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Feb 17, 2013 09:45 AM

truffles / capo santa monica

looking for a bit of enlightenment in the truffle department. we've (been lucky enough to have) had both black and white truffles on numerous occasions (black more than white of course which i imagine is pretty common for most people). we've had them at good to great restaurants shaved raw on top of dishes (per se, atelier crenn), cooked with seafood dishes (ado's scallops) and probably just about every preparation in between... anyway, we had an odd experience last night i was looking for some help understanding.

dinner last night was at capo. our entrees were dover sole (which we think is excellent there, simple preparation), and a black truffle bolognese rigatoni. our apps were spicy meatballs and seared scallops with black truffles. so here's the the reason for the post - we struggled to come up with better descriptors for both truffle dishes (rigatoni & scallops) than a mix of gasoline and extremely sharp cheese. as mentioned above, we both know the taste of truffles and know that they frequently are the strongest flavor on the plate. but this was different - not only did they make both dishes taste almost identical, but they tasted identical in a way truffles had never tasted to us before. which is especially odd considering one was a seafood dish and they other an acidic tomato meat sauce. were the truffles bad/spoiled? were they so good that they overwhelmed us with their freshness (i'm kidding here), was truffle oil possible added and cooked at too high a temperature? any thoughts?

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  1. From your description, it sounds truffles were spoiled. Which makes a lot of sense, since we are pretty much at the end of the season for blacks (T.Melanosporum), although not so late for its close cousin T.Indicum (a.k.a. Chinese black truffles).
    Just curious: why didn't you send it back?

    14 Replies
    1. re: RicRios

      i think you're right.

      we were having a good time. and were kind of playing around with words trying to figure out what they tasted like to us. i know this sounds a bit crazy but we're new parents and we don't get out that often and it just felt at the moment like the best way to make the best of a situation. by the time the 2nd dish came we just ended up having a laugh and settled on enjoying the dover sole.

      1. re: goldpackage

        I notice that while you didn't say anything to the restaurant management, depriving them of the opportunity to try and make the problem right, you have come here and complained to us on a public board about it afterward. I have a problem with that sort of passive-aggressive approach.

        If you tell them and they don't do anything about it, come here and let us know. But I think you have really come at this in a very unfair way as far as the restaurants reputation is concerned.

        1. re: Servorg

          i respect your posts servorg, and tend to agree with most things i've read that you've written on this board that i've come across. but i have to disagree with you here. i'm not sure what management could have done to "make it right". they served a couple of bad dishes. sending out another dish, or taking the dish or dishes off the bill would not change this fact. i left the waiter 20% and went about the rest of my night. your implication seems to be if it were free or replaced it would erase the mistake. i completely disagree. mistakes happen, i can forgive them, but if someone on here read that the truffles were no good last night and they were going tonight than they likely would avoid ordering them. i was mainly curious if what i described sounded like something that might happen with truffle oil and was looking for some feedback. if you were to make the point that i should have let the restaurant know so they stopped serving or at least inspected that batch of truffles so future customers avoided the experience than you would be on to something... and i'm about to do just that... AND, isn't this, partially what this board is about: great experiences, good experiences & bad experiences with food? btw - i also don't agree with how you seem to be defining passive aggressive. and this just might be me, but when i read a post in the midst of a heated debate and see "(imho)" to me that seems passive aggressive because my guess is the person writing it is being anything but humble. i also know as i make that statement that my interpretation of those 4 letters in that context could be wrong... and i am aware of that. you however seem to be trying to tell me what is right and wrong and i simply disagree. i like capo, have been a bunch of times and will go back. as i mentioned in my original post i feel their dover sole preparation is very good and possibly my favorite in los angeles. i don't think i was "complaining" on a public board, but if i were, what would be wrong with that? is it an honest board if everything is positive on here? have you ever given a restaurant a negative review? or compared one restaurant to another restaurant and claimed one was better than the other for x y or z reason? if others chime in and say what i posted was wrong or mean or passive aggressive i'm happy to take it down. it wasn't written with that intention and the last thing i want to do is unjustly harm a restaurant i like most of the time.

          i have to ask because i'm curious now, do you know the owners of the restaurant?

          1. re: goldpackage

            Perhaps they could have remade your food with another truffle they had on hand? Perhaps you were the first party that they shaved off of a particular truffle that night? And the passive-aggressive part of your post is to publicly complain you were perhaps given spoiled or sub-par food, but then go on to say you laughed it off. Laughing it off isn't coming to a public forum to post about it, after not giving the restaurant a chance to make it right. And making it right could well have been apologizing and comping your dinner, and/or inviting you back to have dinner again on their dime or? Normally, if I have a bite or two of something and it's "off" in some really remarkable way my practice is to stop eating and have the waiter come over or call for the manager and take it up with them before consuming the dish.

