100 Favorite Dishes 2013-2014: No. 17, Alba White Truffle Soufflé at Tony's
This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
Photo courtesy Tony's A light as air but earthy and aromatic truffle soufflé.
Truffles are one of those things that food writers and gourmands bring up again and again as being overused flavor enhancers that could very easily turn a dish sour. Too much of a good thing or something. I think that part of the problem is the omnipresence of truffle oil: Too often it's a chemical compound with little to no actual truffle in it. And yes, too much of that can taste like eating forest floor mixed with iodine.
But real truffles, fresh truffles, gods of the fungi kingdom -- I can never get too much of those, and Tony Vallone seems to realize there are quite a few people like me out there, because he doesn't skimp on the fungus. The Alba white truffle soufflé at Tony's is packed full of that truffle funk that makes anything truffle so delightfully alluring.
The kitchen at Tony's produces some of the best soufflés in town, and combined with fresh truffles from the Piedmont region in northern Italy, the dish is pure magic. White truffles are the most expensive on the market, and there are quite a few shavings in this $59 soufflé.
The top layer of the soufflé is light as air and lets out a small whisper when you dig in with a spoon. It's aromatic and earthy, and the many eggs in the dish keep it fluffy in spite of the heavy, funky aroma. Two contrasting elements -- earth and air -- combine in one exquisite offering.
Our contributor Mai Pham made a video of the white truffle soufflé at Tony's that expresses its richness better than just about any words can.
It's subtle but decadent, and the smell is almost like perfume. It doesn't quite melt in your mouth (a phrase too often used to describe delicious but decidedly not melty things), but it's reminiscent of the lightness and fluffiness of cotton candy, and the way the soufflé deflates when you bite into it does give it the sense of melting onto your tongue.
The price may be a bit steep for an appetizer, but how often are you able to eat imported truffles in a dish made by the best soufflé chefs in town? That's what I thought.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.