Compaint Department: Truffles in Paris


It was Thanksgiving in Paris, but rather than a traditional meal, a group of friends gathered to celebrate the 50th birthday of Randal Breski, whose partner, David Tanis, is a chef at Chez Panisse. David organized the fete, sending us all on errands for foie gras, black truffles, caviar, Champagne, macaroons, and wine. I gladly took on the hunt for foie gras and truffles, and found the refined version of foie gras at Couesnon (30 Rue Dauphin, 6th), encased in a wobbly amber gelee. I then headed across the river to the Maison de la Truffe (19 Place de la Madeleine, 8th), anticipating a cheery in-house conversation on how to serve them, with lots of sniffing and holding of the rocklike tubers in my hands. I even let myself fantasize that the proprietor's dog would be there at his side, yelping at the scent as his master handed me my treasure. But in all of my years of food shopping in Paris—always a joy for me—I have never had such an annoying experience. I practically had to drag the salesman out from the depths behind the counter, and once he heard my accent, he turned dismissive. He almost brushed me off when I told him the truffles were for a salad.


The specimen he offered was somewhat spongy and provided not a whiff, not a trace of anything vaguely resembling the scent of a fresh truffle. Granted, it was a little early in the season for black truffles—they are generally better after Christmas—but the one he handed me would not do, nor would the three or four others he was to show me. Would he have a better selection tomorrow? "Non, non, non." But as I had my hand on the door, the cranky clerk suddenly turned to me and said, "Oh, madame, I just remembered, I might have something you'd like." He opened a refrigerated package, and instantly the store was infused with that unmistakable aroma of truffle. "But it will be more expensive," he warned. At almost $2,400 per kilo, I had to ask: "You mean because it's the real thing?" He nodded, "Oui, madame." As I left with the hard-to-come-by truffle, his fiendish Doberman snarled at my heels.

Back at the apartment, we smashed half of our expensive prize into a vinaigrette and let it steep, then shaved thin slices of the rest over the shellfish salad before serving it. The truffle was a sensation. But, mon dieu, such a struggle to get it.

Sertl's Note:You're on your own in Paris with the mean ol' truffle man, but to buy truffles in the U.S. without hassle, call Urbani (215-699-8780). To ensure freshness, no orders are taken online or via e-mail.

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