Cooking at home with black truffles

Plutarch believed that they were born out of thunder hitting the earth.  Cicero considered them to be the children of the earth, and Porphyrus called them the gods of the earth.  Pliny the Elder called them ‘callosities of earth and a miracle of nature’ and Brillat-Savarin called them the ‘diamond of the kitchen’.  Rossini called it ‘the Mozart of mushrooms’.  We know them as expensive fungi.  The black truffle…

What do you do when the most perfect specimen of black truffle finds its way into your kitchen?

Well, first you place it up high on a cipollini onion pedestal and admire its holiness from all angles.  Then you sniff sniff sniff and take in all of its earthy and heavenly aroma like a junkie.  Then you morph into a shameless paparazzi and take lots of photos to commemorate this momentous event.

Then, like any reasonable and civilized human being, you wipe your drool and begin cooking.  Not too long ago my good friend Haru Kishi, head chef at the Gordon Ramsay at the London in West Hollywood, came over with a humongous white truffle.  We recklessly shaved generous portions of pungent white truffle over perfectly cooked risotto and a salad with spinach, asparagus, bacon and poached egg.  This time he came over with a black truffle to complete our yin and yang truffle journey.

I love dining out but I would choose cooking and eating at home any day, especially if it involves food items like truffles at the hands of a knowledgeable chef.  It’s mesmerizing to watch a chef at work, cutting, dicing, fileting and flambéeing with precision and grace.  I suppose it’s the same when people watch me perform surgery at work, but New Zealand lamb chops and fingerling potatoes are sexier than Staphylococcus infected pilonidal cysts and exsanguinating full-thickness head lacerations.

We decided to keep the menu simple and prepared a classic dish of scrambled eggs with shaved black truffles.  This was when Chef Kishi’s years of experience and creativity kicked in at full force.  Eggs were gently and patiently scrambled over low-medium heat until they just barely started to set.

As if the fresh black truffles weren’t enough extravagance, we busted out my precious tub of Urbani white truffle butter that I bought at Epicure Imports, a fantastic gourmet warehouse run by friendly proprietors and good friends Bill and Daniel.  We also passed the whites of soft boiled eggs through a sieve to throw into the egg mixture, to add more soft texture to the dish.

The result?  The softest, fluffiest, richest and smoothest batch of scrambled eggs that I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming.  I never knew that eggs could have such a pillowy texture.  My tail was starting to wag as we continued to prepare the other components of our dinner.

Chopped applewood smoked bacon was quietly sizzling and popping away on one corner of the stove top, while shaved and diagonally chopped asparagus simmered in hot water on the other.

Meanwhile, cipollini onions were roasting away in the oven into caramelized and sweet treasures.

A beautifully marbled piece of rib-eye steak went into the frying pan, instantly releasing a flood of melted liquid fat that started to brown the edges of the meat.  Like my previous white truffle cook-out when the bacon went into the pan, my 2 cats pranced into the kitchen at this time to see what was going on.  Luckily the sizzling sounds of meat on metal drowned out the desperate meowing that ensued.

Prepping and cooking seemed like an eternity to me, as the intense aromas from the oven and the stovetop were practically torturing me into an impatient state of extreme hunger and lust.  I was jumping around Haru like a child with ADD, checking in every other second to see if the food was ready.  All the while he stood patiently at the stove, completely ignoring me in his state of deep concentration as he tended to the precious cut of steak like the master that he is.

Finally it was time for plating.  Asparagus and bacon went first.

Followed by a generous heap of scrambled egg perfection, more asparagus and more bacon.

Meanwhile, juicy cuts of medium-rare rib-eye steak were plated along with tender and candy sweet cipollini onions, topped of course with a generous slab of white truffle butter.

Then came the crowning moment when precious black snow gently descended upon our plates.

With every rapid slice of black truffle against the sharp blade of the truffle slicer, a waft of earthy aroma was released into the air, spreading with it a thousand bubbles of happiness and joy.  You just can’t get this degree of extravagance and luxury at a restaurant, unless you’re willing to pay hundreds of dollars.

The final result?  A decadent and delicious meal.  I loved the texture of the smooth slivers of truffle against my tongue, and how it broke down easily under my bite to release even more aroma that rose up into my nasal passages.  I loved looking at the fine reticulated and lacy patterns on the truffle that looked like a complex labyrinth.  I loved the way that the crunchiness of the asparagus contrasted the silkiness of the eggs, and how the bacon added a perfect touch of saltiness to complete the dish.  The steak was bursting with warm juice that ran like a river into the valley of melted truffle butter on the plate.  Just for the hell of it we even shaved truffles over our salad.  Why not?  This type of experience only comes around once in a lifetime, so we might as well take it all the way to the max and enjoy the moment to its fullest.

