Please pardon this anachronism, but I'm writing this post a bit out of order. I want to make sure I write about this though before too much time goes by!
My Christmas present from fiance was 1) finally a surprise after 4 years of dating, and 2) an amazing surprise at that!! Since this was not a gift you could wrap, fiance wrote me a riddle/poem instead. I was clueless though, and so I flipped the page and saw that my gift was a 12 course tasting menu with wine pairing in the Laboratorio del Galileo. Galileo is oft considered one of the top 5 restaurants in Washington DC, and the Laboratorio is often considered a restaurant within the restaurant. The restaurant's website refers to it as a "state of the art cooking suite and private dining area." This "laboratory" is a place where head chef Roberto Donna can showcase his skill to a small group of 25 or so diners willing to part with a substantial amount of money. But it is worth it.
Because Laboratorio only serves a small number of diners, and is only open when Roberto Donna is in town, the wait list for this experience can be long. We were lucky enough to wait only 6 weeks or so (from when fiance reserved) and January 21st was our lucky day.
At Laboratorio, you do not receive any menus, or choice of dishes, but you do have the opportunity to tell Donna what you will and will not eat. A week before the dinner, we were provided with a list of foods and asked to indicate whether or not we would eat them. After much thought, Fiance and I decided to stick to our morals and knock foie gras and veal off the list. And after more hemming and hawing, we nixed internal organs. No need to make ourselves sick with nervousness at eating eyeballs and brains.
We were told to be at the restaurant at 7:15, as all diners were to be seated at the same time around 7:30. We arrived and scoped out the other lab students. We were by far the youngest, and we were fascinated by one particular group. Strange dynamics, but I won't get into that. Anyway, when we were escorted into the dining room, I was relieved to see that it's not set up as a cooking class, but more just an intimate dining area where we had our own table in an intimate corner. However, we were only a mere 10 feet from the kitchen, and a big mirror was set up over the preparation area so we could see what Donna was doing...or we could just talk and enjoy a romantic dinner. What followed was an unparalleled (in my limited experience) 12 course meal with wine pairing. The wines were excellent. All from Italy. 1 sparkling wine, 2 reds, 2 whites, and a dessert wine. And they were not shy about refilling your glass. We were treated to Prosecco Botter (sparkling wine), Vadum Cesaris 2003 (white), Aglianico Irpinia 1999 (red), Chardonnay Orsolina Frustanera 2003 (white), Barbaresco La Rocca 1998 (red) and a delicious Moscat d'Asti 2003 dessert wine.
The menu was as follows (everyone received a signed menu at the end of the meal, otherwise I wouldn't know all this):
1. Zucchini flower filled with lobster and scallops served with a parsley root sauce. One of our top 3 favorites, this dish had a soft, delicate texture, and was a beautiful way to start out the meal.
2. Roasted porcini mushrooms served with white polenta. The rest of the diners were served foie gras, but since fiance and I indicated that we won't eat it, this dish was made for us instead. I'm not a big mushroom eater, but I enjoyed the texture of the mushrooms, although overall the dish was a bit salty.
3. Parsley Root Soup garnished with crispy onion and duck mousse. Another one of our top 3. This dish tasted like it also had tarragon or fennel in it, and it had the perfect blend of texture, taste and innovation.
4. Ravioli del Plin filled with three meats served with butter and sage. This dish was heavy on parmesan, a cheese which I abhor. I gave it a shot, but fiance got the rest.
5. Pappardelle served with quail ragu. In all fairness to the chef, I thought this dish was very good, but not anything amazing, and I would like to attribute this to the fact that I was getting very full by this point.
6. Risotto with white truffles. Fiance and I had never had white truffles before, and we'll probably never have them again. Neither of us liked this dish. The truffle sauce had a "gasoliney" taste and aftertaste to it. This was one of the few dishes we did not finish.
7. Mushroom crusted fillet of black sea bass served with baby fennel and a yellow tomato sauce. This dish rounds out our top 3. Fiance and I are not huge fish eaters. We'll order it from time to time, but it is certainly not a mainstay of our diet. The sea bass though, was delicate, rich, and perfectly prepared.
8. Breast of squab with chicken mousse and cabbage baked in a crosta served over soft polenta with sauteed chiodini mushrooms and a black truffle sauce. The last of the "main courses" we were a bit disappointed in this dish. The squab was a bit too gamey for our tastes, and the crosta was a bit too much for my liking.
9. Cheese trolley. I pretty much passed on the cheese trolley and took it as an opportunity to digest a bit before dinner. The choices were a mild pecorino, a hearty gorgonzola, and bruss, which was a soft fermented milk cheese, soaked in grappa. Our server was very serious in his admonitions that we take very little of this, as it is exceptionally strong. Fiance was very brave and tried a smidgeon. I was amused at the face contortions that followed.
10. Bicerin. A DELICIOUS small espresso-sized cup filled with melted chocolate, espresso and rum. I don't drink coffee or rum, but I gave this a try and finished my cup.
11. Chocolate pear torte served with a barbaresco zabaglione. As a self proclaimed chocolate aficionado, this lived up to the test. I was so full, and this was so rich though, that I let fiance finish mine.
12. Bomboloni (donut holes). Honestly, these could have been from Krispy Kreme, and I wouldn't have cared. I have a weakness for donuts, so even though I could eat no more, I found it in myself to eat 5 or 6.
Dinner concluded when we were given the check, a signed menu by Roberto Donna (thank goodness, because fiance and I were having a hard time understanding our heavily accented servers), and a yellow rose from one of the flower arrangements. As yellow roses are my favorite, it was a perfect way to end the evening. We hailed a cab and I got in feeling full, but not sick, and utterly satiated. It was an unforgettable evening.