Now, this is confusing. Today is National Truffles Day, that’s what my national food holiday calendar says loud and clear; but it doesn’t say what kind of truffle it’s celebrating today! There are two kinds of truffles that are common in American culinary knowledge: the truffle , a member of the fungus family and an extremely sought-after ingredient in high-end cuisines worldwide; or the chocolate truffle , a confection made from chocolate ganache and cocoa powder that was named for its resemblance to the mushroom. Both of these foods are very different from each other, but both have something unique and wonderful to contribute to the flavorful zeitgeist of world cuisine. I couldn’t make a decision on which food I wanted (or should, for that matter) highlight, so I’m going to do both of them in one post! Hold on to your hats, this’ll be a big one!
Truffles (the mushroom) are known throughout the world as being one of the most sought-after ingredients in history. Coming in both white and black varieties, the truffle is only grown as a part of a symbiotic relationship with a certain few species of trees, in the exact perfect environmental conditions, and only for a certain number of years before the trees lose their potency. They’re also known for having to be found by truffle-sniffing hogs in the south of France and northern Italy (a detail I vividly remember from an episode of Talespin–remember that show??) It’s because of this that these gems are so valuable, their raw form easily going for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars per pound. Truffles, when a chef can get their hands on them, are usually served raw, shaved over a salad or pasta, or made into truffle oil (which, if my Food Network obsession is correct, is looked down upon by high quality chefs due to its pungent taste and reeked scent of trying too hard.) It’s truly a treasure when you get a dish with shaved truffle, for the subtle, woodsy flavor of the mushroom and the knowledge that each shaving probably costs more than the entire rest of the ingredients on the plate, combined.
But you don’t have to worry that you’re eating an ingredient that costs more than your electric bill when you eat a chocolate truffle, though they are rich and elevated far past the simple bonbon. While there are different types of chocolate truffles around the world, the American truffle is chocolate ganache (or cream, caramel, nuts, or anything else you want to devour with chocolate) surrounded by an egg-shaped chocolate shell, which can either be dark or milk chocolate. It can then be dusted with cocoa powder for an extra chocolate oomph. (And who doesn’t love more chocolate?) They’re considered one of the grand nobles of the chocolate world for the quality of the ingredients used and the range of chocolates, from the creamy, almost too-sweet ganache, to the hard outer shell, to the bitter, unsugared cocoa powder on top. It’s a blend of great chocolate flavors all in one bite. Any chocolatier worth their stones can make a competent chocolate truffle–and usually has a “signature” truffle all their own.
Back to the more savory of this truffle duo. The best place to get the most truffle for your buck is Masa in the Time Warner building at Columbus Circle. This stately Japanese restaurant sprinkles the magic mushroom (no, not that magic mushroom) on quite a number of its dishes, from the uni risotto to its sushi and even its cool ice cream. Truffle ice cream?? Now that sounds like something you have to try at least once in your life. Despite the uni (sea urchin) being a strong flavor in the uni risotto, it doesn’t overpower the dish, and instead mixes perfectly with the black truffle; everything about this dish just screams lush and decadent. The truffle sushi is a nigiri piece of sushi rice rolled in shavings of black truffle, completely enveloping the whole piece of sushi in truffle flavor. Of course, all this truffle indulgence will set you back a pretty penny: there are rarely any items on the menu that are less than $50. So, if you are happy to lay down quite a few Benjamins to partake in the heaviest truffle experience of your life, Masa’s the place to do it; but don’t expect an easy dine-and-dash routine here.
10 Columbus Cir, Ste 4F
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“A truffle nigiri was also quite exceptional. Imagine a small round ball of rice, wrapped gingerly with black truffle. Umami in the extreme.”–Ferdinand H.
“Insanity: through out the meal, a single black truffle the size of a grapefruit sat like a lump of coal next to the wasabi rhizome and a chunk of crystal halite like a tiny Washington Monument, all in a tray off to the side. For this offering, our itame grated off a good ounce of the thing, balled up some warm rice, and just packed on the truffle slices. The final product was like a truffle SnoBall. Hilarious, and giddy-making in that way only eating too much of something opulent can be.”–Troy D.
Having reservations about Masa? Feel like paying this month’s rent instead of indulging on one meal? I’m not going to lie to you and say that Strip House Steak House will be as cheap as shimmying down to the Shake Shack for dinner, but here, you won’t feel like you’ve been drowning in truffle shavings and hundred dollar bills. Here, you’ll only find black truffles in their creamed spinach, which sits as a side dish to their 14-ounce sirloin steak and potatoes fried in duck fat. It’s a testament to the chutzpah of the restaurant when they dare to put the most expensive ingredient on the menu into the dish that isn’t the star of the plate. You’ve got to believe that’s some good steak and potatoes! The creamed spinach itself has a light flavor, so the pungent black truffle flavor really stands out, but doesn’t overwhelm the dish. And considering you get a generously-portioned steak and potatoes fried in duck fat along with the spinach for the whopping price tag of $46, you can buy two of these entrees for the price of the risotto at Masa. If you look at it that way, the truffles are definitely worth it 😉
Strip House Steak House
13 E 12th St (between 5th Ave & University Pl)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“We had to try the black truffle creamed spinach and it was fabulous! The intense black truffle flavor was an interesting spin on such a typically boring side dish. We decided to pass on a potato side and try the creamed corn with pancetta and I’m very happy we did! It was my favorite of the two sides which shocks me as I love me some truffle!”–Jen G.
“I have to give credit where credit is due and stress that the truffled creamed spinach is easily the best creamed spinach I have ever had. I challenge any human being walking this earth to serve me a better creamed spinach.”–James L.
But now let’s get to what you really want on National Truffle Day…the chocolate truffles! And what better way to have your chocolate than with a side order of booze 😛 AYZA Wine & Chocolate Bar combines everyone’s favorite indulgences, serving fine cocktails and chocolatey confections–sometimes both at once! The chocolate martini here is delightful, the sweet chocolate liqueur mixing with the slight tartness of raspberry. But the sweetest part of all of the drink is the decadent chocolate truffle offered with each martini, straight from the grand poobah of New York chocolatiers himself, Jacques Torres Chocolate. Really, any establishment that has found such a seamless way to mix chocolate and alcohol should be lauded until the end of time. And if it’s the other truffle you’re looking for along with your chocolate truffle, they serve a hefty bar menu that includes–get this–white truffle pizza. The size of a personal pan pizza, this is far better than anything you’ll find on the Pizza Hut menu. It may not pair well with the chocolate martini and truffle, but that just means you might have to make two trips to this paradise of culinary guilty pleasures!
AYZA Wine and Chocolate Bar
11 W 31st St (between 5th Ave & Broadway)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The menu was diverse enough to cater to everyone in our group (including someone who was lactose intolerant & one vegan). The Truffle Pizza had crispy crust, cheese melted to perfection, yummy diced beef, & a great subtle truffle flavor. Not a large pizza (it’s an appetizer after all!), but satisfying and filling.”–Marilyn K.
“Their raspberry chocolate martini is sooo delicious. I felt like I could slurp the whole thing up in one gulp. Each chocolate martini comes with a chocolate truffle, and mine came with an 80% Jacques Torres chocolate. The cocktail is $16. I really like the cocktails, and I like that they had nice warm heaters warming up the outdoors area. I would definitely come back.”–Jin C.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!