Taste: In Search of … Mushrooms

We love us some fungus. Pennsylvania produces more mushrooms annually — 496 million pounds of the lowly button alone — than any other state.

Popular-if-kitschy High Note Café, a BYOB in South Philly best known for pairing huge plates of pasta with opera-singing waiters, stuffs an oversize portabella — the meatiest mushroom — with garlic-specked sautéed broccoli rabe and crumbly extra-sharp provolone cheese for a substantial app.

Cozy Whip Tavern, near Chester County’s mushroom country, simmers whatever locally harvested exotics appeal that day — including the crimini, an immature version of the portabella that looks like a button mushroom but has a deeper color and flavor — in a porcini broth.

If the “black mushrooms” that turn up frequently on the menu of vegetarian Su Xing House look familiar, it’s because they’re shiitakes, dried and reconstituted to boost their sublime, savory flavor. Try them in the steamed dumplings or winter melon soup, or simply stir-fried with asparagus.

When Nineteen chef Marc Plessie can procure porcini mushrooms from the Pacific Northwest, where they grow wild, he offers a shaved porcini salad. The raw, carpaccio-thin mushroom slices, tossed with shallots, chives and lemon juice, are the perfect light intro to raw platters, chops and whole fish.

Before you dig into the delicious fish tacos at Pennsport gastropub The Ugly American, order a plate of chanterelle mushroom balls — golf-ball-size spheres as delicate as the golden, fragrant mushrooms themselves, topped with slivered almonds and a drizzle of pleasantly salty parmesan cream sauce.

At much-overlooked BYOB L’Oca, adjacent to Fairmount’s penitentiary, chef Luca Garutti pairs eggless trofie, a two-inch-long twisted pasta, with a truly exotic blend of mushrooms including the peppery, tree-growing pioppini, which doesn’t turn up often in area kitchens.