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Robb Report Vices

The Season of Indulgences

Shaun Tolson

With colder weather comes the desire for indulgent, over-the-top dining experiences. Decadent food can take many forms, but the following dishes and experiences prove that you can never go wrong with foie gras, truffles, or cheese.

In 2001, chef Daniel Boulud created the db burger with the intent of combining French and American cuisine. The burger, which Boulud serves at db Bistro Moderne in Midtown Manhattan, consists of a ground-sirloin base stuffed with red-wine-braised short ribs, foie gras, a mirepoix of root vegetables, and preserved black truffles. It’s served on a toasted homemade Parmesan-and-poppy-seed bun and finished with fresh horseradish, oven-roasted tomato confit, fresh tomato, red onions, and frisée.

“It’s a large burger and it’s pretty hard to get your mouth around it, but once you do, it’s worthwhile,” says Joel Buchman, who frequently orders the burger. “What sends me is the foie gras. Unquestionably, this is unique; it’s in a class by itself.”

In terms of foie gras supporters, Buchman will find no greater ally than Barry Wiggins, a 51-year-old transplanted Southerner now living and working in Washington, D.C. Wiggins likes to joke that he didn’t accrue his current body-mass index by eating grass and drinking spring water; instead, the fine-dining enthusiast prefers more savory and indulgent fare. And nothing is more satisfying, he says, than foie gras. “Properly prepared, seared foie gras possibly gives you everything you could want if you’re a carnivore. It gives you that richness and buttery texture and there’s a great grilled flavor to it.”

When Wiggins is craving such decadence, he puts his trust in Cathal Armstrong, the head chef at Restaurant Eve in the Old Town section of Alexandria, Va. His go-to favorite is steak frites, which Armstrong often accents with seared foie gras and an over-easy goose or duck egg. “The yolk pours out over the foie gras and the meat,” Wiggins says. “It’s just so rich and unctuous. With all due respect to the American Heart Association, it’s one of the greatest meals you can have.”

According to Todd Hauptli, a 49-year-old lobbyist, truffles are nature’s perfume. “When they’re paired with the right thing,” he says, “they really kick it into a whole other part of the universe.”

Hauptli recently experienced that type of combination in his native Washington, D.C., at CityZen restaurant, where chef Eric Ziebold prepared a dish of creamy grits punctuated by a sous vide egg yolk and covered with a generous serving of shaved black truffles. “He blitzed us with some special dishes,” Hauptli recalls, “but this one stuck out as a ‘holy mother of God’ moment. Temporary loss of speech ensued.”

His greatest encounter with truffles, however, came a week before Christmas 2010 at New York City’s Per Se, when chef Thomas Keller served up a loosely scrambled hen egg that was dusted with shaved white winter truffles, garnished with a mousse made of Castelmagno (a semihard Italian cheese), and topped with a piece of veal sweetbread. “It was one of the top four or five dishes that I’ve had in a lifetime of great eating,” Hauptli says.

Like many dining enthusiasts with a penchant for red meat, Craig Weaver of Park City, Utah, prefers wild game. And when it comes to Park City chefs, Weaver believes there’s only one who creates memorable and unique elk dishes. That honor belongs to Briar Handly, the executive chef at Talisker on Main, who serves seared elk tenderloin with a fondue-like cheese sauce with thyme and Espelette pepper, as well as roasted matsutake mushrooms and charred broccolini. He then tops it with an espuma “foam” of horseradish, crème fraîche, and cream.

Weaver likens the dish to a Philly cheese steak, albeit in gourmet form. “The sweetness from the fondue combined with the elk creates a really unique flavor profile,” he explains. “Pair that with a nice glass of red wine and you’re in for an incredible dining experience.”

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