With beautiful music in the background and a beautiful bottle of red wine in tow, this was a meal that will never be forgotten.  It was an epic experience that will be hard to beat.  Even if I have good scrambled eggs with black truffles at a nice restaurant in the future, I doubt that it will ever surpass this dish that we made.  Did I post enough photos of this experience to make you envious?  I guess I went a little overboard with the photos, but it’s like a parent taking photos of his or her newborn baby.  You can’t snap enough photos of the precious love in your life.  Except in my case, I ate my yummy baby.

Random trivia:  After 5 years of research, a French-Italian team of scientists finally succeeded in mapping out the entire genome and DNA fingerprint of the black Périgord truffle.  Now, was that really necessary?  See the Nature article from March 2010 below if you’re at all interested:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7291/full/nature08867.html

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The Bazaar

The Bazaar in the SLS Hotel is a magical carnival of sensory stimulation, a multi-circus act of vibrant colors, outrageous artistic concepts and powerful flavors that saturate every cell in your body.  It’s an exciting world that takes you away to a wonderland mesh of design and taste.  From the moment I entered the swank Bar Centro until my last sip of herbal tea in the rococo Patisserie, I felt like I was sleepwalking through a multitude of wild and fantastic dreams.  Every section of the Bazaar has a different design concept, but all are theatrical masterpieces of Phillip Starck.

Bar Centro

Bar Centro

Bar Centro, with its flourescent yellow background, is dark and mysterious.  It’s furnished with leather couches lined with expensive suede throws, velvet pillows, tall banquettes that hide whispering lovers from the crowd, and a large communal table with spinning movie projection discs glowing softly in the darkness.

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The bar gets creative with their cocktails, using liquid nitrogen and organic emulsifiers to create an original spin on traditional drinks.  We toasted the commencement of our bizarre Bazaar journey at the Bar Centro with a bottle of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve champagne.  A bold fruity richness with a zesty citrus finish.  C’est magnifique!

Moss vitrines

Moss vitrines

To the right of the bar are tall glass vitrines showcasing select objects for sale by Manhattan design shop Moss.  Each case houses a unique array of fun toys and household items, from squished up teddy bears to enamel combs to porcelain birds to decorative silver plates.  Also for sale are enlarged candid paparazzi photos of famous celebrities at their best and worst (Brad Pitt with Zahara in the park to Gwyneth Paltrow dodging the lens with an outstretched hand).  Each item makes you wonder…why, what, when, where, who, and how???

Famed Spanish chef José Andrés, who trained with Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, has 2 sections in his restaurant.  The contemporary Blanca side, where we sat, has pristine white and pink armchairs and glowing lampshades.

Entrance to the Blanca

Entrance to the Blanca

There are large wonderful photos of bodies in motion, playfully displayed throughout the restaurant.

Blanca counter

Blanca counter

The traditional Rojo side, set behind large grey draping curtains, plays on black and red, with bold chalk drawings of animals and vintage photos of Spanish matadors.  This is the side where you can see the busy open kitchen busting out the wild creations on the extensive menu.

Rojo

Rojo

We ordered the chef’s tasting menu along with a beautiful bottle of 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape, Tardieu-Laurent from Rhone, France.  I embarked on this mesmerizing molecular gastronomy tour with 2 professional chefs and a refined foodie friend.  It was the perfect set up for a perfect evening.

For starters, my favorite creation of the evening, the Philly Cheesesteak.

Seared tender slices of Wagyu beef on oval shaped air bread with melted cheddar cheese.  The air bread is a hollow light thin crust of bread that contains dripping melted cheese.  This was one of the most sensational dishes that I have ever tasted in my life.  The delicate lightness of the air bread coupled with the wagyu beef that melted just as fast as the warm cheese penetrated deep into my taste buds, making me purr with delight.

Next we had one of my absolute favorite foods in the whole world.  I have dreamt of this day when I would finally be reunited with Jamon Ibérico de Bellota.  This is the most prized cured Spanish ham in the world, made from free range black Iberico pigs raised on acorns.  Due to import regulations, The Bazaar is one of the few places in the United States where you can eat this.  The woodsy aroma and deep sweet flavor of the glistening marble fat that melts on your tongue is indescribable.

Pa’amb tomaquet, a traditional Catalan tapas of ripe tomato, Manchego cheese and garlic rub on toasted bread, was the perfect complement to the jamon.

Next we had a signature Ferran Adrià dish, the traditional and modern olives.  First we sampled traditional olives stuffed with roasted piquillo pepper and anchovies.  It was nicely briny and salty, and the green olive flesh was meaty and succulent.

The modern olives, made by spherification, were served tableside by our server.  He came over with a glass jar containing perfectly round green blobs floating in olive oil.  He scooped them out with a small ladle and very carefully placed them on white porcelain serving spoons.  It’s pure olive essence packed inside a thin delicate membrane that bursts inside your mouth with only a slight amount of pressure.

Papas Canarias, salty wrinkled potatoes prepared Canary Island style with mojo verde sauce.  I loved the soft velvety texture of the potato skins.  The potatoes were perfectly cooked inside, and the green parsley, cilantro, garlic and olive oil sauce was light and fresh.

