The Napa Truffle Festival is still a month away, but the heady, earthy scent of fresh truffles was already plunging Napa diners into ecstasy last week at La Toque. Renowned truffle chef and Truffle Festival host chef Ken Frank invited his friend, even more renowned truffle chef Carlo Zarri, to his Napa restaurant to prepare a special meal featuring both black and white truffles in abundance.
Chef Carlo hails from Cortemilia, in the Italian region of Piemonte, a place Ken called “the center of the world” —at least when it comes to truffles and hazelnuts. The chef’s small family-run hotel and highly respected restaurant, Villa San Carlo draws visitors from around the world to this small town to taste his cooking, especially the dishes featuring those two ingredients.
Chef Carlo was named Cavalieri (Knight) of Truffles and Wines at the prestigious International Alba White Truffle Fair in 2014 — and his expertise showed in the five-course meal at La Toque. From the chicken mousse with chestnuts to an extraordinary pea soup featuring gnocchi “stones” and hazelnut “pebbles” to the succulent risotto and the perfectly cooked fillet of pork, each dish was showered with shavings of either black or white truffles, filling the room with their tantalizing aroma.
Alas, Carlo has returned home, but he left some truffles behind. So those who want to get a head start on the Festival should head to La Toque this month, where you will likely find truffles gracing some of Chef Ken’s dishes.