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Beware of truffles at Craft!

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Yesterday, at Craft.
Waiter says "We have white truffles".
I ask "From where?"
Waiter says : "Alba, Italy".
I say: "Too early".
Waiter says: "This ones are the first, just arrived."

Preposterous. Of course we declined.
I couldn't resist emailing today to my truffles contact in Italy.
Contact says : No way, nothing until October at best ("Settembre è un mese di fermo biologico").

Now, question: does Colicchio need to push Chinese or God Knows what stuff as the real thing? Shame on you, Mister!

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  1. It could just be the ignorance of the waiter.

    I previously posted that Providence and Mori are now offering matsutake and it's also way too early for that. The smell and taste of the Mori ones were actually quite strong in a good way. The Providence ones were supposedly from Mexico.

    Something is brewing in the LA dining scene or the fungus world.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Porthos

      The waiter was very clear of the concept.
      The word "Alba" is ONLY used in the context of Tuber Magnatum Pico, he must have been instructed by management.
      But you are definitely right, something is brewing in the LA fungus world, although I'm afraid whatever it is, doesn't look good. Or ethical, for that matter.

      1. re: RicRios

        Agreed that something stinks and it's not the scent of fine fungus. The NYT piece on fake fish makes you think that pawning off fake/inferior fungus most likely has been going on for some time already and we are just beginning to suspect.

        1. re: Porthos

          You know what i took away from that piece? That people are willing to pay for the idea of something grand without actually knowing the difference.

          It is extremely dishonest of restaurants and food purveyors to mislabel their products and charge the client for it.

          In the same breath i cannot empathize with "foodies" who eat it up, pay for it, brag about it and then get upset when they are told they were duped.

          1. re: GenevieveCa

            Here's where I'm not quite with you. I am someone who loves to eat great food and drink great wine. Now, I actually know my wine, so if someone were trying to tell me something was amazing that wasn't I would confidently KNOW. Counter-example, I don't know a lot about truffles and I've eaten very few of them in my life. If I go to Craft and eat an $85 dish with "truffles from Alba" I am not only trusting that the information is accurate, I'm also trusting Craft and Colicchio and Accarrino to be helping me to experience something that is exotic to me and helping me to develop a taste for it. If I'm getting wrong info, that's really inexcusable. AT BEST, It would be like pouring me a California pinot and telling me it's a grand cru red burgundy. Which doesn't mean California doesn't make some great Pinots, obviously, or that Tennessee doesn't make some great truffles. It's just wrong, especially when you're talking about that kinda money.

      2. re: Porthos

        Mori probably got his shrooms from the Pacific NW.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Yes, but season in Oregon usually starts early September (just called one of the park ranger stations and was told this year starts Sept 2nd) and I've had matsutake the past 2 weeks already.

        2. re: Porthos

          Matsutake are growing where I live

        3. actually, it sounds like they may be telling the truth. this website claims that there's an early season, but is only charging $95/oz for them, which seems oddly cheap. not sure what's going on, but it's possible that there are alba truffles right now?

          http://www.gourmetfoodstore.com/truff...

          1. Maybe it has something to do with climate change.

            1. In order to ascertain the truth, I just called Craft. Got a woman taking reservations named Grace, told her there was a dispute about Craft's truffles, and asked what is being offered, where they are from, and what is the price. We joked about how I'd like to ask Colicchio if he were available. After inquiring in the kitchen, she put me through to a sous chef named Michael. Told him of the truffle controversy. His immediate reply was that they have indeed received some "summer white truffles" but he admitted that a waiter must be mistaken if he identified them as from Alba, "where we have gotten our truffles in the past." He said he would look into the question, took my number, and told me he'd get back to me. This entire exchange took about five minutes and ended a few minutes ago.

              1. Just got a call from Matthew Accarino (beware of my spelling) from Craft. He says they are shaving white truffles from Tuscany. He says it is the earliest he can ever recall for truffles to be available. He says that a 6g. shaving is part of a dish available for $85 total. Look, as I explained to him, I have no horse in this race. I just saw the accusation against Craft and as a restaurant that I respect, I made a couple of calls to get the true story. I admire them for responding well within an hour, and having the Chowhound thread in front of them.

