Versus: Kings of Corn

Decadent popcorn makes for a deadly duel.

The Dish: If executed improperly, truffled popcorn can wreak havoc on the mouth. Have you ever had a piece of stale, wet popcorn stuck between your teeth? It hurts like hell and potentially dampens the enjoyment of everything you eat afterward.Maybe we're being overly dramatic, but not many dishes are as fragile as lightly popped kernels of corn. A little too much liquid, and you have a soggy mess. Too much time in the popper, and you're left with burnt corn. Too much time left sitting out, and you're basically just munching on cardboard. But when prepared correctly, watch out. Intoxicating aroma aside, truffled popcorn can be the perfect bar snack when you want something light and flavorful to prep the stomach for booze. Just because popcorn is a natural sponge doesn't mean it can't be delicious, right? We chose two bars that specialize in truffled popcorn to see which would best satisfy our craving for crunch.The Rivals: Oliver's Twist, 6822 Greenwood Ave. N., 706-6673. When we asked what was in the garlic truffled popcorn ($4.50/$3.50 during happy hour) at this popular bar in Phinney Ridge, our server didn't miss a beat. "Crack," he replied. It's true—this popcorn contains all the addictive elements: garlic butter, truffle oil, and truffle salt. The novelty bag it's served in mocks the fine ingredients inside, but don't be fooled—this is not mere carnival-caliber food. The flavor is intense, reminding us a little of movie-theater popcorn in the way its seductive oily sheen clings to your fingers. The popcorn's buttery infusion is not subtle, soaking deeply into every kernel. It's also a filling and cheap option when you'd rather blow your wad on Oliver's notoriously good cocktails.Swirl Wine Bar, 3217 W. McGraw St., 327-9221. The Swinery's Gabe Claycamp recently came on board to steer the culinary direction of this Magnolia wine bar, quickly putting his stamp on the menu with items like duck-fat popcorn ($4), drizzled with renderings from Swirl's other duck dishes: crispy confit and seared breast. The fluffy, fresh, air-popped corn is then sprinkled with coarse salt and fresh parsley. The only thing better than this duck-fat popcorn is the truffled popcorn ($4), which is coated with a nice amount of butter and black-truffle oil before being sprinkled with salt and parsley. It has a nice aroma, and is super-flavorful without being a big grease slick. The popcorn goes quickly, but the folks at Swirl have your back: For only $2, you can get a refill.The Champ: What this challenge comes down to is personal preference. If you like buttery popcorn that leaves you with glistening lips and a yearning to kick back with a movie, then Oliver's Twist is where it's at. We prefer our popcorn a little lighter, with a minimal coating of butter and salt that reaches the decadent point without driving it home. While we wish Swirl had swirled around their popcorn a bit more to create an even coating of flavor in every bite, we crown them the winner of this challenge for their gentle hand in the oil-application department and for their genius idea of offering cheap

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