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White Gold 

Dig deep for a “reasonable” truffle experience

Thursday, Nov 8 2007
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Dear Mr. Gold:

I stopped by Drago the other day and spoke with the head honcho about the upcoming white-truffle season. He said he got his first shipment, but he was biding his time. “You can never trust the first shipment,” he said. Which leads me to ask: What exactly is all the fuss about white truffles? Are they worth the hullabaloo? If so, can you point me to a restaurant or chef you would trust if you were indulging for the first time and wanted to experience the magical aromas of what looks to the naked eye like an overgrown mushroom? I’m a workingman and am looking for a “reasonably priced truffle experience” — if one exists.

—Michael McCarey

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Dear Mr. McCarey:

A risotto or a simple plate of tagliatelle showered with white truffles is one of the world’s greatest culinary experiences, but the words “reasonable” and “white truffles” never coexist — especially this year, especially with the real white truffles from Piedmont, which are the only ones worth eating. Newspapers have been reporting that the white-truffle harvest is down perhaps 75 percent from last year’s, and the euro is worth almost twice what it was in 2002. For good Alba truffles, we are talking $1,500 to $2,500 per pound, wholesale. As a rule, if a truffle dish costs much less than $100, you’re probably getting a bare shaving or two and a lot of synthetic truffle oil. And even the best truffles, by the time they make it to Los Angeles, are merely a shadow of what they would be on their home soil. Still, Valentino is known for procuring excellent truffles, and always does a good job with them. I didn’t taste it, but last week, Ludobites at Breadbar had a poached egg with white truffle for a relatively reasonable $35. Nicola Mastronardi at Vincenti and Gino Angelini at La Terza are masters of truffle cookery. Michael Cimarusti at Providence knows what to do with a truffle, as does Lee Hefter at Spago. Bring cash.

—Jonathan Gold

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