Looking for Trouble
A reader, Melissa Graviss, wrote recently to excoriate me as "extremely irresponsible" for suggesting that amateurs might try their hand at collecting mushrooms in some of the East Bay regional parks. Of course there is a difference between collecting wild mushrooms and actually eating them, but the recent death by mushroom poisoning of wine scion Sam Sebastiani Jr. (who apparently ate a Death Cap collected near his home in Santa Rosa) sharpens Graviss' point.
"Identifying mushrooms is tricky business," she says. "I have done some collecting and I know how difficult it is. I also know some people who thought they knew how to identify psychedelic mushrooms and got themselves pretty sick." Would-be amateur collectors need a region-specific guide, she says, along with a microscope and a reagent (such as potassium hydroxide) for gill and spore identification.
"Beginning foragers should collect the same species and positively identify it three times," she says, "before attempting to eat it."
Better advice would be not to eat wild mushrooms at all, even if you've positively identified them, but that's asking a lot of people who are out looking for them. And because of all the wet weather, there are a lot of mushrooms -- good and bad -- out there.
Here's bit of cold comfort: Although poisonous mushrooms are all too commonplace (toxic fungi occur in every genus, says Graviss), most won't kill you -- they'll just make you sick. To avoid even those, consult the Mycological Society of San Francisco at 759-0495.
For Lovers Only
If you've recently won Super Lotto and you're in love, too, you might be interested in the fixed-price Valentine's Day dinner at Aqua, where for $85 per person you'll dine on three courses plus dessert. (Prominent on the menu: black truffles, caviar, lobster.)
Cheapskates can check out Charles Nob Hill, which offers four courses (including lobster with truffle-infused sauce) plus dessert for only $75.
And the truly destitute can make their way to the nearest Starbucks, which will sell you a pound of Italian roast and an opera CD titled La Grande Passion -- a collection of classic lovey-dovey arias -- for only $16.95. Plus tax. No tip.
Barbara Tropp's China Moon Cafe is now the New Moon Cafe. Tropp is consulting chef to the new venture. She's also consulting at the Flat Top Grill in Chicago. And Derek Burns, who left Meribel last fall after one month as chef, is now consulting executive chef at Hornblower Dining Yachts.