Autumn’s arrival brings a host of seasonal bounty to the table, from pumpkin to porcini, Brussels sprouts to bourbon. But if you’re in the mood for something totally luxe, turn your attention to the mighty truffle. Bay Area chefs are wasting no time in bringing out the best in this not-so-humble fungus.
Truffles are found in various regions around the world, and they’re not all created alike. That said, they can be divided into two major categories — black and white — with white being the more flavorful, and sought after, of the two.
White truffles aren’t just more potent, but they’re also “considerably more expensive,” according to Miller & Lux chef Matt Masera. We’re talking several thousand dollars a pound, as compared to somewhere between $300 and $800 for their black cousins. And the price discrepancy isn’t the only difference between them. According to Masera, while black truffles’ flavor is more muted, it tends to linger longer than that of white. And black truffles, he says, can benefit from a touch of light cooking to enhance their flavors.
“I feel that cooking them is almost necessary to help them achieve their full lovely funkiness,” echoes chef Douglas Keane of Geyserville’s Cyrus. “A lot of chefs serve cold, raw black truffles but I feel like it tastes like dirt too much and the nuance is missed.”
White truffles, on the contrary, shouldn’t be cooked, but rather shaved paper thin over a warm dish.
“The heat needs to be from the other food,” says Keane. “Cooking the white truffle itself weakens its potency.”
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Whether white or black, truffles are characterized by one thing: funk. It’s what makes them so delicious…and so divisive.
“It’s such a unique intoxicating, sensual smell,” says Keane. “My job is to shepherd and coax it so the guest gets the true magic.”
Rich fattiness is an excellent conduit for such flavors, and given the power of the truffle itself, other flavors often take a supporting role. It’s no wonder you so often see truffles paired with cream-spiked omelets or pasta dishes in butter sauce.
“Dairy products, cream specifically, is an ideal base for truffles,” says chef Karla Marro of Miller & Lux.
Too much acidity or sweetness, on the other hand, can bring out truffles’ worst side.
“I am a huge proponent of acid on everything, but interestingly enough, I tend to stay away from a lot of acid with white truffles,” says Keane. “And sweet has more of a chance of being disastrously unsuccessful then successful. I’ve had a few desserts that are OK, but most just fight the truffle.”
But when it works…it really works. For an upcoming white truffle dinner, for example, Marro has opted to include them in a white chocolate cheesecake.
“The strong flavors pair well with sweetness,” she says. “It’s divine.”
And it’s not the only surprising, enticing, tempting truffle dish we’ve seen in the Bay Area of late. Here are the nine we’re most excited by.
Chestnut Filled Tortellini with White Truffle from Cyrus
Truffle and pasta are a match made in heaven, and this one from Geyserville’s Michelin-starred Cyrus is an ode to autumn on a plate. This dish features the earthy, slightly sweet flavors of chestnut and celery root, and the pasta itself is glazed in brown chicken jus and black garlic reduction for a one-two punch of richness. A sherry froth adds even more complexity and depth.
The white truffles showered over this dish tableside in this dish hail from Celine Lebaune of New York City’s Gourmet Attitude, with whom Keane has been working for 15 years. “She never disappoints with the quality,” he says.
White Truffle Negroni, Bar Sprezzatura
If drinking your truffle seems like an overwhelming way to consume it, you obviously haven’t yet met the white truffle negroni from Bar Sprezzatura.
“We always have some kind of truffle cocktail on the menu,” says partner and mixologist Carlo Splendorni, noting that the drink will depend on what kind of truffle he can get his hands on. Powerful black truffles, he says, work best with bold, bright flavors, as in a Parmigiano Reggiano black truffle sour. White truffles, meanwhile, are best in infusions or cordials, making spirit-forward drinks like negronis a better bet. The current star is a smoky blend of Ilegal reposado mezcal, Enrico toro genziana and carpano bianco. The truffle comes in the form of a cordial made and distributed by Urbani, a company Splendorni has worked with for ages.
