Unique Italian Vintages, Family Ties and Generously Shaved Truffles Headline This Year’s White Truffle Dinner at Girasole.
Story by Kaitlin Hill
Photos by Callie Broaddus
Girasole, snugly nestled in the picturesque town of The Plains, offers cozy refuge on a chilly November evening for The Sixteenth Annual Truffle Dinner. A hub for authentic Italian cuisine, Girasole, meaning “sunflower,” is certainly cheering. The exposed beams, landscape paintings and antique knickknacks decorating the dining room set the stage for a night of indulgent Italian dishes blanketed in white truffles and expertly paired with Italian wines.
The evening’s hosts are equally warm and inviting, greeting each guest as if they are old friends or even family, which they actually may be. Lydia and Louis Patierno, owners and operators at Girasole, and Francesca Vajra, daughter of and delegate from GD Vajra, have known each other for many years, sharing “as close a relationship as you can have in business,” according to Patierno’s son, Joel Patierno.
And Joel would know, having worked at the Vajra vineyard as an intern in 2009 and again in 2010. A year later, Joel’s sister, Gabriella, followed in her brother’s footsteps and traveled to the Barolo region of Italy to intern as well, forming an even tighter bond between the families.
“The Vajras are incredibly hospitable and treated us like family during that time,” Joel remembers fondly.
Francesca’s affection for and sweeping knowledge of wine is apparent as she weaves fun facts, family anecdotes and tales of growing up in Barolo into the presentation of each new bottle. Her mastery of wine is impressive and will make you want to hear every word—that is, until you are distracted by the arrival of the next course.
Chef Lou Patierno’s cuisine is a labor of love. The Culinary Institute of America-trained chef curated a six-course tasting menu for the event, highlighting the evening’s guest of honor, the Alba truffle.
Tender butter-poached lobster sitting pretty atop a vibrant green pea mash is generously shingled with impossibly thin white truffle shavings and complimented by GD Vajra’s delightfully dry and bubbly N.S Rosé Brut. Truffle adds an earthy boost to Uovo Affogato al Brodo con Tortellini, a poached egg in rich broth with expertly cooked tortellini. Served with Vajra’s Dolcetto, this course is an impressive twist on chicken and noodles in soup. Chef Patierno’s cooking is classic and familiar, but with a few tricks.
He marries rich hazelnut cake and white truffle ice cream for a dessert that is savory and sweet. The addition of tart cherries cut the richness for a well-rounded spoonful that is sublimely balanced. For the final course, Francesca pours her family’s 2010 Moscato d’ Asti which is almost dessert in itself. It is sweet with a smooth finish, excellent alongside the hazelnut cake but easy to drink on its own.
His inspiration? The guests.”I try to take classic Piedmontese dishes and add something new every year to keep it interesting for myself and our guests,” says the chef.
Though one thing that remains unchanged is the Risotto alla Piedmontese, which is always on the menu. Chef Patierno admits there would be consequences of removing it. One bite and you will understand why. The creamy rice is perfectly al dente. It s the ideal vehicle for more truffles. Francesca pairs it with GD Vajra Riesling “Pétracine” 2015. The bright wine balances the rich risotto nicely with notes of apple and citrus and a medium finish.
Though the recipes are distinctly Piedmontese, as are the truffles, most of the ingredients are sourced locally. Here you will find carrots from Sperryville, beef broth from Whiffletree Farm in Warrenton and pork from Purcellville. Chef Patierno gives Virginia’s finest ingredients the Italian treatment for a memorable meal.
The ringing of jingle bells signals the start of another wine lesson with Francesca. Her easygoing demeanor and personal stories make you feel like you are having an intimate and long overdue catch-up with a childhood friend, though she is addressing a packed house. Her accounts are funny and informative, though depending on what course and how many wine tastings you’ve indulged in, you may not remember any of the vino-trivia. Not to worry—between speeches, Francesca sashays through the dinning room answering questions, making suggestions and greeting friends.
In it’s 16th iteration, The White Truffle Dinner is an elegantly choreographed performance of fabulous food, unique wines and well-timed speeches.
However, what makes the event truly special is the familiarity between guest and host. Lydia Patierno wanders table-to-table, chatting happily as her customers sip their after-dinner coffees. Her daughter Gabriella, server at Girasole, tidies up as she waves to those who recognize her. Son Joel joins parties shaking hands and exchanging laughs. Joel describes the experience as “sitting down to a big Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by people we know and who know each other.” It’s what drives ticket sales and brings longtime patrons back year after year. “I think that people pick up on that energy and vibe and feel like part of more than just dinner at a great restaurant,” he adds.
If you missed this celebration and your chance to bring home bottles of GD Vajra wines, you are still in luck. Girasole has an active social calendar planned for the upcoming months, including their Holiday Gift, Wine & Art Sale on Sunday, December 3, 2017 from noon to 5 p.m. Patrons will have the opportunity to browse Italian specialties including soaps, ceramics, olives oils and paintings done by Chef Patierno’s brother, Robert. Be sure to pack your extra-large shopping bag if you want to pick up one or two of GD Vajra’s magnum-sized bottles to give as gifts or—I won’t blame you—to keep for yourself. ML