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FOOD AND DRINK

4 MIN

Where to Sniff Out Those Delicious White Truffles This Fall

The season for winter white alba truffles comes around between late October and December each year. Here's where to experience their beguiling scent in New York, Toronto, Chicago and Montreal

They’re misshapen and lumpy and smell a bit weird, and that's when they're at their best. Soon they will turn dry and mouldy. So it's incumbent upon Wanda Srdoc to offload her white truffles quickly, and this makes her incredibly busy each fall. 

Srdoc, nicknamed the truffle lady of Toronto (“I’m getting old. I used to be the truffle girl, now I’m the truffle lady”) supplies high-end Toronto restaurants with white truffles from Croatia, driving around town with a cooler full of specimens that fit into your hand, feel heavy for their size when fresh, and can cost four figures a lump.

Diners “just love the heck out of them,” Srdoc says. “There’s this undeniable unique experience with a truffle dish – a proper truffle dish – which you’ll never forget.”

For the uninitiated, the winter white alba truffle (species name tuber magnatum pico) grows only in parts of Italy and Croatia, where it nestles at the base of certain hardwood trees including hazel and poplar. Truffles grow wild and they’re buried underground; truffle hunters jealously guard the knowledge of which spots yield the biggest lumpy paydirt, which are discovered thanks to the powerful snouts of specially trained dogs.

What makes the white truffle irresistible to certain food lovers? Srdoc says it’s the combination of a short season (2½ months, tops, from mid-October to late December at best), the rarity of the item, and the unique complex earthiness of the aroma. “It all combined makes people go gaga for them,” she says. There’s a certain bucket list appeal to truffles. “I think there’s mystery. You always want what you can’t get.”

City-dwelling truffle hounds, meanwhile, follow the scent of truffle each autumn to special truffle-themed dinners at local restaurants, or buy the fragile fungi through suppliers to bring home. Below are some opportunities that Billy’s nose has uncovered in cities we cover.

(We’ll add to this list as we dig up more events, and if you hear about, or are hosting, a truffle event somewhere in eastern North America, let us know!)

Toronto

While it’s worth watching the menus of most high-end restaurants for truffle dishes around November and early December, if you want a guarantee of getting truffle-stuffed, Wanda Srdoc hosts special truffle dinners for you. The details are firming up, but the first dinner this year should take place at Flock during the last week of November, and true to its casual feel as a fried-and-rotisserie-chicken restaurant, Srdoc promises the event will be casual.

On Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, a somewhat more formal dinner will see truffle lovers gather at Italian restaurant Campagnolo; pricing is to be determined, but expected to be in the same general range as last year’s $160-per-seat event (wine pairings included). Call 416-364-4785 to book – and hurry! Watch for more details of Srdoc’s dinners on her Instagram account, and we’ll update this space as well.

At the smallish and beloved west downtown Tuscan spot Tutti Matti, meanwhile, truffle season is as low-key as the spot. Our advice is to roll with whatever chef Alida Solomon and her crew suggest that day – it’s the Italian way. So is the simplicity of many of the dishes. And here's the rub: There won't be truffles every night. If you cannot bear the suspense, here’s the number to call ahead and ask what’s up: 416-597-8839.

For home chefs, contact Ramelli Truffle and ask to get on their white truffle alert list. You’ll receive periodic updates on shipment arrivals, and prices. Just be aware you’re competing with restaurants for the loot!

Montreal

It’s white truffle week at Maison Boulud at the Ritz-Carlton from Nov. 14 to 19 inclusive. Unusually for a truffle special menu, diners will still be able to order à la carte. Reservations recommended, so call if you’re interested: 514-842-4224.

For those who would prefer to shave some alba in the comfort of their own kitchens, Chez Louis at Jean-Talon Market has white truffles in stock for $7.50 a gram and expects to receive a shipment every week until probably mid-December. As for quality, “I have the best of the best,” says Charles Gingras, a member of the family who own the shop. White truffles tend to sell out, so it’s wise to call ahead to ensure there are some in stock: 514-277-4670. Worth checking as well is Chez Nino, which is also located at Jean-Talon Market: 514-277-8902.

New York

From Nov. 5 to 12, restaurants around Manhattan, Westchester and New Jersey are participating in Wine Enthusiast magazine’s White Truffle Festival, a celebration not only of the alba white truffle, but also of barbaresco, barolo and other wines from Italy’s Piedmont region. Check out the long list of restaurants – and book your table, fast! – right here.

At Lincoln Ristorante in the Lincoln Center arts complex, there are two options. A truffle-and-pasta tasting menu offers a four-course dinner for US$125; add optional paired wines from Piedmont for US$80. If you can make it for Nov. 13, a more elaborate white truffle dinner includes six courses paired with wines from Bruno Giacosa, from a potato torta with caviar (and white truffle) through some peking duck (with white truffle) and wild boar (with white truffle) dishes in the middle, through to a pear-and-amaro dessert (with … guess what). A seat comes to US$380 with tax and tip included; sign up here.

Like others, chef Frank Prisinzano is using Instagram to drum up some truffle madness – and to provide advice, such as: White truffles “must ALWAYS be shaved directly under the client’s nose over the food he has ordered and accept nothing less. Truffle dinners take place between Sept. 11 and 20; call 212-420-0040 to book.

For home cooks, Urbani Truffles is probably far from being the only store in New York selling white truffles, but it’s likely the only that sells them online – with prices ranging from US$125 for a little half-ounce nugget to a 12-ounce jackpot for a princely US$3,200.

Chicago

As in other cities, Chicago has truffle madness going on all over town, just slightly edging out World Series excitement. For instance, chef Sarah Grueneberg and crew have been gleefully Instagramming white truffles at Monteverde, where a number of dishes – including everything from a burrata and winter squash starter to a pork raviolone or a ribeye steak – can be souped up with truffles shaved tableside, it’s five grams for US$49. Meanwhile for US$59 there’s a special truffle-season-only pasta, too; it’s a simple affair with parmesan and butter that should really let the truffles sing.

Siena Tavern, meanwhile, is celebrating truffle season by giving customers the option to add truffles to any of the 10 pastas or eight pizzas on chef Fabio Viviani's menu. Enjoy the theatre as servers come to the tableside to shave them for you. 

For those who would prefer to bring the lumpy goodness home, Eataly Chicago – the largest location of the Italian gourmet food emporium outside Italy itself – has them, for US$231 an ounce. Always keen to spread food knowledge, Eataly has instructions on preparing them, too (it’s not difficult).

Published Sunday, October 30th 2016

Header image credit: Shutterstock

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