In 1985, Italy stopped using pigs (in favor of dogs) to hunt for truffles because of the damage they would do to the fields. Not to mention the fact that the hopelessly gluttonous swine would frequently devour the precious subterranean mushrooms, among the world’s most expensive ingredients, once they’d found them. They couldn’t help themselves. The truffle’s aroma is said to mimic the sex pheromone found in boar saliva, so the sows went absolutely mad for it. I get it. It’s a sex thing. For thousands of years, the truffle has romanced the human palate, inspired the world’s greatest chefs and been lusted after for both its deliciousness and its mythical, medicinal and aphrodisiacal properties. It is the most prized ingredient any cuisinier can have in his or her arsenal, from the black truffles of Perigord to the Rolls Royce of them all—the white truffles of Alba, the diamond on the kitchen.
Harvested only in Northern Italy from the first of October through the end of December, the white truffle is so precious, so prized that it sells for upwards of $2,000 a pound and must be consumed quickly or it will lose its sweet, pungent, earthy flavor. Eating a dish made with white truffles is gastronomic nirvana and, happily, enlightenment can be found right here in South Florida. This season, some of Miami’s best restaurants are doing spectacular things with white truffles, from Casa Tua’s famed white truffle risotto to Zuma’s delectable yellowtail sashimi with brown butter, white ponzu and shaved white truffles. Try them, and you will see God. I did. Several times. I went on an unapologetic porcine-like quest, sniffing (and pigging) out on some of the most delectable white truffle dishes our town has to offer. No doubt next year, I too will be replaced by a dog.
ScarpettaSince opening in 2008, Scott Conant’s Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau has scored a gastro homerun with its now legendary truffle degustation experience. Currently at the kitchen’s helm is executive chef Nina Compton, a favored contender to win this new season of Bravos’ Top Chef: New Orleans, who this year boasts having sourced some of the season’s very first truffles. “They’re here,” she says, “and they’re fabulous.” Compton, who says patrons regularly call the restaurant asking if the white truffles have arrived, planned her menu early on, including her elegantly simple cold smoked lobster tartare and a 21-day aged sirloin with natural jus, truffle emulsion and roasted mushrooms, both served with a generous amount of fresh white truffle shaved at the table. But the big winner is the creamy polenta with truffled mushroom fricassee. Served regularly on the Scarpetta menu, Compton takes it to new heights by topping this decadent ambrosia with her newly arrived treasure. “We only have these for a very short window of time. They’re not available year-round,” says Compton, “so you only have that one window to make an amazing menu and really showcase these little gems.” (Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau, 4441 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach; 305-674-4660.)
MC KitchenChef Dena Marino may be the new kid on the block—her Design District modern Miami trattoria, MC Kitchen, has been open for barely a year—but she is already making an impact on the food scene here, having just been named one the best 50 new restaurants in the country by Esquire. Marino says she came face-to-face with her first white truffle 23 years ago, under the apprenticeship of celebrated chef Michael Chiarello at his famed Napa Valley eatery, Tra Vigne. Her debut dish: plain scrambled eggs with fresh white truffle shaves. Love at first bite, she muses. Today, Marino pays homage to that love with her blissful artichoke bruschetta, a grilled slice of rosemary ciabatta topped with a braised artichoke heart on which a poached egg is perfectly perched. All of this floats atop a creamy pool of Parmigiano-Reggiano fondata. It’s delicious enough in the summer months when Marino garnishes this gorgeous little tower with black truffles. But in the fall, when their white counterparts arrive, the dish positively explodes. “I was taught that the white truffle is a diamond,” says Marino, “that it is precious cargo and that you have to treat it with respect, savor every bite and every shave.” (MC Kitchen, 4141 NE Second Avenue, Miami; 305-456-9947; mckitchenmiami.com.)
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Mandolin Aegean Bistro What’s Italy’s most prized ingredient doing inGreek and Turkish food? Something exquisite, I assure you. Apparently, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle was a huge fan of truffles, regarding them a golden ingredient, mysterious because they grew underground with no way of telling where or when they could be found. It turns out truffles also grow in parts of Greece and Turkey. Who knew?Anastasia Koutsioukis and Ahmet Erkaya, the married couple behind Buena Vista’s über-fashionable Mandolin Aegean Bistro, did. So they were eager to incorporate white truffles into their dishes, giving a surprise gourmet twist to some otherwise traditional fare. “We started to look at our own pantry and started to look at ingredients that would really suit using truffles,” said Koutsioukis. “I really didn’t have to travel that far back. I started thinking about the food I grew up eating at home.” The first dish: a beautiful Greek polenta made with cracked wheat instead of corn meal, topped with wild mushrooms and fresh white truffles. Also getting a truffle reboot: the Lahmacun, a traditional Turkish flat bread pizza prepared simply, a blend of two classic Greek cheeses—aged Kasseri and Kefalograviera—plus dried Greek oregano and generous white truffle shavings. Homeric and delectable. (Mandolin Aegean Bistro, 4312 NE Second Avenue, Miami; 305-576-6066; mandolinmiami.com.)
Michy’sSouth Florida's culinary sweetheart Michelle Bernstein has had the opportunity to devour truffles in some of the world’s most perfect places and, in all cases, the lesson she derived was clear: when showcasing these beauties, the white truffle is always, always the star. Every other ingredient, she says, is a supporting cast member. “I try to think in the box when it comes to truffles,” says Bernstein, “The truffle is my box, and I try to make it shine. So I don’t go too crazy.” Perhaps, but she still managed to create one of the most mind-blowing truffle dishes I tried—the white truffle sundae. Freshly churned vanilla bean ice cream is topped with bourbon, caramelized quince, candied walnuts, truffle honey, fresh white truffle shavings and a tiny sprinkling of sea salt. One spoonful of this and I died and went to truffle heaven. (Where I, coincidentally, ran into some very happy former truffle-hunting pigs.) (Michy’s, 6927 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami; 305-759-2001; michysmiami.com.)