We know, we know: truffled macaroni and cheese is so passé. It was the braised short rib of L.A. restaurants before the braised short rib actually came along. Throw a stone in any direction and you'll find a poorly-executed truffled macaroni and cheese -- over-baked, under-seasoned, or drowned in a torturous act of truffle oil waterboarding -- but after a recent trip to the Avalon Hotel's Oliverio we've found a lick-your plate version that not only gave us hope again, but warranted a second serving.
Our trip down Truffled Gluttony Lane wasn't part of the plan; rather, it was a last-minute order audible. For many of us, Friday night is an excuse to indulge after a long and stressful week. Hell, even if the week isn't that long or particularly stressful, Friday's are tailor-made for that extra glass of wine or high-calorie dish. The moment the maccheroni tartuffo arrived, still bubbling and wafting with the earthy aroma of shaved black truffles imported from Piemonte, Italy, our "We'll only have a few bites," strategy went out Oliverio's appliqued window.
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While the beauty of the dish lies in its simplicity, it is also a labor of love. Milan-trained executive chef Mirko Paderno (Cecconi's, Dolce, Celestino Drago), makes the short macaroni tubes by hand. Beyond that, nothing but high-quality ingredients -- as many imported from Italy as possible -- touch the pasta. Butter, a hint of truffle oil, cream, Parmesano and Gruyere cheeses, and of course, those shavings of Piemonte black truffles, whose ebony hues both dot the landscape of creamy pasta and rest on top of the crispy crust.
The sauce doesn't doesn't drown the pasta; rather, it delicately coats it in nutty Gruyere and Parmesan flavors. The macaroni maintains its al dente integrity, and the abundance of truffles give each bite a distinct earthiness, as well as the distinct feeling that the dish is absolutely worth the $18 price tag. And perhaps a repeat order.
If you make it past the maccheroni tartuffo, chef Paderno is working wonders with his old-school chitarra, turning sheets of homemade pasta into thin strips for his spaghetti Norcina, made with Italian sausage and black winter truffles. A wonderfully juicy Oliverio burger is made from lean buffalo meat, topped with truffle cheese and served alongside zucchini fries. And while we're hung up on the truffles, the dinner menu has more than 40 items to choose from, many of which are comes sans expensive funghi. Paderno's grilled octopus appetizer, served over green lentils and oven roasted tomato, is braised for hours for tenderness then grilled to order. The tortino di cavolfiore, or cauliflower soufflé, manages to combine a light and airy texture with an intense Parmesano sauce.
Eat This Now: Maccheroni Tartuffo ($18)