Taking a Shine to Truffles

No truffling matter, this: Perigord truffles, the black diamonds of the culinary world, will be the focus of a "Sparkling Truffle Festival," Tuesday through March 4 in the Dining Room of the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel.

No telling why it's called a sparkling festival. After all, the fungus looks like a lump of coal, and no champagne will be served. But then, dwindling crops have made the authentic examples--scandals have involved the dying of pale summer truffles black--at $800 per pound, more valuable than gold. (And gold glitters.)

The intensely perfumed mushroom sprouts underground among the roots of oak and hazelnut trees, and muzzled pigs and goats are used to sniff it out. The festival caps the 16-week harvest, and the truffles will be flown in fresh from Vaucluse, France. According to John Cawley of importer Pacific Gourmet, only 200 pounds of fresh truffle will be flown into Orange County this year. Most of the harvest will be frozen and shipped around the world.

Among the five courses chef Fabrice Cannelle has planned are a potage of venison with roasted hazelnut and truffle feuillete, and goose confit with truffle macaroni. What goes with truffles? Dinner begins with Amontillado and ends with Malmsey, along the way sampling a Sonoma late-harvest Gewurztraminer, Paso Robles Vecchio Nebbiolo and Oregon Pinot Noir.

The cost of the dinner (served from 6 to 10 p.m.) is commensurate with the item's scarcity: It's $125 per person, not including tax or gratuity, $85 per person without the wine selections.

33533 Ritz-Carlton Drive, Dana Point. (714) 240-2000.


Some people know it as Mardi Gras, others as Fat Tuesday. Italians know it as Carnevale. And to mark the celebration, Carlo Cavallo, chef at Emporio Armani Express, has created three regional menus, all to be served from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Today, Cavallo's Carnevale menu is inspired by his hometown, Venezia, and includes guazzetto al lido (clams, mussels, shrimp and calamari sauteed in a saffron sauce and served with grilled focaccia) and costolett di tonna al vion rosso (seared ahi topped with green peppercorn and red wine sauce).

On Friday, it's the fare of Tuscany, featuring pollo ai funghi (chicken with trifled mushrooms, chopped tomato, red wine and thyme) and risotto coi carciofi (arborio rice sauteed with artichokes and pancetta).

On Saturday, savor the aromas of Roma, including stracciatella (egg drop soup with spinach) and saltimbocca alla Romana (veal scallopine with prosciutto and sage sauteed in a white wine sauce).

"At Carnevale time (in Italy), really the only special things we do are Carnevale desserts, such as fritelli, fried desserts," Cavallo said. "My family always ate gnocchi, gnocchi spezotino (potato dumplings with meat goulash). In Tuscany, you tend to eat heartier, in Rome a little spicier."

3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa. (714) 754-0300.

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