Versus: A Morel Dilemma

Edible ‘shrooms, two ways.

The Dish: The earthy flavor and spongy texture of a morel mushroom only add to its allure. These distinct 'shrooms are only available a few weeks each spring, becoming more elusive as the weather warms. They aren't easy to find, either: They congregate near trauma sites in the forest where floods, logging, fires, and other natural catastrophies have occurred. Unless you're willing to pay a small fortune for these beauties at your local market, you might want to take in the flavor of the season by letting someone else cook them for you. We found similar morel dishes at two local restaurants that get their morels from the same source: Seattle's own mushroom man, Jeremy Faber of Foraged & Found Edibles. But which place did the best job of creating a dish that showcases morels in all their earthy glory?The Rivals: Sitka & Spruce, 1531 Melrose Ave. E. #6, 324-0662. These morels are mixed with fresh peas, garden sorrel, and a handful of fragrant herbs (we detected parsley, rosemary, and maybe some caraway), then tossed with a sauce made from chicken stock and butter before being laid to rest on a piece of toast and topped with sea salt and a Stokesberry Farms chicken egg. The result is a decadent and vibrant dish ($14) that's both fork-and-knife and finger-food friendly. Chef Matt Dillon's morel dish is so popular, the kitchen has been known to run out of eggs for late-night orders.Emmer & Rye, 1825 Queen Anne Ave. N., 282-0680. Chef Seth Caswell's version of morel toast is not as fancy as Sitka's, but it's truer to the flavor of the forest, for the same price. Two slices of toast are topped with a generous amount of morels and three huge chunks of Estrella's Brewleggio cheese—much like taleggio, but washed with Naughty Nellie Ale from Pike Brewing. The simple recipe creates a rustic and woody flavor that makes you wonder if Caswell is picking the morels himself seconds before preparation. Instead of masking the morels' earthy tones, the cheese nicely complements both their flavor and meaty texture, while the beer wash adds a yeasty component. At $14, this dish isn't exactly a bargain, but you can order a single piece of toast for $8.The Champ: Since this challenge is about finding the dish that best highlights the morel, we give this Versus crown to Emmer & Rye, which let the morels shine by casting them in the lead role in a toast-and-cheese show. Caswell does what so many chefs do not: He lets a simple dish just be without overwhelming its delicate flavors. Sitka & Spruce, however, also won us over with their morel creation, which we found intricate, refined, balanced, and highly enjoyable. We'll certainly go back for both. Dilemma

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