Side Dish: Truffle Mania

No small trifle, these truffles.

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Story by Gossip Gourmet |  Illustration by Guy Junker

trufflesHaving drained the last sips of 2006 from our cups, let’s reflect on the final savory moments of the year.

Those who recall Miz Gossip’s grumbling in the last issue of Maui No Ka ‘Oi magazine will be happy to hear that a certain fungi has resurrected her faith in all things culinary. Like many a wily trifolau (truffle hunter), your humble foodhound was on the hunt this fall—only rather than heading to the hills of Italy to dig amongst the roots of oak and hazelnut trees, she had only to book a table at Ferraro’s at the Four Seasons. Chef Paulo Vitaletti rolled out an ENTIRE TRUFFLE MENU—in time for your Gossip’s birthday, no less! C’mon everyone, sing along: “Tartufo bianco d’Alba, tartufo nero!” (Translation: White truffles, black truffles! Alternate translation: Yum!) For those who missed this season’s white Alba truffle risotto, Sardinian couscous with black truffle shavings, and truffled cauliflower cream, there’s always truffle-infused oil to tide you over until next year. Get your supply at the store previously known as Kihei Wine & Spirits: the Wailea Wine Shop in the Wailea Town Center (161 Wailea Ike Pl., 879-0555). Since we’re on the topic of mobile wine dispensaries, check out the flashy, temperature-controlled new digs of the Wine Corner in Pa‘ia (149 Hana Hwy., 579-8904).

Winemaker Violet Grgich of Napa Valley’s Grgich Hills recently made an appearance at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s Banyan Tree restaurant, teaming up with Chef Jojo Vasquez for a stellar (cellar?) dinner. Ms. Grgich’s eponymous dessert wine crowned the well-executed prix fixe meal: the scrumptious 2002 Violetta, a honeyed almond libation to nicely balance the tart crème fraiche sorbet and strawberry-rhubarb cobbler.

Among the best food fests of 2006 was the Noble Grape Celebration, a benefit for Maui Culinary Academy hosted by the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort. Wine pairings were provided courtesy of Southern Wine & Spirits. O‘ahu fish purveyor T.J. Kraft/Norpac donated succulent fillets for participating chefs to transform. Praising the island fishmonger who supplies his Madison Square Park restaurant, A Voce, guest Chef Andrew Carmellini traveled from NYC to sautée up moist perfect walu for Noble Grape fans. Executive Chef John Zaner, of the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua, served thick flapjacks hot off the griddle with crab salad and spicy grilled swordfish. A Mediterranean-style mahi fillet with a hint of truffle (yum!) was dished up by Tri-Star Restaurants Corporate Chef George Gomes. And for you Pineapple Grill fans out there still holding your breath over newcomer Chef Luckey, rest assured—his plump, giant prawn skewers drew a crowd.

As usual, the resorts were in a dead-heat over who would host the holiday feast for the upper crust (so to speak). The menus your Gossip was salivating over at press time included a Christmas Eve dinner at the Westin’s Tropica, featuring grilled venison tenderloin with crispy poblano-chevre polenta (one of Chef Luckey’s delectable creations, incidentally) and a New Year’s Eve seafood buffet by the pool at the Fairmont Kea Lani—complete with fortune tellers and magicians.

Ever with its finger on the pulse, the Four Seasons Resort Maui summoned trendy “Liquid Chef” Kim Haasurad from Los Angeles to create fresh cocktails for the holidays. (See her recipe here.) Lobby loungers at the mighty Four will toast the incoming year with crème brûlée and chocolate l’orange martinis.

But the food fun isn’t adults-only: half-pints enjoy a half-price buffet at Kincha, the opulent Japanese restaurant at the Grand Wailea Resort. While your toddler may not have cultivated a taste for unagi (eel), what kid can resist a restaurant built with stones imported from mysterious Mt. Fuji, and accessed by a private elevator, with meandering stream, lantern-lit paths, and, if that’s not enough, waitresses in period costume? If that’s truly not your kid’s cup of tea, try Casanova’s, where young chefs-in-training are allowed to pull up a stool beside the pizza chef. Parents enjoy their meals in relative peace, while kiddies pound the dough for their personal pizzas. As if free baby-sitting isn’t priceless, the keiki pizzas are half-off. Who can say if your youngster may one day recall this experience as the inspiration for a career in cooking?

“I firmly believe that being a chef cannot be taught; it has to be caught, much like a fever.” —Patrick O’Connell, Chef/Owner of the Inn at Little Washington

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