                18 Replies
                1. re: nosh

                  that's pretty awesome that he followed up on it

                  1. re: ns1

                    Responded within twenty minutes, before lunch service rather than waiting until after. No matter what the quality of the truffles, the concern for their reputation and their accessibility speaks volumes. At most places, the hostess picking up the phone would write a quick note and it would be hours if not days, if at all. Kudos to Craft.

                    1. re: nosh

                      White truffles from TUSCANY? I am by no means a white truffle expert but true Alba white truffles would be from Piedmont, not Tuscany. I wonder if it's the same species. Tuscany is not that far from Piedmont, so it may be possible, but I'm a little skeptical, given the time of the year. Oh well, stranger things have happened, especially when Mother Nature is involved.

                      Awesome detective work Nosh. Very cool of the chef to follow up personally.

                      1. re: 2surly

                        You people need to get a hobby! Wait, this is a hobby... Cool!

                        1. re: JeMange

                          roflmao, JeMange ...

                        2. re: 2surly

                          I believe they refered to them as summer white truffles, not alba truffles. I know nothing about truffles, just repeating what they said.

                        3. re: nosh

                          Great job digging up the story. Amazing how that cleared up everything and there was all this nefarious insinuations from a simple case of miscommunication from a waiter.

                          1. re: Jase

                            Not so simple IMHO. Craft should know better. When you are pushing something that can cost $5000 a pound, you owe it to the diner to GET IT RIGHT.

                            Been a victim to the same "miscommunication" (read: salesmanship) at other LA restaurants.

                            1. re: Adsvino

                              Sure, but it's a long way from a waiter screwing it up to accusing the restaurant of wholesale fraud. If there was suspicion, why not ask the manager right away? Instead we have all this subterfuge of contacting overseas personal sources, etc.

                              A five minute conversation with the manager that night and this would have been a more complete story and less of a he said, she said. If the manager and chef that night had flat out said it was one thing but not the other, then yeah, flame them all in this public forum. But now we're all relying on third hand reports.

                              I just think its bad for patrons and restaurants to automatically assume the worst of each other. It makes it harder for all of us to pursue good chow.

                      2. re: nosh

                        nosh, thank you for taking the time to uncover the truth here.

                        My wife and I ate at Craft with 3 other couples a few weeks ago, and I had the White Truffle Ravioli, which I am sure is the dish being referenced here, as it is listed on the menu at $85.

                        I will say that when I asked my server about the truffles, seeking clarification on the type of white truffle being used ... in particular looking for clarity on it being a Summer variety, as well as region, she only could reply that, "Oh, they're the real deal." So I think this is more a matter of waitstaff not being as well-informed as the diners, which is something I experience not infrequently here in LA. I suspect it is a result of the Hollywood Model-Actor-Waiter (MAW) found here in LA versus the more career-oriented Waiters found on the East Coast and abroad.

                        That being said, our meal at Craft was definitely one of the best we've had in LA, and I even took the time to express such to Chef Matthew after the fact. His response to the concerns here gibes with my overall high impression of him. When we spoke after our meal, he was very appreciative of all comments (both positive and constructively critical), and he even took the time to walk with me from the kitchen out to the valet stand and chat while we waited for the car to be brought around.

                        I would absolutely recommend Craft to anyone.

                        1. re: a213b

                          Hey, if you don't mind paying $85 for cheap summer truffles, go for it. I would consider that a major rip off. Only Alba truffles are worth anything close to that price.

                          1. re: a213b

                            a213b, what do you especially recommend at Craft? The menu is a bit overwhelming and if you are only with one other person, you cannot sample everything, so I am always looking for Craft recommendations. Yesterday, I had chicken with black-eyed peas for lunch at Craft. Probably the best restaurant chicken I have had in 10 years in the U.S.

                            1. re: omotosando

                              You are right, the extensive menu at Craft can be hard to navigate. The one dish that receives the most universal acclaim is the roasted assorted mushrooms as a side.

