Ridiculously Sublime. Or Sublimely Ridiculous.
It’s truffle time again, and we made our annual pilgrimage to Oliveto in Oakland for dinner with David and Mari Lee and a celebration of overpriced Italian fungus. For one week every November, every dish on the menu is designed around the delicate aroma of white truffles, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
The owners of the restaurant go to Italy themselves to procure the raw materials–little nubbins of a fungus that grows on the roots of oak trees. You can’t plant them, you can’t manage them, you can’t domesticate them. You wander around the forest with trained dogs (the French use trained pigs, but what do the French know?) and dig where the dogs point. The rarity combined with the difficulty of finding them is why the price is so high. This year Oliveto’s owners came home with 5,700 grams of white truffles–which, if they sell out, will gross $57,000 for the restaurant. In case you’re wondering, 5,700 grams is about 12.5 pounds, or a medium Thanksgiving turkey.
The first part of the meal involves buying your truffle. They come around with a plate with a few choices of varying sizes. You pick them up, sniff them, feel them to see if there are soft spots, clutch your heart and choose something that seems appropriate. We chose this one:
Having purchased your little piece of culinary gold, you get to shave it all over your food. The house has an employee who just wanders around with an official truffle shaver helping people out, but the serious foodie in-crowd own their own, so they don’t have to wait. That would be our friend, David.
A condiment this expensive deserves something great to put it on. Truffles work best with soft, rich flavors so that’s what Oliveto is serving. Here’s what we had, or at least the dishesI got good photos of. Gail started out with the poached egg on chicken hash, which is apparently perfect. So perfect that I never got close enough to take a picture. I started with the polenta:
This is my favorite dish: thin egg noodles in butter sauce. I’d love it without the truffles, with them it’s heaven on a plate.
I rarely order chicken when we are out, but this dish seemed so perfect for the evening I couldn’t resist. I was right:
Because the Lees are regulars, the chef, Jonah, came out to say hello. It’s nice to know the important people. He recommends the Raviolo gigande of house-made ricotta and farm egg as being even superior to the Tajarin, if you get a chance to try it out.
There aren’t really any truffle desserts, but after all that rich food who could eat dessert anyway? After about two hours, a couple of bottles of wine, three plates of the tajarin and assorted other fine viands, we staggered out into the night air. Next year is only 364 days away, I’m already looking forward to it.