A sweet and savory surprise
BROOKLINE - Lately, when it's time for dessert, I find myself thinking about Deborah Hansen. She is the chef and owner of Taberna de Haro. Mischievous, startling, sexy, and complex. Her trufas porrera, I mean. The trufas are a Taberna de Haro dessert, often prepared at your table by Hansen herself.
Every once in a while you have that very-rare perfect-food moment, where a dish and a place in time are so compelling that your memory of the event is in high-definition. You want your friends and family to come back with you - as often as possible. For instance, there was, sigh, that perfect espresso I had at Le Grand Frere in Montmartre in 1991. Geographically speaking, Taberna de Haro is a much better situation. In the 1990s, Montmartre was not on the Green Line, and, alas, it is still not. Fortunately, I now have a new obsession. This year most of my friends and family will be meeting Deborah Hansen.
It's probably best to start at the beginning. The first time I went to Hansen's restaurant, it was with a friend, a well-known Hub food personality whom we'll call "Marianne." Marianne and I had a marvelous meal. During our meal, Marianne was recognized, and, as the table was cleared, Hansen arrived and insisted we try her new chocolate confection.
She placed a simple white plate with two tiny disks of very dark and slightly softened chocolate in front of us. Marianne seemed pleased, and, consummate food professional that she is, a look of evaluation settled across her face. Hansen produced a baker's shaker and sprinkled quite a lot of cocoa powder over the chocolate. Then, from a little spoon, a generous coating of white granules over the cocoa - we knew this was granulated sugar, meant to sweeten the bitter chocolate. Marianne looked on, placid but unimpressed: "chocolate, cocoa powder, sugar . . . yawn."
Then Hansen pulled out a bottle of olive oil. (I later learned it is an expensive fruity Spanish extra virgin.) At this point, I was thinking a drop of olive oil over the dusted mounds would be an elegant touch. Hansen turned the bottle upside down over the plate and poured the oil - I really do mean poured - all over the heavily powdered, heavily granuled mounds of chocolate. The trufas were swimming in olive oil. Hansen invited (rather, ordered) Marianne to taste. As she bit into the trufa, you could see the surprise on her normally composed face. The white granules are sea salt, not sugar. And not a small amount.
The dark chocolate is bitter, sweet, and creamy. The cocoa powder is bitter and astringent. The salt is savory and, well, salty. And the olive oil is fruity, fragrant - and everywhere. The effect is glorious.
Hansen was served the dish on a recent trip to the rural region of Porrera, and brought it back, along with her expertise, for Boston to enjoy at its peril. Moltes gracies, chef Hansen. See you soon.
Taberna de Haro, 999 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-277-8272, www.tabernaboston.com