                              [No, not the truffles, the mushrooms.]

                              1. re: nosh

                                Ironically although I adore Craft, the mushrooms don't blow me away. Now the corn I had there one night, that's another story . .

                                1. re: omotosando

                                  I'm goign to Craft next week and they have braised corn on the menu. Was this what you had and what made it so special? I truly love corn but there are so many interedting sides that I don't want to make the wrong choice. Is the corn one of the better sides?

                                2. re: nosh

                                  The Hen of the Woods mushrooms is what people fawn over. It was not available when I went.

                                  When I went they had that--I never remember the name--very large white one with lots of stem (you eat the stem). You can get it at most Chinese markets. It was very nicely roasted, but I felt ripped off bc it's so cheap at the Chinese markets.

                                3. re: omotosando

                                  As we were a party of 8, I was able to
                                  sample a variety of dishes. Here are the thoughts my wife and I had:

                                  Starters: if you are comfortable with the price, the white truffle raviolo was fantastic. Also, both the seared foie gras and the sweetbreads were delicious.

                                  Mains: the table ended up with 5 steaks (4 Bone-in NY and 1 Flatiron), 2 Braised Short Ribs and 1 Fish (though I cant recall which). We both loved the braised short rib, although I will admit to being a sucker for braised meats in general. No one liked the flatiron, and reviews were mixed on the NY - several loved them, but my wife and I didn't. Don't get me wrong ... it was better than one from Ruths Chris, but having just eaten at Jar and Cut (and even Mozza), we found their steaks to be tastier.

                                  Sides: We got the duck-fat fries, the green beans, the sweet corn, the mushrooms, the onions, the lemon-artichoke risotto, potato gratin, and the potato purée.

                                  Everyone LOVED the potato purée, the risotto, and the corn. The duck-fat fries, mushrooms, green beans, and potato gratin were good, but nothing amazing or groundbreaking. The onions were simply not good. The had far too much of a vinegary flavor, and it was very off-putting. We mentioned it to our server, and she acknowledged that it must not have been cooked properly, and accordingly removed it from the check.

                                  Desserts: The table had 2 orders of the homemade donuts, 2 chocolate soufflés, 1 order of ice cream and waffles, and 1 order of the peanut butter cup.

                                  None of the desserts were mind-blowing, as in I would not make a special trip to Craft solely for dessert. That being said, several atbthe table really enjoyed the donuts, but both my wife and I thought they left a little something to be desired. The chocolate soufflés were quite good. The ice cream and waffles were good, but always feel like I can get good Ice Cream at a variety of spots around town that focus on ice cream.

                                  The peanut butter cup was the favorite of the table, it was very tasty ... and I find that type of dish is almost always lackluster whenever I've tried it elsewhere.

                                  Anyway, hope that helps ... let me know if there's anything else you want to know.

                                  1. re: a213b

                                    Steaks did nothing for me at Craft either. Other stuff better.

                            2. Still not an expert on truffles, but saw some interesting information about them (it's wikipedia, so take it with a grain of salt). First off, the white truffle (tuber magnatum) is found primarily in the Piedmont region, but can also be found in one small area of Croatia as well. There are also "whitish" truffles (tuber borchi) and these truffles are in fact found in Tuscany and Romagna. However, they are not as aromatic as their Piedmontese cousins. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to read more about the whitish truffles to see what the season is, or to see if these were in fact the "summer" white truffles. But in light of what the chef told nosh, it would make sense, although I wish I knew if their seasonality was the same or similar to the winter white truffle.

                              I think I now know more about gourmet fungus than I ever thought I would (or would care to). Curiosity is my worst enemy.

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: 2surly

                                The bianchetto (tuber borchii), or "whitish" truffle, is indeed cultivated in the region of Tuscany, and is in fact sometimes referred to as the Tuscany white truffle. The season however typically begins in winter and ends in early spring. Though they do tend to preserve better than the Alba, I do think August is a bit late to be serving fresh bianchetto and quite early for Alba white truffles.