            1. re: Servorg

              as i thought i stated... we have a newborn at home and unfortunately didn't have the time to wait for another dish to be prepared. do you have kids, can you relate? and yes we laughed it off last night. and i posted on a public board today. what's the problem with that? have you never felt a bit differently about something "the day after" and wanted to get 2nd, 3rd or 4th opinions on something? we also did stop eating it after a couple of bites and moved on to another very good dish.

              1. re: goldpackage

                For what it's worth, I agree with you 100percent. Two basically inedible dishes are a quality control problem whether they are then remade or not. Quality control is a hallmark, to me, of an excellent restaurant; it is the job of the establishment, not the customer to deal with before it reaches the diner. Sure,everyone makes mistakes, but they are not something to brag about.
                Your posting was the kindest review of a bad meal I have seen.
                BTW, I enjoy Capo very much, eat there a few times a year and have never had a problem.
                Out of curiosity, did they not ask if anything were wrong when they cleared two pretty much full plates?

                1. re: Eljeffy

                  we will definitely go back but will likely stick to seafood and meat prepared on their grill.

                  we scrapped off what we could and ate most of the scallops (which was the app). at that point we thought maybe the spicy meatballs mixed with the truffles on the scallops caused some weird taste in our mouths. in hindsight, we shouldve known better... the pasta we took to go, i'm honestly not sure why, i guess out of habit. but then tossed it the next morning.

                  1. re: Eljeffy

                    <<it is the job of the establishment, not the customer to deal with before it reaches the diner>>

                    agree with this.
                    that is why i love having a cheeseboard at Fig.
                    eric, the fromager there, see it as his responsibility to taste the cheeses that get delivered to the restaurant before they are served to a customer.
                    if a cheese arrives sub-par eric will handle the situation.

            2. re: Servorg

              not really a direct response you your post, servorg, but a general response re: this sort of situation.

              most of the time when i'm eating in a high-end restaurant, i am there either:
              1) on a date
              2) having a business meal

              in either case, it would be worse than awkward, and would reflect poorly on me, to ever start engaging with the management about the food unless it was to be complimentary.

              not taking a position about this particular occurrence, but in my normal circumstances, getting management involved on the spot to complain about the food would undo the main objective of the meal.

              i know many hounds do this. i guess they are dining on their own dime and are dining with spouses, but i'd bet that many are in my situation too.

              1. re: westsidegal

                Okay. Then you contact them afterward and lodge your complaint and see what they do for you to try and make up for the problem.

                1. re: Servorg

                  is that really done?
                  to me it's like calling Trader Joe's to tell them, "i ate the entire package of XYZ you sold me yesterday, but i'm calling to tell you i didn't like it and now i'd like you to make it up to me."

                  also, if a date paid, it seems to me that i'm not the one in a position to complain. this would be even more true if the date was a regular at the place. when a guy who was a regular took me to mr. chows, it seems to me, that it would have been entirely inappropriate for me to call the next day and complain.

                  if it was a business meal and the other person was paying, calling to make a complaint the next day could easily get communicated to my host(ess) by the restaurant. definitely not good form.

                  MAYBE, in theory, i'd call the next day if i had paid for a business meal and i was a regular, but, truly, that has never happened to me. one of the main reasons i become a regular at a restaurant is because it serves good food consistently.

                  1. re: westsidegal

                    I doubt you, or anyone here, would consume the entire dish if you thought the food you were served was spoiled. I think explaining the circumstances after the fact makes sense at times if you don't want to make an issue of it at the time for whatever the reason was (date/business dinner/out with your grandparents/etc.). But if you feel strongly enough to post here about it I think you owe it to the restaurant to first let them know of your experience and then see what, if anything, they do to make it up to you.

                    1. re: Servorg

                      even if i didn't consume the entire dish, there is no way i'd call the next day.
                      too many things could go wrong.

                      1. re: westsidegal

                        Folks, the question of whether someone owes it to the restaurant to complain to them before posting on Chowhound is a big and complicated one that's been discussed a lot all over the site, and it isn't going to be solved here on the LA board on this thread. Debating that issue is dragging the conversation away from the original topic of the dishes served at Capo, so we're going to ask that everyone let this sub-thread go.

                        From a policy perspective, we invite everyone to share their experiences here, whether they complained directly to the restaurant or they didn't. As long as they're honest and fair in their description of their experience, we're fine with it either way.

                        We'd also ask that other hounds not tell people whether they should or shouldn't have posted. We don't want anyone to feel like their posts have to meet a certain standard or they won't be welcome.

        2. I'm no expert on truffles but if they tasted bad to you, did you comment to your server? If not, you guys are sure good sports. Capo is pricey and known for quality ingredients. Good Dover Sole happens to be one of my favorite dishes so I will have to try theirs. (without truffles)

          3 Replies
          1. re: Baron

            some days you get a parking ticket and it's the straw that breaks the camels back... some days it barely even registers. last night we were having a great time regardless of the two dishes, we liked the rest of the food and didn't have the time to hang out for anything to be remade. on a different night and in a different mood my reaction would likely be different. i highly recommend their dover sole baron, worth a trip just for that.

            1. re: goldpackage

              Do they serve it whole and filet tableside? When I order dover sole I ask the server to leave it whole and just give me the whole thing. Grill on the Alley in BH does a god job with the dover sole. I will take your suggestion and order it at Capo when I'm in for a treat.

              1. re: Baron

                i imagine the would if asked. my wife was craving it and prefers things served finished sans maybe a sauce or juice added to a dish tableside.

          2. Were the truffles in slices or chopped finely into a sauce? Were they fresh truffles or black, wet looking canned ones?

            From the gasoline smell, I'm guessing canned truffles were used for looks and truffle oil was used to provide the "smell"...all for a truffle markup of course.

            10 Replies
            1. re: Porthos

              good questions porthos... the truffles in the pasta were thinly diced. in hindsight the truffles in the scallop dish were wet looking and i remember them appearing to be a bit soggy.

              1. re: Porthos

                I can't recall "gasoline smell" being ever associated with dimethyl sulfide (DMS), the basic component of truffle oil (besides oil). Truffle oil should include a very strong ( i.e., unnatural ) truffle smell, but not -since it's artificially made!- an unpleasant one. In any event, at Capo's price level, none of the above is excusable.

                1. re: RicRios

                  The gasoline/strong cheese smell is what makes me think truffle oil.

                  Some people have associated the smell of truffle oil with gasoline/petrol (see below).

                  It stinks when a restaurant uses it on their fries or mac and cheese. And I try to avoid ordering anything that says truffle risotto or pasta or scallops (if there isn't a a premium and specific promise of freshly shaved truffles) since those are often victims of truffle oil.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Truffle smell affects people very dramatically, one way or another. And it's also tautologial that any ingredient in excess ( just think about salt... ) will produce nasty results. Still, I'd insist foulness is the culprit here. Andresh's case of a 450 g truffle ( or about 10 times larger than usual! ) is peculiar. As a rule, and if you are the buyer, try always to stay aways from extremes, that is: extremly large or extremely small. Very large carpophores tend to be weak on the odor front, with irregular development. Maybe it was a partly immature, partly rotten piece? Whose nose...
                    And regarding your comment at bottom: "The last I heard truffles still were not farmable.", that was more than 30 years ago. Nowadays, even the T. Magnatum has fallen into cultivated pearldom.

                    1. re: RicRios

                      Nowadays, even the T. Magnatum has fallen into cultivated pearldom.
                      So what's with all this nonsense about still harvesting truffles in Alba then?

                      1. re: Porthos

                        Marketing, tourism, all very understandable reasons. Most of Piemonte in & around Alba has been deforested to oblivion, to make room for vineyards, industries and housing developments. In fact, there is a vendor in Croatia that supplies most of the "white Alba truffles" to the yearly Alba Truffle Festival:

                        1. re: RicRios

                          Thanks for the info!

                          Is porcini also now farmable?

                          One wonders but not really why prices remain high.

                          1. re: Porthos

                            Nope, porcini not yet.
                            BTW, great white Burgundy goes fantastically with T.Magnatum. Corton Charlemagnes and Montrachets in particular.

                            1. re: RicRios

                              I know :) Batard and Chevalier Montrachet dinner at n/naka with the abalone and truffle pasta blew me away.

                              Got me hooked on the white burgs despite the risks.

                              1. re: Porthos

                                this was very interesting to read. and one of the main reasons i posted. i learned something. thank you.

              2. Hi, disappointing for you. I have 2 theories based on our experience as truffle growers in Oz. We had a very large truffle last winter (450g) that was partially unripe, these sections had a kerosene smell which went away after a couple of days, after which it was all very good. So it could actually be immature truffle was used.
                The other theory is that they used too much truffle oil,, which is quite petroleum-like if too much is used and really quite foul.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Andresh

                  You guys have figured out how to grow truffles in Australia?! The last I heard truffles still were not farmable.

                2. I had a similar experience at Capo with black truffles (and corn ravioli). They had an odd "chemical" taste. Server took it back and returned with more of the sweet corn ravioli with the same weird, chemical-ly taste.

                  Don't think it was a truffle oil issue. But it was definitely off.

                  Was wondering if it was those Oregon truffles?

                  They took it off the bill.