“It’s a great product that is very consistent with great flavor,” he says. “It’s rare when we don’t make things in-house, so it has to be very high quality.”
At his Mourad, Lahlou has crafted a decadent shakshuka featuring a poached hen yolk with smoked potato and seasonal truffles.
“The truffles complement the creaminess of the slow-poached hen egg yolk with the potato foam, while also adding additional dimensions of complexity,” he says. “The fat in the Eggshuka helps absorb some of the flavor and aroma of the truffles.”
This dish is a mainstay of the menu, which means it evolves with the seasons. Right now, it includes at-their-peak Burgundy truffles, which release even more of their cocoa aromas with a kiss of heat.
Couscous with Brown Butter and Alba Truffle, Mourad
Mourad is also spotlighting Alba truffles on his menu, this time in a delicate couscous that’s usually served in a simple brown butter sauce. The addition of Alba truffles, he says, lends a “distinct, musky flavor” to the dish that enhances the other components without overpowering them.
Black Truffle Gnocchi with Potato Crumble, Ditas
Much like pasta, gnocchi is yet another common conveyance for truffles, but at Ditas in Marin, executive chef John Carney adds a bit more texture than most. Here, the soft, pillowy gnocchi aren’t just enveloped in black truffle butter, but they’re topped in a crispy, golden potato crumble, made by creating a raw potato mush and frying it in a conical strainer.
Black Truffle Pasta Station, Miller & Lux
At chef Tyler Florence’s Miller & Lux, truffles are a frequent star, whether it’s the black truffles atop a 72-hour beef short rib or the white truffle cheesecake the team plans to serve in a special white truffle dinner with Urbani truffles. But perhaps the most decadent offering is at the pasta station, which sees housemade cavatelli pasta tossed with Parmigiano-Reggiano cream and finished in a Parmigiano-Reggiano wheel. The pasta is then generously topped with black truffles — it’s no wonder it’s only available for private dining.
Local Mushroom and Burrata Pizza with Porcini-Truffle Crema, Pork Lomo and Crispy Shallot, Roof 106 (The Matheson)
There’s something kind of sinful about pairing something as highbrow as truffle with something as lowbrow as pizza, but at Roof 106 at The Matheson, chef Dustin Valette has done it to perfection. His local mushroom pizza is topped with a secret porcini-truffle crema made with preserved peak-season porcini, house-made crème fraiche, garlic confit and “a bottle of cognac,” according to Valette.
“The richness of the truffles combined with umami of the porcini then the sweet salty crunch of the Lomo is a flavor explosion,” he says.
Michael Mina’s Signature Banana Tarte Tatin, The Bungalow Kitchen
Truffled desserts are a tightrope walk of balance, according to chef Harrison Chernick of The Bungalow Kitchen.
“The truffle has to be the star,” he says, noting that one needs to pay particular attention to the level of sugar in the final dessert.
“Everyone loves the combination of peanut butter and banana; truffle and banana work in the same fashion,” he says. “The truffle gives a nice nuttiness to the dish and we add vanilla ice cream for creaminess, giving it more balance and roundness.”
Truffle Popcorn with Beef Chicharron, Calabrian Chili Butter, Truffle Salt and Maple, Sekoya Lounge & Kitchen
For a truffle-infused snack that won’t break the bank, this popcorn is absolutely brimming over with flavor that comes not from fresh truffles, but rather from truffle-infused salt. It’s a choice chef de cuisine Jason Johnson made to keep it approachable; to use fresh truffles in this popcorn, Johnson muses, “I would have to charge around $20-$30 for a portion.”
It joins the heat of chile and the sweetness of maple for a balanced snack that keeps you coming back for more.
“The Calabrian chili has a spicy but fruity flavor that is hot but not overpowering and pairs well with the sweetness of maple,” Johnson explains. “This allows for each bite to be a little different and the flavors continue to build as you eat the dish.”
And given his love of fresh truffle, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that an even more luxe iteration of this dish could join the menu down the line.
“I wouldn’t mind adding as an upgrade to the popcorn fresh truffles during peak truffle season,” he says.
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