                                1. re: drpynchon

                                  This thread made the LA times today (with a quote from Ric)

                                  1. re: Adsvino

                                    Are you able to provide a link? TIA

                                    1. re: justagthing

                                      http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/daily...

                                  2. re: drpynchon

                                    ummm, I thought the thing about truffles is that you CAN'T cultivate them---they are wild and grow whereever the heck they feel like growing.......if they could be cultivated, they wouldn't cost so much.

                                    Truffles--white and black-- grow in lots of places. Its just that all the places they grow don't result in tasty truffles. I had domestic white truffles before and couldn't figure out the big deal. Oh they smelled fine but there was no taste worth the price that was being charged.

                                    IMHO.

                                    1. re: jenn

                                      So sorry.. Of course. Cultivate wasn't the right word there, though in point of fact, people do try to cultivate truffles. It's just easier said than done and yields mixed results.

                                2. I transcribe an email received a couple days ago ( unfortunately it ended up in the spam folder, therefore my delay in posting )

                                  Hello,

                                  My name is Tyler Gray; I am the co-owner / founder of Mikuni Wild Harvest. We are a specialty foods company that has been in business for the last 10 years. We have warehouses in Portland / Vancouver / Las Vegas & New York. The reason I am writing you is because we were contacted from the LA Times about a post that was made on Chowhoud regarding the authenticity of some White “Alba” Truffles (tuber magnatum) which we sold Craft LA. As I told the food writer from the LA Times, we have been buying truffles from the same company in Italy for the last 10 years; they are the largest and most respected Truffle Company in the world and there ethics are uncompromised. Mikuni has been selling Fresh truffles to the top restaurants in the USA for years (Per Se, Masa, Charlie Trotters, ect ect) and they continue to buy from us because they trust us. I also told her that although it is early to see White Alba Truffles, it is not unheard of….and in fact they are the ONLY white truffle growing anywhere in the world right now. The only other Fresh truffles that are growing right now are Black Summer Truffles and Black Burgundy Truffles both varieties are growing in Umbria, some regions of France and a few in Croatia…..there are also a few Black Winter Truffles coming out of Australia. None of these species can be mistaken for a white truffle; the aesthetics & aroma are like night and day, or black and white if you will. With all due respect to your contact in Italy, I must say that he is wrong on this particular issue. It is very hard to pin point seasonality with Wild foods, I have been foraging for wild foods since I was a kid and seasonal growth patterns have drastic changes all the time…if you read some of the other posts responding to your initial comment you will notice that someone was adamant that Matsutake Mushrooms could not possibly be in season right now as it is “to early” and although it is early….we have been seeing & selling them for the last 3 weeks, so there are always exceptions.

                                  I would be happy to talk to you over the phone to discuss in more detail if you’re interested, or I could liaison a phone call between you and the president of Urbani Truffles in Italy, (who we purchase from) to help clear up any confusion or mis-understanding regarding the authenticity of the white truffles that are currently being sold at Craft LA. My goal in writing this to you is to try and clear up the negative impression your post made on the integrity of Craft Restaurant. I would be happy to post something myself on Chowhound but I thought you might be interested in doing so after either reading this, or talking with me.

                                  I look forward to hearing from you & Thanks in advance,

                                  Tyler Gray

                                  tylerg@mikuniwildharvest.com

                                  www.mikuniwildharvest.com

                                  ph. 866-993-9927

                                  fax. 800-520-8304

                                  10 Replies
                                  1. re: RicRios

                                    Is this post your apology?

                                    1. re: Servorg

                                      Nope, research is ongoing.

                                      1. re: RicRios

                                        So you are still convinced that Craft is defrauding the public with their "white truffles"?

                                        1. re: Servorg

                                          As I said above, I'm still digging.
                                          Once I get to the bottom I'll report back.

                                          1. re: RicRios

                                            Well, digging is the proper way to get truffles.

                                        2. re: RicRios

                                          Did he say where his are from?

                                          1. re: Adsvino

                                            Gray says in his email he buys from Urbani.

