Oliveto Truffle Dinner 2007
Great meal. I've been to other special dinners at Oliveto, but this was my first Truffle Dinner.
Agnolotti dal plin - tiny and flavorful, these were fantastic even without truffles.
Pear charlotte (made with pain d'epice), draped with truffle - this was incredible. The bready outside was crisped and caramelized, and the generous slices of black truffle harmonized beautifully with the warm spices and brandy (I think... couldn't concentrate long enough to identify the alcohol).
Poached salted egg with cardoons, celery, and fonduta valdostana - this should have been a slam dunk, and wasn't, for some reason. I think the problem is that I visualized something a little different - I'd visualized a shirred egg, with the fonduta as the shirring medium, I was bizarrely disappointed that the egg was so spread out, rather than deep and compact. Yes, I recognize that this is bizarre. It was still delicious - the egg yolk mixed with cheese and white truffle shavings were as fantastic as I had imagined - I would have loved a stack of toast points, made from a bread with a finer crumb than the standard bread served with dinner (it did the job, but big smooth yeast bubbles = less surface area to scoop up sauce = smaller sauce to bread ratio). I understand the celery was probably there for its astringency, to cut the richness of the dish, but to me, it seemed to clash. I'd love to see some black salsify in its place.
Celery root gnocchi with sea urchin - I chose not to add truffle to this dish, as I was having trouble imagining how the flavors would meld. Halfway through the dish, I realized that white truffles would actually have worked beautifully with the muskiness of the sea urchin. The gnocchi were soft and a bit gummy, without much celery root flavor, but did a good job in absorbing the delicious sauce.
Spezzatino of vitellone in bianco with braised artichokes - the veal was good - but the artichokes were phenomenal. I would have eaten a bowl of just the artichokes. Tiny, super nutty and concentrated in flavor, with the creamy veal sauce clinging to them - I scraped the bottom of the bowl looking for errant leaves.
I also had tastes of:
Tortino of spiny lobster and white shrimp - this was good
Warm salad of white fall vegetables with castelmagno cheese - the taste I had was good, but my friend found it a little too salty
Tagliatelle with herbs and fonduta valdostana - almost too unctuous, and maybe not enough different elements to keep an entire dish of it from becoming monotonous
Wild nettle penne with bay scallops - amazingly sweet scallops - the scale of this dish was a little odd, as the penne were pretty big, and the scallops were small, but both components were delicious.
One thing I have to say - I think I can say now, definitively, that I prefer black truffles to white. This was my first time having white truffles and while the aroma was intoxicating - it hits you as you walk up the stairs to the dining room - the unfortunate truth is that those pesky olfactory receptors saturate quickly. Because the entire room is perfumed with white truffle, I found it difficult to distinguish the experience of white truffle on my plate from the white truffle everywhere in the room. (Next time, I'm going to try leaving the room for 30 seconds before I start eating to see if it makes a difference. So I'll look insane. Whatever.) However, the slices of black truffle with dessert were robust and flavorful even after an hour and a half of full-on white truffle saturation.
Anyway, looking forward to hearing about other people's experiences. I'm going back on Friday, and I'm eyeing the duck liver panna cotta and the grilled veal. And I'm getting a pear charlotte and I'm not sharing.
Awesome report. Sounds like reports of a dead truffle season are greatly exaggerated.
It seems odd that there aren't many polenta dishes this year. Last year, I thought that the truffles went very well with polenta.
Oliveto's Truffle Dinners are truly one of the most exceptional and unique dining experiences I've had anywhere. Not all the dishes work but you can't go too wrong with a pile of white truffles. White truffles and ice cream? Sure...
Not so great meal.
Last night (11/13) was also my first truffle night there. I can't say it was memorable. After sticking to the classics truffle companion dishes, I still barely can taste these morsels of italian whites.
I too had the Poached salted egg with cardoons, celery, and fonduta valdostana. Fifteen bucks for a poached egg and celery - this should have come out much better for the price, considering there are other apps with more pricey ingredients (shellfish, cured meats, etc) in the same price range. And warm egg yolks with truffle - how can it go wrong? But it did. Why? The yolks were too runny, not "baveuse" - this might be matter of preference. Then the generous cheese fondue. I wouldn't mind, but on a truffle night when diners are forking $12 per gram (thanks to the Euros) - I want the truffle to be the star, not cheese or anchovies or other pungent companiments.
