The white truffle, aka tuber magnatum, is one of the world’s most highly prized foods, selling in the vicinity of $2000 per pound on the current market.
The vast majority come from Italy’s Piedmont, hilly terrain near France, though they are also found in Tuscany and Croatia. At their best-the quality varies from year to year-they impart one of the food world’s most distinctive and pungent odors. Shaved over pasta, risotto or scrambled eggs, they are an amazing treat, for those who like them. Count me among the fans, as long as someone else is paying.
The truffle season begins in late October, when hunters and their dogs begin digging up these pale white jewels. Chef Luciano Pellegrini gives a white truffle dinner every year, showcasing what Piero Selvaggio, his boss, has purchased. This year, the truffles were amazing.
So was dinner. A lucky 60-odd gathered in a private dining area, a crowd composed of well heeled visitors, local foodies, the ubiquitious Robin Leach, and my colleague, Al Mancini. John (nobody knows the truffles I’ve seen) Curtas, aka “king of the clichés”, was a notable no-show. I ate his share.
Things got off to a bang-up start with homemade duck prosciutto with boschetto, a mild, semi-soft cheese laced with truffle bits, and shaved white truffles on top, served in a delicate porcelain spoon. I had never had this combination before, and the flavors were explosive.
Next, I had my favorite course of the night, an egg and ricotta raviolo placed on top of a creamy Parmesan fondue, with yet another flurry of the luxurious shaved tuber. It made me think of the time Puff Daddy, a noted foodie, told Daniel Boulud, “shave that bitch”, as he approached his table with a large white truffle. The dish was further enhanced by a delicious 2008 “Cru Sovrana” Barbera d’Alba, a spicy red.
A 2007 Barolo and a 2004 “Cerequio”, a single vineyard Barolo, were brought to accompany the main dish, a fork tender Wagyu beef steak with a Barolo reduction, white asparagus, and again, white truffle. If you’re a purist, you’ll think serving white truffles with beef is wasteful or even sacrilege. But it worked for me, another magical combination.
The cheese course was a five-cheese terrine, followed by a trio of desserts, a panettone tiramisu, a champagne sorbet and a raspberry chocolate cake, punctuated by a sparkling Piedmont red dessert wine called Bracchetto d’Acqui. The truffles were mercifully absent.
Mr. Leach then stood up and proclaimed it all “an extraordinary effort”, as the crowd slowly rolled out. Chef Luciano came in with his second, Alessandro Stoppa, to receive the approbation of his grateful guests. I would hate to know how much this dinner cost the restaurant, since at my table most of the guests were invited, as I was.
All in all, it was a most memorable and festive occasion. There will be white truffles on the menu here through the New Year, but be warned. It isn’t a modest proposition.
Piero Selvaggio Valentino. Inside the Venetian. 414-3000.
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