Regarding your article "Taming Wild Mushrooms," by Russ Parsons (Food, Jan. 14): To my delight more area restaurants are serving wild mushrooms and in increasingly interesting ways. No longer are we confronted with only the commercial button mushroom ( Agaricus bisporus )--we are seeing oyster mushrooms, chanterelles, boletes, morels and even the much-prized truffle appear on restaurant menus.
However, many restaurants are listing these gems of the earth only as "wild mushrooms" with no thought of a proper identification. While there are a few restaurants that take time to learn about what mushrooms they are about to recommend (Michael's in Santa Monica, for one), most do not. Imagine, for example, being handed a menu that lists "fresh fish," and when you ask what fish it is, you are offhandedly told, "It's from the ocean," but not whether it's shark or salmon.
Recently, I went to a Polish restaurant that features wild mushrooms. I was looking forward to this as Poland is a large consumer of wild mushrooms and I figured that there I would find an authentic mushroom dining experience. Much to my surprise, when I asked what mushrooms were being served, I was told that they were "from the forest." When I persisted, I was told that they were wild and I probably wouldn't know them. Now, as an avid mycophagist and as a past president of the Los Angeles Mycological Society, I felt challenged, but not wanting to disrupt an anniversary dinner I simply ordered an entree that featured "wild mushrooms." When my dish arrived, I saw no wild mushrooms at all--only commercial button mushrooms. I checked the plates of the others in my party and noted that even though they also had ordered dishes with wild mushrooms, none existed. I guess you could say that the moral of this is know thy morel.
DONALD A. FEINSTEIN