Tagliatelle w/ herbs and (again) fonduta valdostana. I checked w/ my waiter for other pasta options, since this one has yet again the same cheese fondue w/ my first course. Unfortunately, the only few other options that stands out were Pici, w/ lemon and sausage or Agnolotti dal pin, which the kind lady sitting next to me let me nib on hers and we both conclude that they were too salty. Good texture, size and fillings, but the saltiness is way over the chart. She was a tad dissapointed, having been coming there for many years now. My tagliatelle was once again, drenched in cheese fondue - which has the flavor character of a fontina cheese (salty, strong), with few thyme sprigs. I like its simplicity, but again why the cheese must kill it all? My generous shavings of white albas doesn't comes out dominant.
Spit roasted pigeon - I have high hopes for this. I have eaten roast chicken with truffle slices snuck beneath the skins and it was sublime. This one, while succulently juicy, the healthy slices of black truffles on top (extras - it wasn't offerred on the menu. This was a recommendation from chef Canales after I asked if he could slide few truffle slices under the skin) doesn't "hit" you with truffle essence. This perhaps why daveena prefer black than whites -it's more "polite" truffle flavor. I'm not sure if mine were soaked in some kind of liquor before he cooked it, but the black truffles tasted bitterish on my plate. As if they were soaked in brandy or some sort.
After 3 failed attempts of getting intoxicated with the star ingredients tonight, I decided to cut my loss and skip dessert. I miss the pear charlotte last night, but I wonder if it would have been any different otherwise?
I had the same experience. First, the black truffles used seemed like mediocre jarred truffles. They had less flavor than black truffle I have purchased in jars before.
Second, the white truffles were really hit or miss. The one shaved over my dish was a) sliced way too thick and I had to speak up loudly to get the truffle lady to adjust her slicer, and b) dead. I didn't catch that delicious whiff of white truffle when she started cutting it. A different truffle cut over an adjacent table was highly perfumed, and then yet another truffle cut for the other adjacent table didn't release any detectable scent. My BF's truffle slices on a different course were fantastic.
As mentioned in your post, the egg at $15 is way overpriced, and compared to my gigantic duck liver "panna cotta," which would serve 4 nicely at $18, didn't make any sense. The cardoons were not really poached, so they had a very strong bitter flavor. From my perspective, the linens and chairs in that dining room are far too uncomfortable and cheap to justify a $15 poached farm egg. I've really enjoyed meals at Olivetto in the past, but this just didn't do it for me.
My main, the cotechino sausage, was good but nothing special. That overly salty cheese fondu you mentioned made an appearance here, and by the time I realized how salty it was, I'd already mopped most of it up with bread, leaving the sausage. Then I proceeded to guzzle 4 glasses of water in short succession.
Unfortunately I have to say the truffle shaved over my pasta was remarkably similar to the oregon white truffles we gorged on last weekend, which cost under $10 per medium sized truffle rather than $12 per gram in both flavor, texture, and scent. The one my BF got was probably worth the up sell, so if you do go, use your nose the moment they start shaving and say "when" early if you aren't getting any scent.
"First, the black truffles used seemed like mediocre jarred truffles. They had less flavor than black truffle I have purchased in jars before."
Did they look like true T. melanosporum? That is, inside, did they have a clear wavy "brain" coloration (it's obvious in slices, though the amount of color contrast varies.) The pattern is from lighter-colored canals surrounding spore pockets (asci).
I ask because there's been so much truffle publicity in recent years, and supplies so short, that restaurants and even truffle packagers have been offering far more of the minor species (different from those above) that are often (not always) relatively flavorless. For example the confusingly-named "Summer truffle," a different tuber (T. aestivum) which tends to be solid and grayish inside, without the "brain" pattern. (It is not a summer version of the classic, fall-winter, black truffle but this point isn't always explained.)
These lesser species occur in far greater numbers and therefore are MUCH cheaper. They can have their own merits, but are not at all the classic "black" and "white" truffles, the traditional names for T. melanosporum and T. magnatum pico. (I've seen European firms selling "black truffle" paste based instead on "summer" truffles, which may be label fraud.) Then there's Patterson's New York Times article 16May07 showing how most "truffle oil" originates in the laboratory ...
I don't think the menu specified what kind of truffle was in the dishes that were prepared with truffles; the slices on my cotechino had no discernible "brain" coloration or structure, and the prepared truffle dishes weren't particularly expensive compared to other dishes so I don't think they were using fresh black or even high quality (Perigord, etc.) black truffles. For the use, they were fine, but the whole point of going to Olivetto for a truffle dinner for me is that they probably have better sourcing than I as a consumer can ever hope to have.
I didn't consider the possibility that there could be such variation in quality between truffles... I assumed the reason I couldn't really smell the ones going on my plate was because I'd been smelling truffle all evening (which I still think was a part of it - at the end of dinner, I went to the ladies room, and when I came back, the perfume of the truffles nearly brought me to my knees, although I'd stopped smelling the ambient truffle aroma somewhere during dinner). I'll be sure to be more discerning with the truffles at the next dinner - SteveG, you said your BF had a different truffle that was "worth the upsell" - were you offered different truffles at different prices?
