“It’s really, really simple,” says Mark Ladner about his hundred-layer lasagne. Yes, that’s 100 layers: 50 practically transparent sheets of handmade pasta, alternating with 50 layers of sauce (Bolognese, besciamella, and marinara). Each 80-portion pan has to go into the oven by 1:30 P.M. every day. Otherwise, it doesn’t have enough time to cool and coalesce by dinner and completely collapses when you try to slice it. It takes three kitchen stations and many hands to put it together. Skewers hold it in place while it sets. You need a special spatuala to serve it. Maybe “simple” isn’t the word.
Ladner debuted this lofty lasagne a few months ago on his $500 Collezione menu, a lavish, one-party-per-service immersion into the full Del Posto experience (wine included), in which the 6-foot-4 chef serves each of the nine savory courses himself. For the lasagne course, he carries a sizeable hunk into the dining room on a silver tray, places it on a gueridon, and proceeds to carve the thing tableside. That’s right, he carves the lasagne tableside, a technique perhaps never before performed on Garfield’s favorite foodstuff. Since then, the lasagne has become a bit of a word-of-mouth sensation, and it’s no wonder. If you stand well over six feet tall, and you dress yourself in chef’s whites and a paper hat, and then you parade a titanic noodle casserole on a silver tray through Del Posto’s marbled dining room and proceed to carve it as if it were a Thanksgiving turkey, the non-Collezione guests are bound to notice. They start asking questions, and soon enough, word gets out. Tom Colicchio tweets about it. Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone over at Torrisi Italian Specialties speak of it in low, reverent voices. And then, Ladner, a man of the people, has no choice but to offer it to the lasagne-starved masses on the restaurant’s $95 regular-folk tasting menu, as well as à la carte for anyone who knows to ask for it. (It’s even on the Mother’s Day menu.)
At lunch, the hundred-layer lasagne takes an altogether different, but equally impressive form: The prior day’s casserole is sliced, each towering portion set on its side, seared in olive oil on the griddle until charred, then served with a splash of tomato sauce. Ladner himself has been known to stick a skewer in it and eat it cold like a popsicle.
And yet, the question remains: Why lasagne, why now, why at Del Posto? “Well, we’ve struggled to find an identity for this restaurant that made sense,” says Ladner. Inspired by the tortilla española at Casa Mono, he set out to channel lasagne’s crowd-pleasing, ultratraditional essence into Del Posto’s elevated approach to modern Italian cuisine. You might say it’s not unlike what Daniel Boulud did with the “db” burger or Thomas Keller with Bouchon’s inimitable quiche. Classic comfort food, refined and redefined. But why 100 layers? “Well, I started with twenty, and just kept going,” says Ladner. “One hundred seemed like a nice even number.”