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Published December 03, 2012, 11:34 PM

Local restaurants add a taste of luxury with truffles

FARGO - To add a touch of luxury while dining out without breaking the bank, ask for truffles.

FARGO - To add a touch of luxury while dining out without breaking the bank, ask for truffles.

Several restaurants in the Fargo-Moorhead area offer appetizers or entrees that are made with truffles, an expensive and rare underground fungus harvested mostly in European countries like Italy, Spain and France.

Monte’s in downtown Fargo offers several dishes that include truffles, such as the Truffle Mayonnaise served with the Filet Mignon and Lobster Sandwich, Truffle Mashed Potatoes served with the Roasted Rack of Lamb, and the Truffle and Leek Vinaigrette with the grilled Scottish Salmon.

Executive Chef Christian D’Agostino says truffles are usually added to recipes in the form of a white truffle-infused olive oil, or through the shavings of black truffles.

“I think the white truffle has more flavor, but the black truffle has more color,” he says.

Regardless of what form is used, truffles add an “earthy” flavor to dishes, D’Agostino says, which makes sense because the fungus was underground for many years before being harvested.

And it’s not just one type of food that truffles can be added to, D’Agostino says – the flavor goes well with a variety of different dishes.

“It’s a unique flavor,” he says.

Other truffle options around town include the Grilled Beef Tenderloin at the HoDo, served with grilled cauliflower gratin, wild mushrooms, black truffle and more, or the Poulet Rouge Chicken Imperial with a black-truffle-stuffed breast at the newly-opened Beefsteak Club downtown.

At Lucky’s 13 in Fargo, the Kobe Beef Sliders are served with special truffle ketchup. Made from Italian black truffles, manager Jesse Schanilec says the ketchup is “very, very rich, very flavorful.”

“There’s a unique scent to it as well, especially when it’s added to the Kobe beef,” he adds.

Diners at Lucky’s 13 often don’t know what truffles are or why they’re added to the ketchup, Schanilec says. But once employees explain it, they’re willing to give it a try – and they usually like it.

“But, every once in a while you’re going to get that guy who just wants his regular ketchup,” Schanilec adds.

Truffle oil can also be used to flavor fries as well, as at the Beefsteak Club and Granite City Food & Brewery in Fargo.

Adam Rosenheim, an assistant kitchen manager at Granite City, says the truffle fries there are popular with diners.

“A lot of people like it. It gives (the fries) a very unique flavor,” he says.

You’re not going to see truffles used at every restaurant in town, though. The fungus is considered a delicacy and can be pretty expensive to come by. In fact, 60 Minutes this year dubbed it “the most expensive food in the world,” with one two-pound truffle recently selling for more than $300,000.

Locally, D’Agostino says truffle oil costs somewhere around $16 for 8 ounces. Seven ounces of black truffle shavings might cost $40, he says, while an intact black truffle would go for closer to $40 an ounce.

If diners have noticed truffles becoming more common around area restaurants, D’Agostino says it’s possibly because there have been more high-class establishments opening, where truffles are more likely to be served.

“Just in the Fargo area, in the past 10 years, more of the fine-dining restaurants have come about, which is probably why you’re seeing (truffles) more,” he says.

But if you want to give truffles a try, don’t wait too long. One of the reasons that truffles are so expensive is that their global supply is steadily decreasing, in part because of climate change, scientists say.

Indeed, that’s some serious truffle trouble.

People who trouble themselves with truffles

Because they’re so expensive, truffles are often found in the news along with the rich and famous. Here are some people you might recognize that have recently been associated with truffles in some way:

• Barack Obama: President Obama recently received a special re-election gift from a small village in Italy: a 2.2 pound truffle. The village often bestows truffle gifts on American presidents or other foreign dignitaries.

• Oprah Winfrey: Just last week, Oprah included several truffle-flavored products on her “Favorite Things 2012” list, including black truffle sausage, truffle butter, truffle oils and truffle cheese.

• Jay-Z: Earlier in November, the rapper and record producer traveled to Italy with some friends and indulged in an expensive truffle-filled dinner in the city of Alba. The Guardian newspaper of London reported that Jay-Z even went into the woods with a local farmer to search out some truffles for harvesting.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Sam Benshoof at (701) 241-5535