Truffles galore

Oakland’s Rockridge district is home to a very well regarded restaurant, Olivetto.  Well regarded by many, I suppose, but Gail and I both think it’s generally over-rated, for 51 weeks of the year.

The 52nd week, however, the third week in November, we think Olivetto is great.  That’s this week, and it’s truffle season. Olivetto is truffle central right this minute, with an entire menu devoted to the little Italian fungus.  We ate there both Friday and Saturday nights, and we’ll be going back for more, in just another year.

Truffles come in two varieties: white and black.  The black ones are pretty darned good, available much of the year and almost reasonable priced.  The white ones are phenomenal, as expensive as sin and rarely available–except at the middle of November.

When you dine at Olivetto during truffle week, they come around to your table with a tray of the exalted white variety, and you pick the one you want.  They weigh it, and leave it on your table to be shaved paper thin and added to the dishes you order.  This year you will be charged $6/gram, which is $2, 670 a pound. That’s down from $9/gram last year, because there seems to be a bumper crop.  Nobody has succeeded in domesticating truffles; they grow wild on the roots of oak trees and have to be found by trained pigs (in France) or dogs (in Italy).  Scarcity plus difficulty in finding them accounts for the insane cost.

The flavor is rich and earthy, with an aroma that sends truffle lovers to heaven (you pick your truffle by smelling it, not by its looks.)

The menu is completely designed around the knobby little fungus–most of the dishes are fairly mild, the better to enjoy the celebrity flavor.  Some of them already have black truffles included; you don’t need to add more to these dishes.

Gail can’t pass up the soft poached egg with celery and cardoons ( a thistle related to artichokes) in a rich sauce.  I tried the sformatino, a spinach soufflé covered in melted cheese.

The second course is always a pasta–warm, soft, savory flavors that perfectly reflect the luxuriousness of the truffle you shave on top.

For my main course I chose the pork belly stuffed with sweet sausage–it was simply out of this world.  Our companions on Friday chose the trout stuffed with smoked scallops in lobster bisque, and couldn’t stop raving about it.  David Lee enjoyed the Fried Rabbit, but Joyce was horrified that he was eating Thumper.

Yes, there are desserts that cater to the truffle passion, but we were far too full to be tempted on Friday.  Saturday, Joyce Hart ordered the malted barley ice cream.  Hard though it is to believe, I was unimpressed.  Sometimes, you can be too inventive.  I like my ice cream cold and sweet with recognizable flavors.  I don’t want to guess what it is that I’m eating when it comes to dessert.

So my truffle fetish is sated for another year.  I’ll start saving up for next November.

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