JACK CZARNECKI AND HIS WIFE, Heidi, graciously whisk me up the steepest flight of stairs I've seen since my first apartment in San Francisco. I check out the Joel Palmer House menu. There are only two truffle items listed tonight - truffle beef Stroganoff and a portobello appetizer with white truffle oil. This is very disappointing. Could it be that the Truffle King of Oregon has scarcely any truffles in his restaurant?

Of course not. Czarnecki soon comes by and dumps a huge ziplock bag onto the table, filled with perhaps 30 Oregon black truffles the size of baseballs. "These are still factories," he says, meaning that the truffles are still alive and maturing. "The bag lets them reabsorb their own moisture and slows down the process. It re-creates the conditions underground when it is refrigerated." He rummages around and hands me a big fat specimen: "That one's got a nice aroma."

I give it a sniff. The odor hits me in the face like a shovel - intense, pungent, loamy, dizzying. It makes me light-headed. I feel a bit high, like I'm chasing a pig in a forest.

Czarnecki grins. He does this every night, carrying truffles from table to table, asking customers to take a big whiff. Named one of the top 16 chefs in the country by the James Beard Foundation in 1987, he's written three cookbooks and has been described as "the nation's leading authority on mushroom cookery." But what he loves most is turning people on to truffles.

Czarnecki orders a bottle of Oregon Pinot from one of his three own private labels, and we talk while I eat dinner. An unexpected plate of risotto arrives, with bits of mushroom, white truffle oil, and topped with black truffle shavings. Czarnecki is sorry to hear about the morning's truffle hunt, and shrugs, "You should have gone with me." He heads out two or three days a week to a secret spot with a handful of friends. Whenever anyone finds a truffle, they scream at the top of their lungs.

"It's a great way to enjoy the outdoors without killing anything," he laughs. He finds truffles under the same trees season after season, and has unearthed up to 15 from one tree. "They are gregarious," Czarnecki adds. "You find them at least in twos. You'll see one, and he has a brother."

A waitress sets down a crab, truffle, cabbage, and Japanese seaweed appetizer. A few minutes later, another dish of something covered in small, whole white truffles with a bourbon-infused sauce arrives. The whites are less aromatic than the black truffles, but incredibly dense.

Like the NATS group, Czarnecki looks for animal diggings as a sign of nearby truffles. But as he jokes, "A guaranteed way of finding a truffle is to say, 'I'm going home.' "