Rare white truffles land on December menus

What can you buy for $111,000? A few cars, a new condo, hundreds of shares of Google stock — or, in the case of one dedicated Hong Kong foodie, a single white truffle.

White truffles, called tartufo bianchi in their homeland of northern Italy, are enjoying their annual renaissance as the days grow shorter and dinners heartier.
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A truffle-hunting dog searches for truffles on a farm in France.

The expensive fungi cannot be cultivated, making their discovery a cottage industry in Europe and a blessing for local gourmands who wait all year to taste the truffles’ pungent, smoky flavors.

Whether you’re a novice or an aficionado, Washington’s best restaurants offer a wealth of opportunities to taste why Alba truffles, from Italy’s Piedmont region, are worshipped around the world. Most white-truffle dishes vary in price from expensive to super expensive, but none of them will cost as much as that Hong Kong bidder paid at auction for her 1.2-kilogram tuber.

Al Tiramisu (2014 P St. N.W.; (202) 467-4466) serves a white-truffle special until the season is complete, hopefully until the end of the month. The chefs use truffles imported directly from Alba, shaving the fungi over risotto or homemade taglierini, a pasta wider than spaghetti but thinner than fettuccine. If you desire more complex truffle combinations, call ahead of time and the dining room will work to accommodate you.

Tosca’s (1112 F St. N.W.; (202) 367-1990) four-course white-truffle menu contains a similar presentation of risotto or taglierini with truffles, butter and Parmesan cheese, a deceptively simple and mouth-watering combination that the sommelier pairs with a 2001 Barbaresco.

The first course is butter-poached sea scallops with a hazelnut crust topped by truffle shavings, and the dessert picks up that nutty note by stuffing a red-wine-roasted pear with hazelnuts and chocolate, then topping the concoction with truffle-infused honey gelato. The entire menu costs $135 per person, or $190 with wine tastings.

Chef de Cuisine Massimo Fabbri, who personally shaves his truffles in front of customers for maximum effect, said Tosca’s imported La Cuarello risotto makes the best possible companion for Alba’s elusive tartufo.

“It retains a nice firmness and grain, much more pleasant to the mouth than any other kind” of rice, Fabbri said.

Chef Roberto Donna gladly went the extra mile to keep Galileo’s (1110 21st St. N.W.; (202) 293-7191) seasonal white truffle menu going strong. Donna and a pack of the capital’s leading chefs, all members of the Seinfeldian culinary klatsch called the Chefs’ Club About Nothing, traveled to Alba late last month for a truffle hunt.

“They’re going to eat a lot of truffles, more than the average person can probably stand,” predicted Galileo spokeswoman Alyssa Lebeau before the chefs’ departure. Accompanying Donna, she said, were Jeff Tunks of DC Coast, Ceiba and TenPenh; David Guas, Tunks’s pastry chef; Enzo Livia of Spezie; Francesco Ricci of Bethesda’s Cesco Trattoria; and two truffle mavens who purchased tickets at a recent fundraiser.

Galileo’s truffle menu includes a soft poached egg draped over polenta, topped with Parmesan, foie gras sauce and truffle shavings.

Virginia diners should hurry to Fiore di Luna (1025-I Seneca Road, Great Falls, Va.; (703) 444-4060) for its five-course white-truffle menu, priced at $250 per person. The restaurant gets its truffles directly from Alba and will only serve the menu as long as its specimens remain worthy.

At Fiore di Luna — which translates to “moon blossom,” a workable nickname for Alba truffles — chef Andrea Pace shaves his truffles over cream of chestnut soup as well as tagliolini pasta with kohlrabi and baby arugula.

Jonathan Krinn adds the traditional white-truffle risotto to his tasting menu at 2941 (2941 Fairview Park Drive, Falls Church, Va.; (703) 270-1500), but mixes it up even more. Krinn uses truffles to flavor crayfish, pheasant and even pizza, also dishing out wild couplings of Mishima beef tartare with truffles and quail egg and a breathtaking white truffle profiterole, served with truffle Anglaise sauce.

Reservations are sure to book up, of course, so consider Balducci’s (3201 New Mexico Ave. N.W.; (202) 363-5800, and three suburban locations) white-truffle oil an excellent fallback. At $7.99 for 2 ounces, the oil will lend your humdrum breakfasts and rice bowls a cosmopolitan flair well into the warmer spring months.