Truffles are the rock stars of the edible universe. They smell like pungent earth, sweaty sex and crushed garlic. A mere shaving of truffle atop a bowl of hot buttered pasta is enough to evoke primal passion and raw emotion in the most stoic of human beings. So watching truffles being used like cheap, ectomycorrhizal whores to inflate the profile (and price) of the same lackluster dishes over and over is a culinary felony on par with ordering a well-done steak -- or using canned mushrooms in anything, ever. And the trend of soaking the same tedious parade of dishes with truffle oil -- especially the ersatz variety laced with 2,4-dithiapentane, an even more egregious offense -- really should have died off in the '90s, when it started.
Brillat-Savarin called truffles "the diamond of the kitchen," but they are fast becoming the tawdry rhinestones on the jean jacket of the restaurant industry, thanks to their criminal overuse in these: our Top Five Foods We're Sick of Finding Truffles In.
5. Mashed potatoes. These are tasty and filling, a natural side for a plump roasted chicken or a sizzling cut of beef, but the truth is that potatoes are cheap, and adding a smidge of truffle is a worn-out justification for an entree price-jack. Serving these is just plain lazy and uninspired, and as long as mashed potatoes are being stifled with truffles, they aren't being innovated with other ingredients that will keep them fresh and exciting.
4. Macaroni and cheese. Upscale diner food still (unfortunately) lingers on the trend front, but continuing to spot mac and cheese dusted with truffle scrapings on too many menus in too many restaurants is a telling signal that lethargic chefs are not just resting on their laurels, but going comatose. Garnishing cheesy elbow pasta with truffles was a pretty wacky juxtaposition years ago, but now the concept isn't even worth a yawn -- or the cost differential.
3. Salad dressing. Truffle vinaigrette was never really a great idea, and Emeril Lagasse endorsing it didn't make it any less stupid. Truffle has a delicate aroma that is overpowered by the acrid smell of vinegar and is further thwarted by the addition of minced shallots. Olfactory essence is the hallmark of the truffle, and so if the scent is pickled away, then you are paying solely for the idea of truffle. Paying money for the idea of something is for politics, not dining.
2. Pizza: Like most great ideas, gourmet mushroom-topped white pizzas drizzled with truffle oil originated as an inventive novelty, but the inspiration started to turn when the oil was being smeared on regular pizzas, and now the scheme is adding it to pizzas already covered with a jumble of truffle-clashing toppings like bacon, tomatoes, peppers, anchovies and such herbs as basil and rosemary, which don't just overpower the delicate essence of truffle; they beat the shit out of it. It's an idiotic waste, so stop before this abuse proliferates into truffle luncheon meat and truffle-berry Kool-Aid.
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SHOW ME HOW
1. French fries. After last year's M.I.A./ Lynn Hirschberg truffle fries media debacle, it became apparent that not only had truffle fries become symbolically effete, but also ubiquitous, to the point where the debate ended up with foodie-bloggers arguing over whether or not truffle fries were even bourgeois enough to be cool anymore. Here's a clue: If hipsters are ordering them, they are passé. It's time to take French-fried potatoes in a new direction before there's a cell-phone app for ordering them in restaurants.