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Wine & Truffle Dinner at Valentino Vin Bar

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As if a wine hangover weren't bad enough, did you know you can actually get a truffle hangover? I woke up with one after five luscious courses of food at the recent Truffle & Wine dinner held at Valentino. Who can resist a hook like white truffles -- flown in from Alba, Italy -- and specially paired wines from BENI di BATASIOLO?

We were seated with Batasiolo Export Manager -- and sneaky trickster -- Stefano Poggi. Early to arrive, we were greeted by Stefano and his staff of translators, who relayed our thanks and in Italian and then welcomed us on Stefano's behalf in English. As guests trickled in, the translation dance continued until Stefano stood up to welcome everyone with some opening remarks in Italian.

After which he transitioned into flawless, Detroit English. Burn! The mood of the room turned from foodie serious to giggly delight in a matter of seconds. The crowd knew it would be a fun night.

The evening was the perfect balance of educational and entertaining, with a short lesson on the history of the winery, the Piedmont region, and the winemaking family (Dogliani) that owns the place. BENI di BATASIOLO is the world's leading family producer of Barolo, although they produce a variety of other wines as well. The winery was founded in 1978, and the estate is made up of nine vineyard sites, with a total of 345 acres which span the Barolo, La Morra, Monforte D'Alba and Serralunga d'Alba growing regions. A full 70 percent of their growing is dedicated to the Nebbiolo, and the remainder is made up of Dolcetto, Barbera, and Moscato wines.

Let's talk about the pairing, shall we?

The rich and earthy taste of the truffles became stronger throughout the courses, but as with any high-quality pairing experience, the wine enhanced the flavors of the food on each plate. We started with an hors d'ouevre of three crostini:

• Crostino all'uovo e Tartufo: Scrambled egg crostini with truffle • Tartara di Kobe al Tartufo: Seared Kobe Beef Tartare with truffle • Bruschetta con Pate di Quaglia: Quail Pate Bruschetta

Served with Dolcetto d'Alba, a light, fruity red, the star of the trio was the quail pate. Not only was the truffle most evident in this dish (to me), there was also an immediate sense-memory attached to the flavor, one that I couldn't identify exactly but that made me feel like I was eating at my grandmother's house as a child.

Course two turned some heads, with a white Gavi paired with Insalata di Bietole Gialle e Coniglio al Tartufo Nero--golden beets and roasted rabbit salad with fresh black truffle. Interestingly enough, it was the beets, not the rabbit, that caused a few problems at my table but I happily made my way through most of mine. I loved the way the beets brought out the best of the floral notes in the Gavi. We all thought it was an interesting and successful transition from red, to white, and back to red during the course of the meal.

Next was the obligatory risotto -- specifically, Risotto con Robiola e Tartufo (with Robiola Cheese and Truffle). This is about when my truffle headache started. I know it was a truffle and not a wine headache because I was being very, very careful not to accept second and third pours that the waiters were offering. Some of us have to get up in the morning, right? The Risotto was paired with a Barbera d'Alba, described as an "everyday wine" with medium body and enough earth and berries to stand up to the cheese and truffles in the risotto. Decadent and creamy, as risotto should be.

The last savory course was a stuffed veal loin in a truffle cream sauce with polenta flan and white asparagus: Medaglioni di Vitello Ripieni alla Panna e Tartufo con Sformato di Polenta e Asparagi Biamchi. Yeah, that. Anyway, I know this is where I am supposed to go on and on about the veal, but frankly, the polenta flan almost made me faint, the way it hovered between polenta and custard and soaked up the truffle cream sauce that bathed the veal and slightly-sweet white asparagus. This dish was paired with "the king" of our wine lineup, the bold and powerful Barolo: deep, dark ruby-red in color with lots of spice and dried fruit.

A lovely white chocolate panna cotta with persimmon coulis was served for dessert, garnished with a delicate chocolate straw and paired with a bright, berry-flavored Moscato Rose. A little sweet for my tastes, but an interesting glass of wine nonetheless, and I enjoyed broadening my horizons a little. I'll confess, I tend to turn up my nose at sweet wines, and I shouldn't, because they do have their place at the table.

Not only was this an exciting opportunity to learn more about Italian wines, it was a fabulous way to discover the Valentino restaurant at the Hotel Derek. At our table we discussed the unfortunate phenomenon of people skipping "hotel restaurants" due to a perception that they rarely measure up. I will plead guilty to that myself, and look forward to returning to Valentino soon to see what the regular menu has in store.


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