memories of the dinners I've had and been a part of will stay with me well down the road. I hope to one day recapture them but I fear that there will never be another table 7 in the Lab with Roberto a few feet away. My wife and I go the Lab one last time on its next to the last Saturday night, the 26th. I'll open a bottle of Dal Forno Amarone which I'll share with Roberto. It will be the wine that I drink on the last night there...

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NQD and I just returned from Laboratorio. Thanks to Joe H. mentioning earlier that there were reservations available (we had assumed there weren't), we managed to snag a table (7) before it closed.

Ummm... Wow.

I've been trying, as we experience new places and new tastes, to share some of those experiences here. I think I've done a fairly good job on occasion. Tonight, ehh, screw it. You've either been, and you know, or you haven't, and you don't, and they're closing, and you won't have a chance to anytime soon, so there's really not much point in me saying anything about it. If you're in that second group, all I can say is, it sucks to be you.

Thank you, Roberto Donna. (And thank you, Joe H.).

Maybe I'll say more in the morning, when I'm awake and sober. Or maybe I won't. For now, I'm pretty damn happy.

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