Sometimes you have those memory meals in life. The ones that as you eat, the sensation shifts from one of hunger to something else. Not fullness, but a flush of pleasure, as if entering what poet Jean Baudrillard might call a “Synesthesia”, or a unified experience of all the senses. In poetry, it’s when color, taste, emotions all synthesize into a complete experience. In food, it’s to be able to taste color, smell shapes, and accept the nature of dueling textures. A memory meal creates a sensation that transcends detail-like an excellent poem, it’s more than the content of the words. It’s musicality, texture, theme, and unity. Years after a memory meal takes place, you might not be able to pinpoint the specifics, only recall the sense of sinking into deep pleasure.
This was the experience of the truffle dinner at La Toque for the 2015 Napa Truffle Festival. Four amazing Michelin starred chefs brought their unique styles and expertise of the truffle to the tasting menu. I could have been happy with just the small appetizers that were passed beforehand. These included peasant black truffle salad, country bread and parmesan as well as truffled parmesan cheese drop with marble potato with truffled lardo. But extraordinary, umami sensation was the crostini with anchovy, pecorino and black truffle. These were served along with Roederer Brut Premier, a bright accompaniment. But there was so much more to come.
The first course was by Riccardo Agostini of Il Piastrino in Pennabilli. It was soft egg with root vegetables, potatoes and fresh black winter truffles. While it sounds simple, there was a brilliance in its simplicity. The soft, sexy break of the egg yolk, the crisp, root vegetables, salty potatoes, and shaving of truffles created an amazing cacophony of textures and contrasting flavors. The familiarity of the ingredients let the truffle shine and elevate all the other ingredients with it. It was paired with 2010 Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc a crisp, mineral white with hints of fruit. Like the food, it was at once simple, yet had a lingering complexity.
Next came a seafood dish by Tony Esnault of Church and State in Los Angeles. He prepared Poached Maine lobster, salsify, spinach, black truffle and jus da la presse. The sweet, rich lobster was a natural foil for the savory shavings of truffle. The velvety sauce was another vehicle that underscored the rich flavors of the dish. The pairing was 2006 Miner, Wild Yeast Chardonnay from Napa Valley. It was a bright, acidic white that balanced the rich food.
Roberto Donna of Al Dente in Washington DC presented Striscia al Teleggio with duck, parmigiano cheese and fresh black truffles. The duck was almost a gravel, scattered alongside the cheese filled pasta. The shaved truffles were deep, almost half the dish. his was an example of “Go Big or Go Home” with truffles. The layered flavors still let the truffle shine. This was paired with 2010 Fiddlehead Cellar Pinot Noir, Fiddlestix 7.28 Sta. Rita Hills. A little smoky and a little spicy, it enhanced the savoriness of the dish.
Ken Frank, owner and chef of the hosting restaurant, La Toque prepared truffle stuffed capon in sauce albufera. The poultry was a tender disc, and the sauce subtle and silky so to enhance truffles’ delicate, fragrant, flavor. It was a fitting denouement to the savory part of the tasting menu. This was paired with 2005 Gattinara, Vallana, Piemonte, and earthy, herbaceous wine.
For dessert, Riccardo Agostini prepared dark chocolate with almond ice cream, cacao crumble, and sweet black truffle sauce. Once again, it has a musicality of flavor and texture. It was at once crunchy, velvety, cold and also bitter, sweet, and savory. I was not the slightest bit hungry, but could not put my spoon down.