Good to know that the black truffles were jarred. I tasted the liquor in the slices on my dessert, but assumed that was unique to the dessert (I will say my slices of black truffle were very flavorful, though). If all of the black truffles used in this dinner are jarred, I probably won't get the grilled veal I was thinking about, since it features a black truffle salsa.
I had asked the same question when PC recommended the black truffles shavings for my pigeon as oppose to putting fresh slices underneath the skin while spit-roasting. The black truffles are fresh - he confirmed, promising that it will be worth the try (and $25 extra that he didn't mention - but I had expected). They are "cooked in butter" he explained (poached?) - which sounds odd to me as to why would someone do that to beautiful fresh truffles. After the first bite of the truffle, I get it. The quality of these black truffles are mediocre and the texture is gritty. There are hardly any truffle flavor at all - thanks to the liquor it must have been macerated in (another culinary sin?).
So eatzalot, to answer your question - I believe Paul is not talking horse, but these gems have been cooked for long hrs that any coloration / brain-pattern as you put it, are no longer visible.
Oliveto have been doing truffle dinners for many years now, and it has its own devotees. Looking at their menu since 2005 truffle night, they have been composing similar menus every truffle night - plenty dishes are making come back every year, including all 3 courses I had. One might think they must have been doing something right. It's a tough call. Whatever it is, it is not the truffle itself. As for me, I'd rather spend my dining dollars elsewhere. The season is short enough to be wasted on a repeat, let alone a dissapointing one.
It does seem that the simple dishes that should have been perfect with the truffle were the most disappointing - partly from the execution of the dishes, and I guess partly from the quality of the truffles (having only had freshly shaved truffles a few times in my life, and never having had white truffles before, I don't have much to compare them to). My favorite (non-dessert) dishes were all really good without the truffles - actually, I can't even really think of a good reason to put truffle on some of them (esp the wild nettle penne with bay scallops, which looked like a refugee from the Oceanic Dinners).
BillyJoe: "these gems have been cooked for long hrs that any coloration / brain-pattern as you put it, are no longer visible."
I can imagine that might happen. FWIW however, I've experienced many kinds of truffles now, fresh and preserved, in restaurant dishes and in cooking for about 30 years. (Usually, classic black truffles are used in cooked dishes, classic whites shaved raw.) So far, I have not found any cooked true black truffle whose internal striations were not visible. (They are structural, including texture, contrasts in the tuber, not just colorations.) An interior that's smooth, like a cooked mushroom, has always been the lesser species Tuber aestivum. Externally those look much like a classic black truffle, but the inside is revealing. A phone call to the restaurant's kitchen would resolve the species used in each course.
Until the late 1990s or so, I never saw lesser truffle species in US restaurants but as I mentioned, it is a trend. Also yes, there is considerable strength range in both fresh and preserved classic black truffles. In the past, for the fresh truffles marketed in the Bay Area, I only saw good aromatic ones, but again the soaring demand/supply ratio may be bringing weaker exampes to market.
I'm not SteveG, but FYI, I've seen Oregon Whites sold in the Bay Area in past years at $2 for a typical truffle slightly smaller than a golf ball. Sources that handle wild mushrooms will know where to get them. Market price fluctuates and could be higher (even temporarily) if supply is low or demand high.
In examining and cooking with fresh Oregon Whites (Tuber oregonense, “previously T. gibbosum”), they were mildly aromatic -- I think they also had striations inside, light in color, like the classic (Alba) "white truffle" and classic "black truffle." Aroma and flavor in the Oregon Whites of my and friends' experience has always been far milder than any classic black or white truffles, we've come to group them for cooking purposes less with classic truffles than with aromatic wild mushrooms like Chanterelles (abundant in Northern California forests in wet weather). I've cooked at home with many fresh "wild mushrooms" (boletes, Chanterelles, morels, blewits, etc.) over the years, and have not yet encountered an "Oregon white truffle" as strong in flavor or aroma as the stronger Chanterelle mushrooms.
We were in Oregon and bought them at the Portland Saturday Farmer's market. Some reading I've been doing online says handling is extremely important with Oregon Whites, and that because of how they are harvested they are often unripe, and require cool humid temperatures and patience to ripen--not storage in rice or other treatments that are good for other truffles. Our particular batch was, I would say, more aromatic than chanterelles but not as aromatic as a good Alba white. We didn't know about "ripening" them and just shaved them liberally over anything appropriate, since we had so many!