                                          2. re: RicRios

                                            "nope" ... lol

                                        3. re: RicRios

                                          To clarify Mr. Gray's point about me being adament about matsutake not being in season. You can buy tomatoes in winter, but that doesn't mean it's tomato season. You can have kohada year round but that doesn't mean it's kohada season. There is a certain time in the year when a certain ingredient is at its peak ripeness, flavor, fat content, etc. That's usually what season means.

                                          This is relevent to the original discussion because apparently you can get white alba truffles from Tuscany in August and matsutake from Mexico but that is of a different quality and flavor than alba truffles from Piedmont in October or November or Matsutake from Japan at the height of "season".

                                          In regards to matsutake in Oregon, why would state parks designate a specific date for season and picking? Does this imply that it is not legal to pick matsutake before the designated start date? I don't know. Maybe someone from Oregon could answer this question.

                                          1. re: Porthos

                                            My dad's friend up in Coos Bay used to go out in the forest behind his home and harvest at will back in the 70s and early 80s. When he would visit my parents, he'd show up in his RV with one or two ice chests full of matsutake sitting in pine needles. Once the word got out that the area was rich with matsutake, the forests of Oregon experienced a gold rush of sorts. The result was those harvesting mushrooms were trashing the forests and pulling up the smallest bits of mushrooms they could find. I think it would be a fair assumption but I don't know if this overharvesting and the trampling and overturning of massive areas of forest floor is what led to the establishment of seasons though. My dad's friend has since moved so we've lost track of the situation from a first person's point-of-view.

                                        4. With all the adulterated and mislabeled food products on the market a certain amount of skepticism is healthy. Olive oil and wine from Italy have recently figured in this sort of thing.

                                          Maybe some DNA testing on Craft's truffles would settle things.

                                          1. OK, here's the deal.

                                            The "very fragrant Tuscany" line mentioned in the LA Times blog is pure hogwash.

                                            All there is now, and there's been for a few weeks back ( and, so it seems, is fairly common this time of the year ) is an early batch of magnatum in Croatia.

                                            From my Croatian contact:
                                            "Yes, there are already fresh magnatum, but are not stabile yet(aroma, small worms) I cant garanty the quality. Price at the moment: 700eur/kg"
                                            (sic)

                                            In conclusion:

                                            FIRST, not good quality nor ready for market yet.
                                            SECOND, low price ( which matches the low quality ) of 700 Euro/Kilo ( not reflected in Craft's pricing).
                                            THIRD, low aroma, which obviously mandates generous sprinkling with truffle oil.
                                            FOURTH, a suggestion for Craft's COLASUATs (Consummers of late summer Alba truffles): Ask for the stuff to be shaved at the table. If they refuse, then pass.

                                            Caveat Emptor!

                                            17 Replies
                                            1. re: RicRios

                                              Would you mind posting your Italian and Croatian contacts' info please?

                                              1. re: a213b

                                                http://www.centrotartufimolise.com/

                                                http://www.zigantetartufi.com/novo/in...

                                                1. re: RicRios

                                                  Thanks ... much appreciated!

                                              2. re: RicRios

                                                How does this, and also the letter from Tyler Gray, jibe with Accarrino's comment that they are from Tuscany? That's not a loaded question, there's a lot of place names I am not following in this thread.

                                                1. re: la tache burger

                                                  Just a marketing gimmmick.

                                                  White truffles are supposed to come from "Alba" i.e., Piemonte, i.e. Italy. Tuscany being close enough, and prestigious enough, in the public's perception.

                                                  By the same token, black truffles ( tuber melanosporum ) are referred to as "Périgord", when in actuality they are now mostly farmed, with Spain being one of the major players.

                                                  All this thread reminds me of the Lewinsky affair.
                                                  The irritating factor is not the facts per se, but the lying.

                                                  1. re: RicRios

                                                    at this point, it seems its a matter of contact versus contact. and despite your digging, i see no reason to take your 'croatian contact' as the true accurate source for an answer.

                                                    it would be naive, imo, to jump to the conclusion of "lying" as you just did.

