We recently attended a special dinner at Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar featuring those elusive
subterranean fungi arguably the King of all things mushroomy, the truffle. This is not the
chocolate version sitting in the Godiva box nor is it extract made from the “essence” of truffle.
This is the real McCoy straight from the forests of Oregon. Oregon? Doesn’t the real McCoy
come from the Perigord region of France or Alba in northern Italy? That’s where they are
classically harvested but truffles also grow from northern California all the way up to Vancouver
British Columbia with the Willamette Valley in Oregon providing very suitable truffle growing
conditions. We were fortunate enough that Chef Keith Endo procured a batch of fresh Oregon
black truffles and created a four course truffle inspired menu.
To wash down the meal, yours truly selected that favorite grape of the Willamette Valley, Pinot
Noir. When Pinot Noir picks up the “terroir” or soil characteristics, it often gives the wine a
touch of mushroom and earth which pretty much describes a truffle. However at the risk of
offending Oregonians, I selected two old world Pinot Noirs; One from the motherland of classic
Pinot Noir, an earthy Cote de Beaune from Burgundy and a feminine floral Spatburgunder
(Pinot Noir) from Ahr Germany. The two wines provided a contrast between the floral, spicy
and refined qualities of the grape and the earthy, gamy and funky flavors also found in Pinot.
Chilled Waialua Asparagus Soup with lime crème fraiche & shaved black truffle
While the fresh shaved truffle didn’t have the same aromatic punch as fresh Alba truffle, the
lime crème fraiche provided a perfect balance to herbal earthiness of the asparagus. The perfume
of the Meyer Nakel Spatburgunder paired perfectly with the truffle and lime aromas.
What is a Truffle?
Members of the Tuberaceae family namely the Tuber genus are fungi that live underground in
symbiotic relationships with certain tree roots. The truffle benefits from a free carbohydrate
source produced by the tree while the tree is able to absorb water and nutrients from the
surrounding soil more efficiently with help from the truffle. And because humans desire truffles,
they are a lot more likely to protect any tree(s) that harbor truffles in their vicinity.
Warm Grilled Portobello Mushroom Salad with Nalo Farms baby arugula, Hau’ula tomatoes
& a black truffle vinaigrette
Meaty Portobello with the aroma of truffle paired with tender greens, ripe tomatoes and cumin
scented carrot shavings. It could have been an entrée on its own! Once again, the Meyer Nakel
was a better partner for the dish.
The two main species that are found in fine dining establishments are the French black truffle
(Tuber melanosporum) and the Italian white truffle (Tuber magnatum). The Oregon white
truffle is the same genus as their European cousins (Tuber gibbosum and Tuber oregonense)
while the Oregon black truffle is of the genus Leucangium. What all truffles do have in common
is a gnarly appearance that seems better suited to a compost pile than sliced over risotto or
placed under poultry skin before roasting. But oh that heavenly aroma! Almost, but not exactly
a bit of garlic, mushroom and gasoline or at least that aromatic intensity of gasoline. And what
of the taste? Well, truffles don’t actually have a lot of taste; it’s strictly about the perfumy
aroma. Though remember that most of what we perceive as taste is primarily due to aroma since
our taste buds are only able to detect sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.
Truffled Mac & Cheese with aged Black Diamond White Cheddar, double cream Gouda and garlic
cream, mushrooms & prosciutto
The only downside to this rich combination of truffles and mushrooms and salty prosciutto was
that neither Pinot was the perfect partner. A Sonoma Coast Pinot would have perfectly fit the
In the old world, either pigs or dogs are used to sniff out these heavenly delights since they’re
deposited out of sight. The porcine assistants have a keener nose than canines for truffles but
they must be rewarded with a truffle or two which cuts into the gatherer’s bounty. Supposedly,
something in truffles mimics a hormone in boar’s saliva which drives sows crazy. I can’t confirm
this since I try not to get close to the working end of a boar – alive or dead. Canines don’t
require a truffle reward but sometimes are stimulated to urinate on the truffle so fast digging is
in order before Fido relieves himself. It is said that sometimes small flying gnats coalesce just
above the truffle supposedly entranced by their aroma which may detect their presence for the
solitary truffle gatherer.
Black Truffle Crusted Braised Short Rib with celery root mash & a wild mushroom
Fork tender beef made earthier by powdered truffle and root mash tied together with a delicious
mushroom sauce. Because the earthiness of the Cote de Beaune balanced the earthiness of the
dish, the fruit in the wine was highlighted.
Purchasing your Own
Be forewarned that 1) fresh truffles aren’t always in season and often difficult to find and 2) if
you do find them, purchasing them may require Junior to transfer from that 4 year college
down to a small community college. Oregon truffles run about $60 for just 4 ounces and their
French and Italian cousins run 4 to 6 six times that. If you happen to run across a small bottle
containing a single black truffle and the $9 price entices you, stop. These preserved truffles
(along with the canned variety) have absolutely no flavor and very little – if any – truffle
aroma. If you still feel compelled to purchase your own (but want to keep Junior in college),
try truffle infused oil. Actually it’s more like truffle scented oil since most of these products don’
t contain any truffle at all. Most are laced with 2,4-dithiapentane – one of the major
compounds that give truffle its heady aroma. Many chefs refused to continue using truffle oil
after discovering that it didn’t really contain any truffle. Me, I don’t charge for my cooking so I’
ll continue to use truffle oil. If you decide to try truffle oil, store it in the refrigerator to
preserve that aroma.
Kahuku Watermelon Gazpacho with Thai basil & cucumber yogurt sorbet
No truffle in this dish but the perfect palate cleanser after a great meal. Kudos to Chefs Keith
Endo and Jennifer Cho along with Chuck Furuya, MS and Cheryle Gomez for organizing this
spectacular truffle feast!
Vino Italian Tapas and Wine Bar
500 Ala Moana Blvd
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
Wed Thurs 5:30 – 9:30pm
Fri Sat 5:30 – 10:30pm