Last Sunday evening, Napa’s La Toque Restaurant offered a special all black truffle menu, featuring truffles from France. It’s always a luxurious treat when truffles make an appearance on your plate. La Toque owner, Chef Ken Frank, introduced me to a menu that would make truffle enthusiasts fall even more in love with these culinary gems – making this truffle season one to remember.
This year’s menu included unique, savory options, like Chef Ken’s single ravioli with truffle and a runny yolk at the center – a favorite dish of mine. “Truffle flavor bonds particularly well with the fat and protein in egg yolk, and I’ve always been enamored with the way truffle permeates the shell to infuse egg with so much flavor,” said Chef Ken.
Another delicious course was the Maine lobster bisque with black truffle. This dish is new to the menu, but the lobster truffle combination is one of Chef Ken’s longtime favorites and has appeared in some form a few times before. “We pair this dish with Napa Valley’s Staglin Salus Chardonnay, a really classy example of new world wine with old world discipline,” said Chef Ken.
Once each course was whisked away by our knowledgeable and friendly waitress, I eagerly awaited the next dish. I was particularly impressed by the oxtail, parmesan and black truffle flan. “We call this a clever fusion of Japan and Italy and a case study in why truffle works with dairy,” said Chef Ken. “As with the champagne in the first course, you need a wine to cut through the richness here. I have a weakness for Barolo, and the bright acidity and tannins mesh nicely with the flan. The subtle mushroom notes found in Barolo with some bottle age add a layer of complexity to the pairing.”
Chef Ken’s cheese course is the current version of a dish he made first in 1981 at the original La Toque in LA. “I served this dish for Baron Philippe de Rothschild and a Best of 10 Decades Dinner, featuring wines direct from his cellar in Bordeaux,” said Chef Ken.
He originally used a French triple cream cheese called Brillat-Savarin, but when Chef Ken moved to Napa Valley he started using the cheeses from Cowgirl Creamery. “For a while I made this with their Red Hawk, a washed rind cheese I just love. But a number of years ago I decided that the soft ripened Mt Tam was a better vehicle for the truffle perfume,” said Chef Ken.
When creating this cheese course, Ken separates the cheese into three layers with a piece of fishing line while still very young and firm, sprinkles each layer with truffle and wraps it back up to infuse for a few days. La Toque makes the crumpets in house.
On to dessert – La Toque’s newest truffle ice cream concoction. “We infused chopped truffle into still warm ice cream batter as if we were making French vanilla ice cream,” said Chef Ken. “This is a very interesting opportunity to taste the true truffle flavor and it’s unexpected in a dessert.” It was unexpected and really good.
Although La Toque’s winter truffle menu has ended, their truffle dishes will be available on their daily tasting menu through the rest of the month. And be sure to mark your calendar for the Australian winter black truffle menu, which will be available in early June at La Toque. This summer will be their sixth season incorporating black winter truffles into seasonal dishes.About the Author: