The Venetian, Grand Canal Shops (3rd floor)
3355 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, Nevada
“Do you have any questions about the menu?” she asked.
As a matter of fact, I did. “Does the truffle pizza have fresh truffles or truffle oil?”
“Both,” she affirmed.
Both? Batali’s food philosophy is to cook with the highest quality, freshest ingredients and prepare them simply so that they shine. Truffle oil, a synthetic compound produced in a laboratory, doesn’t really fit that brand. It’s as artificial as the butter flavored topping some movie theaters use or the frozen dessert topping that doesn’t quite pass for whipped cream. Whether or not truffle oil belongs in the professional pantry is a polarizing topic among many chefs. It’s been called everything from the fake boobs of food to a chef’s dream.
The server and I put on our best poker faces; me, concealing my surprise over the truffle oil, and her, suppressing what I can only image was horror at my cringe-worthy pronunciation as I continued our conversation, “and what is bel paese?”
“It’s a cow’s milk cheese from Italy. It’s creamy and mild; like fontina or Havarti. It’s really good.”
I put aside my misgivings about the truffle oil and said “yes please” to the pizza.
I smelled it before I saw it – musky, funky, unmistakable – and inhaled deeply when my server set it down in front of me, sensing the truffle’s penetrating perfume in every cell of my body. I closed my eyes and took a bite, relishing the perfect combination of earthy black truffle, wafer-thin potato, salty creamy cheese, and peppery arugula, all on top of a crisp griddle-cooked crust.
I ate the whole thing.
Afterward, I learned that when it comes to truffle products, there are more than two choices. Jason Neve, the Culinary Director of Mario Batali’s restaurants in Las Vegas, contacted me to explain:
“Unfortunately, I believe there was some confusion on our servers part when they led you to believe we use truffle oil. What we use is a Truffle Carpaccio that is packed in extra virgin olive oil; this is a product of sliced Italian black truffles that are preserved in olive oil. For the pizza, we first top it with the slices of truffle and then finish it with a drizzle of the olive oil that the truffles are packed in. This oil has taken on some of the truffle flavors and spreads that flavor across the entirety of the pizza. However, it is by no means the infamous/dreaded “Truffle Oil” that you hear so many gourmands debate at length over, and which has no comparison to actual truffle products. Hopefully, you can understand how this did not get fully explained when you dined with us.”
The truffle pizza at Mario Batali’s OTTO was the best pizza I ever ate – with or without truffle oil – and in the end, that’s all that really matters.
What do you think of truffle oil? Love it or loathe it?
Truffle pizza with potato, bel paese, fontina $25
When in Vegas, stay in style at the Bellagio Las Vegas. Boasting itself as the Epicurean Epicenter, the Bellagio is more than just a famous name for foodies. Typically, monthly, the Bellagio hosts culinary classrooms with world class chefs.