Sunday, March 3, 2013

Truffegeddon, Or How We Set A New Truffle Eating Record At La Toque

Chef Ken Frank of La Toque is a man who loves his truffles.  For 31 years, he has been serving a seasonal Truffle Menu at the peak of the Périgord black season in January and February.  He has lent his culinary talents to the Napa Truffle Festival every year since its inception, serving countless meals laden and larded with these incomparable black diamonds of the food world.

And so, when Ken told me and my truffle-loving dining partner that we had just set a new record for highest per capita truffle consumption in a single meal at La Toque, we could not believe it.  Until we went back through the photographic evidence of our gluttonous rampage.
A proud moment, indeed.
Ken began the truffle gavage with a gift (NO commercial transaction took place) of one of his favorite ingredients, seared to perfection and served with a bacon-wrapped date and aromatic confit orange slice.  Oh yeah, and truffles.  Pairing such a rich item with bacon sounded like it might be gilding the lily, but it really worked -- a seamless interplay of lusciousness, punctuated with smoke and meat and natural fruit sweetness.  Not pictured, to protect the innocent.

Next, we dove into a course of soft-yolked eggs nestled in a raviolo with some truffle slices, which was then bathed in a "sauce" of housemade truffle butter (some of which turned up again later in the meal, spread on the toast accompanying our truffle cheese). These free-range eggs came from Ken's own hens and had been stored next to black truffles for some time, so that the eggs themselves took on the truffle aroma.

Looks like pepper, doesn't it? Nope. That's all truffe.

Departing from the scheduled Truffle Menu, we then enjoyed a special piece of salmon with parsnip puree and braised leeks.  The raw salmon filet had been inlaid with black truffle slices, then slow roasted to succulence and showered with a not insignificant amount of julienned fresh truffle shavings.  Key word: earthy.

View from my post at the Chef's Table.

Ken's dayboat sea scallop with lobster sauce americaine was also truffled up to the max, with a layer of shavings actually inside the scallop, as well as lavishly strewn over the top.  I really liked the surprising combination of rich tomato lobster sauce with black truffle -- umami-rich, but with enough acid to keep it bright.  The scallop, for its part, was absolutely perfect.

Look at that gorgeous sear! The interior remained perfectly cooked, tender and sweet and juicy.

And then, the dish of the night.

Parmesan chawan mushi with oxtail, yellowfoot mushrooms, and truffle soup below.
And that subtle garnish on top.
Never in my life have I seen bigger black truffle shavings. More importantly, however, this dish was outrageously delicious.  Digging below those truffle paving stones, and past the gorgeous golden parmesan custard, you found chunks of tender braised oxtail and earthy mushrooms suspended in a consommé-like broth, scented with more black truffle.  I would never have guessed a chawan mushi dish would be my favorite truffle vehicle, but it was.

Because of the delectable wine pairings that were going on, I don't remember the exact order of the dishes that followed, but here they are:

Ravioli stuffed with seared chicken foie,
 and tossed in a pistou-like sauce with white beans.
This is the point in the meal where we started
eating the truffle shavings like
potato chips.
Boned-out chicken wing stuffed with truffled French-style
farce -- but you aren't really looking at the chicken, are you?

Here's the toast I mentioned earlier. Below that spectacular paving job is the rest of the
housemade truffle butter used in the egg raviolo dish.
La Toque makes its own truffle cheese in season, using young Mt. Tam from Cowgirl Creamery. Ken says the younger ones are best because the flavor is still mild, and won't overwhelm the subtlety of the truffles the way a more pungent, aged version would.  Personally, I think the truffle-shingled toast he served with this cheese course could have stood its ground against most things, but this preparation really let the truffle shine like the star that it is.

And, the money shot.

After such an indulgent and eye-popping feast, Ken sent us off with an elegant and understated truffled mascarpone cannoli with roasted hazelnuts and chocolate accents -- just the right amount of sweetness and cream.  Well-played, sir.

A new record.  A glorious meal.  A gauntlet, thrown.  And all in the name of charity (the Napa Humane Society, to be exact).


  1. Amazing meal- you make my mouth water!

  2. and yet you still maintain your girlish figure!! great post! my mouth is watering!