My wife and I went last night. All in all, we thought it was a great fall dinner, but the truffle part was overrated. We didn't get the expected level of aroma or flavor from our truffle shavings -- or those of the neighboring tables. So we just gave up on the white truffles and enjoyed the meal for what it was...
Duck Liver Panna Cotta: while it was not a panna cotta at all (more like a pate), it was great. A very generous serving with great duck flavor, complemented nicely by the radicchio garnish. The truffle jam was not very truffly. We thought it was weird that it didn't come with toasts -- but the regular bread worked fine as a foil. The pinot blanc by the glass from the special wine list brought out a nice sweetness in the dish.
Agnolotti del plin: also excellent. We had white truffle shavings on this, but they didn't add much (except $$). These are very rich but still delicate. Not quite as good as the version at Perbacco, but still great. We did not think they were too salty
Wild nettle penne w bay scallops: best dish of the night. The dish tasted like the ocean, in the best way possible. We used bread to get every last drop of sauce. I don't know what this dish is doing on a truffle menu, but who cares when it's this good! If this gives any indication, then sign us up for the Oceanic Dinner instead next year.
Pear charlotte with black truffle: best use of truffle of the night -- the truffles brought an deep earthiness to the cream that complemented the main dish. It kept me awake last night thinking of ways to use truffled whipped cream at home this holiday season.
People at neighboring tables loved the warm fall veg salad. The pici and squab "next door" looked great to me too. The squash riso did not look as good...
So highly recommended -- IF you can forget the "truffle dinner" headline.
Went back Friday with more friends and had a fantastic meal - in part because we more or less disregarded the "Truffle" part of the menu (thanks jmarek, for putting into words what I had been thinking). In all the hype over truffles, the true stars - the mushrooms - were totally overlooked on my first meal.
The dining room was not fragrant with white truffle the way it had been for my first dinner - I suppose all the good ones were already used, or maybe just the fact that by Friday, there weren't that many truffles left to perfume the room. We gave the truffles one last shot, shaved over the polentina with robiola - the polentina was very loose, like a soup, which I've never had before, and didn't like. The truffles didn't add much, so we gave up on truffles, and proceeded to have an outstanding meal.
The duck liver panna cotta with black truffle gelatina - the panna cotta had an ethereal texture and pure flavor. We all just ate it straight, with spoons, no bread. The black truffle gelatina was not what I'd pictured at all - I'd expected an aspic with black truffle shavings - it was more a dab of some sort of vinegary marmalade (of what, I'm not sure) - couldn't taste the truffle, but it did cut the richness of the panna cotta well.
Insalata di carne cruda of veal and lamb with black truffles - this was really tasty, but the aggressively flavored topping (mostly anchovy and capers) definitely dominated. Again, I couldn't taste any truffle.
Crespelle of rockfish and porcini mushrooms - this was fantastic. Perfect, lacy crespelle, fragrant with brown butter, and the porcini! The porcini were amazing. Perfect, meaty texture, intense flavor. Great dish.
Agnolotti dal plin - again, fantastic. I didn't have the salt problems BillyJoe did - mine were perfectly seasoned. I prefer these to the larger, less aggressively seasoned ones at Perbacco. I think they were on par with the ones I had at Quince.
Wild nettle penne with bay scallops - again, excellent.
Hazelnut-crusted halibut with wild nettles, spinach, and chanterelles - the halibut and greens were perfectly cooked, but the chanterelles were the star of this dish. They were definitely way, way better quality than any chanterelles I've ever bought and cooked for myself.
Spezzatino of vitellone in bianco with braised artichokes - again, good, but I think it could have used a little more salt.
Unfortunately, they had replaced the charcoal-grilled vitellone with steak (I forget which cut) - while the steak was delicious and perfectly cooked, it was rather small and expensive. Besides the polentina, it's the only dish we had that I would not order again.
Pear charlotte with black truffle - not as good as the first time I had it, mostly because the truffles were definitely inferior the second time.
Chestnut, cocoa and persimmon zucotto - a little dome-shaped chocolate cake filled with chestnut cream and persimmon something (forget what the persimmon component was) - this was really delicious. Sometimes I get bored with chocolate desserts, but this one kept me awake.
Quince ice cream sandwiches - I just had the ice cream part, although I hear the thin buttery wafer cookie part was excellent too - a really lovely, blush-colored ice cream, just tart enough to keep my appetite going after a very rich meal.
Conclusion? Despite the top billing given to truffles every year, I would be absolutely thrilled with an annual "Fish and Mushroom Dinner". Although I'd have to make exceptions for the agnolotti and the duck liver panna cotta. Plus dessert, of course. Now that I think about it, almost every dish that's really blown me away at Oliveto in the past year has been a seafood dish... we'll see if Whole Hog changes my mind.