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Pasta with Truffles, a Bargain at $110 a Bowl

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I split a bowl of pasta topped with huge slices of a white Alba truffles with a lunchmate at Da Marco over the holidays. A bowl of tagliatelle and truffles goes for $125 at dinner. It's only $110 at lunch, so we paid a mere $55 each for the ethereal experience. The flavor is like nothing else on earth. I have heard it described as a combination of earthy mushroom flavors and strong garlic-like aromas, but that doesn't begin to capture it.

Marco Wiles went to Alba this fall and gathered truffles with a truffle hunter and his dog. There is a glass jar full of white truffles on rice in the front hall when you walk in the restaurant. The aroma of the truffles penetrates the uncooked grains -- you can taste the truffles when you cook the rice.

I have eaten white truffles shaved over pasta once before in my life at a little trattoria in Bologna. I watched my fellow diners stick their faces into the steam rising from the plate as the truffle was shaved over their pasta and greedily inhale the fumes. They looked like they were snorting cocaine. When my turn came, I did the same. It was a rush. Truffles are like that. Whole truffles shaved over a plate of pasta is an otherworldly experience that goes beyond tasting and smelling -- every food lover should experience it at least once.

The aroma of a truffle is penetrating -- it's much stronger than garlic. I bought a chestnut-size specimen at a black truffle market in rural France once and had to pull the rental car over on the way home because I couldn't take the aroma anymore and it was too cold to drive with the windows down. I put the smelly nugget in the trunk.

There are several less expensive truffled dishes available at Da Marco, but a hint of truffles is not the same. The flavor accumulates on your palate. The first few bites are good, but as you eat a lot of truffle the flavor keeps getting stronger until your mouth and nose are coated with it. That's why Colette wrote, "If I can't have too many truffles, then I'll do without truffles."

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