                                                    1. re: ddr705

                                                      Is it fair to say there should not be so much confusion over something an extremely highly regarded restaurant is charging so much money for? Again, I am not a truffle expert by a long shot, so I'm really just asking. But I would be completely putting myself in the hands of the restaurant because I know nothing about truffles, expecting both an experience and an education. Right?

                                                      1. re: la tache burger

                                                        When it comes to putting ourselves in the hands of the restaurant; as we all do with the provenance of the lamb or what grade of beef we're being served or what fish filet is on the plate in front of us or what the "organic" status of the vegetables is and on and on and on.

                                                      2. re: ddr705

                                                        Not quite.
                                                        The market is very small, all producers/distributors at the top of the chain know each other fairly well, and are well aware of product, prices & availability.

                                                        1. re: RicRios

                                                          Should just invite them all to this board and have them battle it out.

                                                          1. re: ns1

                                                            Sure, why not, that'll be fun. Please go ahead!

                                                            1. re: RicRios

                                                              You seem to be the one stirring the pot, so don't look at me.

                                                              1. re: ns1

                                                                it seems this discussion has reached something of an impasse. Craft and co say one thing, and your Croatian contact says another.

                                                  2. re: RicRios

                                                    I don't know anything about truffles, but you certainly haven't shown that Mr. Tyler Gray's assertions were false. All you've shown is that some third party thinks the claims are false, without any supporting evidence. Why don't you take Mr. Gray up on the offer to speak with president of Urbani Truffles?

                                                    1. re: QualityMart

                                                      I did.
                                                      I called Urbani NY, spoke with Rosita ( 718 433 1560 )
                                                      Rosita referred me to Francesco, their rep in LA ( 310 804 0393 )
                                                      Francesco said he had some stuff right now but he suggested waiting a little b/c what he had at the time was not very good.

                                                      1. re: RicRios

                                                        you guys and girls are getting way too upset about all of this. i am a chef here in town who sells lots of truffles during the season, both black and white. i am also a full fledged mushroom nerd, and a former member of the los angeles mycoligical society (i'll show you the t-shirt if you don't believe me). the fact is that there are white truffles around and while they might not come from alba they are tuber magnatum pico.
                                                        and as for matsutakes, we have been enjoying them for the past month. the earliest ones came from mexico and now they are coming from washington and soon from canada. mushrooms and truffles are mysterious things that don't always conform to schedules and expectations.

                                                        1. re: staggerlee

                                                          But do they conform to a value of $95 a grating?

                                                  3. A little search led me to an article in an online Seattle news"paper". I excerpted the following paragraph:

                                                    "Budget-conscious consumers aren't the only ones likely to buy mislabeled food. Shopping at the most expensive stores, even for the most costly items, is not a guarantee of quality and safety. Two extreme examples are exorbitantly priced fresh Italian white truffles and Russian beluga caviar. Some specialty stores have discovered that some suppliers selling them had mislabeled white truffles from China as Italian and purported Russian caviar actually was made from soy meal."

                                                    Not to say Craft's truffles were bogus, but that some are.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: Akitist

                                                      Mikuni Wild Harvest is the most reputable and foremost truffle distributor in the United States. You say that "all there has been... is an early batch of magnatum in Croatia." Unfortunately, RicRios, I think you and your croation friend are incorrect.

                                                      1. re: ddr705

                                                        (Psst I think his friend is Italian)

                                                        1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

                                                          man you guys are really into this truffle thing...i thought you guys were talking about chocolate......hey JK.....sometimes i feel like the chefs or owners should be honest about what they are selling, but on the other hand you should have some idea about what you are buying...anyways

                                                          1. re: buttermarblepopcorn

                                                            Nope, Croatian,

                                                            1. re: Adsvino

                                                              Original post refers to an Italian contact; the Croatian was mentioned later.

                                                              "I couldn't resist emailing today to my truffles contact in Italy.
                                                              Contact says : No way, nothing until October at best ("Settembre è un mese di fermo biologico")."

                                                              Unless it was an Italian-speaking Croat residing in Italy, not impossible, I guess.

                                                              1. re: Akitist

                                                                He called both - 2 different contacts.