Huitlacoche: It's What's For Dinner

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The Border huitlacoche quesadilla plate.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

I am a truffle fiend. And while not technically a truffle from the Tuber genus, huitlacoche--aka the Mexican corn truffle--definitely has enough funky, truffly sex appeal to make me happy. (Plus, its other English name is corn smut, which makes me smirk every time I hear it.)

Mexicans consider huitlacoche a delicacy and eat it in a variety of dishes, but most American corn farmers do their best to keep it from showing up in their crops. Huitlacoche is the black, squishy, and disgusting-looking tumescent manifestation of a plant fungus on corn kernels. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the most common restaurant preparations involve hiding the huitlacoche from view... in tamales, quesadillas, soups. I once had an amazing pizza in Mexico that proudly kept the evil-looking fungus front and center--but honestly if there hadn't been neon orange and green zucchini blossoms sharing the stage, I'm not sure I could have eaten it every day like I did.
I wanted to check out The Border in downtown Napa because I heard they have a rabbit dish on their menu (another wildly unpopular ingredient that I adore), but when I spotted the huitlacoche quesadilla for lunch, I had to do it. And I'm so glad I did, because it was the most perfectly balanced and brilliantly executed quesadilla I've ever had. Earthy, smoky, sexy, fabulous, and the cheese was only there to hold it all together. Warm, toothsome tortillas had just enough chew and toasty crispness to offset the silky huitlacoche and molten oaxacan cheese inside. An intensely green tomatillo salsa brought bright tang, creaminess, and a touch of jalapeno heat, and the flourish of halved baby tomatoes and (healthy) corn kernels over the top crowned the dish with perfect crunch and sweetness. You've never seen corn smut like this before.

The Border, 1005 1st St. (at Main Street), Napa. 707.258.1000

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1 Comments

the border has morphed back into its prior incarnation--tuscany--and is no longer serving mexican food or using the name "the border." fortunately, erasto and pablo jacinto, who consulted on the border's menu and created the fab huitlacoche dishes, are now working with catherine bergen on the new "c casa" taqueria opening in the oxbow market in april 2010.

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