Next was a playful presentation of soy marinated salmon roe cones with crème fraîche and dill.  The crepe cones were thin and delicate, and the roe was both sweet and salty.  A delightful bite of bursting roe bubbles and sour creaminess!

The following dish was a very bizarre take on the shrimp cocktail.  Plastic pipettes containing cocktail sauce pierced through the shrimp flesh garnished with chive flowers, dill and sesame seeds.  Our server instructed us to take small bites of the shrimp while squeezing some of the cocktail sauce into our mouth at the same time through the pipette.  I wasn’t a big fan of this dish.  It was too much work for too little taste.

I really enjoyed this next modern Caprese dish.  Liquified mozzarella balls (same concept as the modern olive spheres) with roasted peeled cherry tomatoes in a basil sauce.  We were instructed to eat the mozzarella balls, cherry tomato, basil sauce and crackers all in one bite, and boy was it a superb and delightful bite.  The cherry tomatoes had a slight vinegary acidic tone, going well with the dark earthy genovese, crunchy crackers and soft liquid texture of the intense mozzarella balls.

Tuna ceviche and avocado roll with cornflower chips and micro cilantro.  A classic combination of avocado and tuna that can never go wrong.  It’s rich, creamy, and flavorful.  The cornflower chips added a wonderful crunchy texture to the dish.

Japanese tacos with grilled eel, shiso leaves, cucumber, wasabi and chicharron.  I didn’t care much for this dish, it was very predictable.

Miso linguine with tomato, salmon roe and lemon.  The dashi flavor of the noodles was very strong, maybe a bit too strong for me.  The textures of this dish were delightful though, with the slurpiness of the slippery noodles and the bursting salmon roe. It served as a nice refreshing palate cleanser before the heartier meat dishes.

A signature fun Bazaar dish of cotton candy foie gras.  They have a gigantic stainless steel cotton candy machine next to the Patisserie where they make these.  Our server instructed us to shove this massive piece of fluffy vanilla scented cotton candy containing chilled salted foie gras into our mouth in one bite.  We put our inhibitions aside and did exactly so, and what a sensational play of flavors it was!  The whispy texture of the cotton candy that collapsed down onto the succulent cube of foie gras coated with crunchy sea salt was sensational.  A genius that Andrés is…

I loved the boneless chicken wings with green olive purée.  First of all, how can you go wrong with fried chicken?  They were crispy and flavorful on the outside and juicy on the inside.

One of the best executed dishes of the evening where we could really appreciate the true flavor of the food was the oven roasted cippolini onions with clementines, passion fruit and pumpkin seed oil.  The onions were wonderfully caramelized, and their dense sweetness paired nicely with the tart clementines.

The braised veal cheeks with California oranges was another delightful savory dish with that perfect balance of citrus tartness and rich veal jus.  The braised meat was extremely tender and melted in my mouth.

To finish off the dinner, sautéed cauliflower ‘couscous‘ with quinoa, pomegranate, dried raisins, pine nuts, cauliflower purée, harissa and lemon.  The ‘couscous‘ here is actually made from finely chopped cauliflower florets.  The sweet and smokey Moroccan flavors of this dish went well with the braised veal cheeks.

Wow, we ate a lot of fine dishes.  And we still had room for dessert!  After a quick kitchen tour we went to the charming Patisserie for sweets.  The pink and white dessert counter is lined with beautiful glass jars and containers filled with delightful colorful treats that are visually pleasing.  A true Alice in Wonderland experience.

Candy jars in the Patisserie

Candy jars in the Patisserie

Beautiful pastries

Beautiful pastries

The patisserie offers exciting sweets such as passion fruit marshmallow, white chocolate lollipop with black olive and sea salt, pineapple gum drops, and lemon ginger bonbons.  We had 2 wonderful desserts.  The hot chocolate mousse with pear sorbet and salty hazelnut praline was beautiful.  The contrast of warm and cold, smooth liquid and juicy solid fruit was delightful.

But my big surprise for the evening was the floating nitro coconut island with passion fruit, banana and vanilla.  WOW, amazing.  The external shell of the white coconut sphere that is hard frozen with nitrous instantly collapses into the molten center with the spoon.  The textures of the external shell and the internal goo is wondrous, and the passion fruit seeds explode with tart crunchiness.  This dessert was really fun to eat, and I had a big smile on my face as I approached it from all angles with my spoon.

Our evening at The Bazaar was fantastic, superb, delightful and fun.  The service was impeccable, the wine selection thorough, the Starck interior design genius, and the food amazing.  It was a thrilling and inspiring adventure into a magical culinary world, and a wonderful sampling of traditional versus modern gastronomy.

The Bazaar at the SLS Hotel

465 S La Cienega Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90048

Random trivia:  Did you know that couscous has twice as much fiber as an equal portion of oatmeal?