We arrived right at 8, our seating time (the other seating is at 6 PM), and the rest of our party, 2 other couples, had already arrived and were sitting in the upstairs lounge. The first part of the evening takes place upstairs in a casual environment overlooking the main dining room. We were offered gin punches upon arrival, which were delicious, but we quickly switched to the wine pairing option, which started off with a festive glass of champagne. After 15 minutes or so, they started passing out the "snacks" (basically appetizers), which are described at length in one of the photos below. I found all of the snacks to be creative and deliciously on point.
Let me pause to tell you a bit about the history and owner of the restaurant. We spoke to the chef-owner David Barzelay at the end of the meal, and he told us that he used to be a patent attorney, but it turned out that he preferred and was better at cooking that he was at lawyering (a sentiment with which I personally can relate very well). After hosting countless underground dinner parties at his own house, he decided to open a restaurant and continue the dinner party theme there. He has no formal training, but you wouldn't know it from his food. He's also a gregarious redhead - let's just say he and I have more than a few things in common. Ok, fine: yes, I have a chef-crush on him. Sorry Dave.
I had not even considered capturing photos of this night until the subject of my blog came up during snacks, and I remembered that Lazy Bear was in fact a newly added item on my bucket list. So, apologies for not taking any photos of the snacks or upstairs portion of the evening, and for most of the photos I did take being a little lacking - by the time I got downstairs I had already had a glass of champagne and a gin punch. But if I said I wish I'd drank less and taken better photos, I'd be lying.
The dining room consists of 2 long tables that each seat 20 people. This is where the idea of communal dining starts to take form - you're not just sitting with your own party, but also the rest of the diners for the evening. Chef David then welcomed us and introduced himself and gave us a brief explanation of the format of the meal we were about to eat. Before each course, one of the chefs would interrupt the group and explain the meal. It is basically exactly what you imagine would happen at an intimate dinner party, and that's exactly how it felt.
As you can see from the photo above, the menu comes in the format of a "Field Guide," which includes pages that describe each course, with several lines to write your own notes about each dish. A pencil is also included with each menu. If you're a blogger or a foodie or just someone who'd like to remember what you ate after too many glasses of wine, this is such a useful tool. I'm hoping more restaurants will take heed and start to include these at multi-course meals.
In most fancy restaurants, bread is just something you eat when you wait for the real courses to arrive. At Lazy Bear, the bread WAS the first real course, and it deserved to stand on its own. Grilled seaweed foccacia bread - what does that even mean?? It means delicious, perfectly salty (and not at all briny) toasty bread that I could eat every day for the rest of my life. The note I took on this page says "best bread I've ever had??" You can tell I was pleased.
The next course was a sweet pea custard, and it was incredible. It's like spring was bottled and presented in beautiful fashion on our plates and palates. This and the other vegetable dish of the night were my 2 favorite courses. I told Chef David later that he may have inadvertently turned me into a vegetarian with those dishes.
The next course, a broth, turned out to be my least favorite course of the night - I felt it was fine but forgettable. However, one of my dining companions said it was his favorite of the night, which just goes to show that this place caters to a broad range of tastes.
The next course was halibut with brown butter Hollandaise sauce with market vegetables. This dish was also a winner, but it preceded my favorite dish of the night, the "Bintje potato fondue" with crispy kale, broccoli, and morels. The chef asked us what we thought, because it was only the second night they've served this, and I told him it was 100% a keeper. I really hope they keep it on the menu so more people can try it, it was seriously so amazing. Honestly, I would become a vegetarian if all vegetables tasted this good.
One of my favorite parts of this restaurant is the fact that they take the idea of "communal dining" to a whole new level, and all the plating is actually done in a corner of the dining room. Diners are encouraged to come up to the plating stations and take photos and ask the chefs questions. This was basically my dream come true, and I went up with a coupe of my fellow diners while they were plating the (gorgeous and delicious) lamb course. Chef David chatted with us while he and the other chefs put the plates together, which is an experience you can't get anywhere else. For someone who is well on his way to becoming a celebrity chef, David was incredibly friendly and accessible.
No fine dining experience would be complete without several unique desserts, and the pastry chef here did not disappoint. Strawberries over brown rice pudding, cinnamon merengue with blueberries and chocolate, and a "treats" platter consisting of an English pea macaron, s'mores semifreddo, and other bite-sized delights closed out this decadent evening.
I somehow haven't even discussed the wine pairings, which were phenomenal. In some cases, the wine either outshone the course itself, or helped the course reach its full potential. I particularly swooned over the Brachetto Rosé that paired with the strawberry dessert course. They have clearly put together an incredibly talented team of chefs, pastry chefs, and sommeliers to make this a complete and winning culinary experience.
The verdict: ummm, I guess you could say I liked it. Just a little. Dave and I have been lucky enough to dine at some of the best restaurants in the country, and this was a standout to me. The food and wine on their own were wonderful, but it was the communal element that made the meal feel new and special. My only complaint was that I felt as though the "snacks" portion dragged on a bit, while the actual seated portion felt just a bit rushed. I realized later that this was because they had a 6 PM seating that was still eating when we arrived at 8, and we had to wait for them to finish before heading downstairs. With that in mind, I can't say I have any real complaints about this place. To get a ticket, put yourself on their mailing list and wait for the monthly emails announcing their dates and times. It's not cheap, but its worth the splurge. Just do it! You won't regret it.
Bravo, Lazy Bear and Chef David Barzelay!