Hangover Helper: Huitlacoche Huarache from La Condesa in Napa, CA
There's a reason that huitlacoche is referred to as "Mexican truffles," but I'm not entirely sure what that reason is. It certainly doesn't taste much like truffles, nor does it look like truffles. The real reason is probably because Mexican truffle sounds less ethnic than "huitlacoche" and more delectable than "corn smut," which is, after all, what it really is. It could also be because Mario Batali used the term once and now everybody does.
Either way, the fact remains that despite its unappealingly mysterious jet-black color and origin as a fungal infection on a corn cob, huitlacoche is delicious. Vaguely mushroom-y (but not in a truffle-y way), a little tart, and extremely savory, it makes one of the greatest taco/sope/huarache fillings around and I very rarely get my fill of it.
So when Carey Jones and I were driving our Ford Escape through the town of St. Helena, CA last week working our way through minor wine-induced hangovers and she mentioned that one of her favorite Austin-based restaurants La Condesa recently opened a California branch, we made a beeline straight there. Nothing like a bit of smut to wash away the over-indulgence of the night before.
La Condesa's Huitlacoche Huaraches start as an oblong disk of moist, tender, slightly flaky fried masa that serves as a boat for an overflow of huitlacoche and sauteed mushrooms. The mushrooms are nicely browned and well seasoned with a few charred bits here and there that stay crisp even when coated in the saucy huitlacoche.
Mexican crema and a sprinkle of queso cotijo are always welcome additions to a morning-after breakfast, and their dairy tang goes exceedingly well with the earthiness going on below. If there's one thing I could do without, it'd be the faint drizzle of truffle oil that finishes the dish (I've got a thing against truffle oil), but honestly, I was too busy stuffing my face for it to bother me too much.
And just in case a bit of the hair of the dog is your general medicinal regimen, La Condesa makes a truly fantastic margarita. Bright and fresh with a salty rim scented with lemongrass.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.