The truffle beef Stroganoff arrives, buried beneath a pile of black-truffle shavings. Then comes black-truffle ice cream, a cheesecake with candy-cup-mushroom sauce, and a black-truffle latte, with black-truffle shavings sitting atop the foam. There's so much truffle here, I feel like I'm visiting a cult. I've never eaten so much fungus in one sitting.
"What happens if you eat too many truffles?" I ask. "You die of bliss!" Czarnecki announces, refilling our glasses. He then goes on to say that truffles are always emitting gas and heat, and a few minutes after you start eating, it will hit your stomach and release the gas. "It's a fragrant burp," he admits. "We call it the Truffle Burp."
While I'm waiting for this phenomenon, I realize that Czarnecki is living the chef's dream. He's winning awards in a region that is just now getting recognition for its excellent Pinot Noir wines and truffles that threaten Europe's old-world standards.
Czarnecki loves the Euro/American controversy. "It's a sense of culinary tension - that's part of the fun of exposing people to it. Nobody quite wants to believe it, that we have good truffles. It's my new crusade."
He drops the truffle into a plastic bag and hands it over with a smile. "You can use it anytime, or you can wait up to a week."
I drive home in a car reeking of truffle, thinking about this strange underground fungus that is worshipped by so many. It seems crazy, but it’s also exciting. Fungus fans can discover new species and maybe even get one named after them. Europe’s culinary tradition has a serious challenge on its hands. And people in Oregon can eat and drink themselves sick with world-class truffles and Pinot, if they choose.
The next morning, my plane takes off from Portland’s airport, and, as if on cue, an unmistakable waft of Oregon black truffle starts seeping out of the overhead compartment and permeates the aircraft cabin with aromas of coconut, chocolate, and coffee.