The Caviar Renaissance Has Space for Classics and Cannoli
Here are the best places in Los Angeles to get your roe fix, whether you want an old-school preparation or potato chips
Chalk it up to boredom during the pandemic, the glorious rush of post-lockdown freedom or even the slow crawl of foodie culture into younger and younger generations — whatever the reason, caviar is everywhere. From the recently christened “bump” to a dot on a raw oyster, a martini garnish or served with the traditional buckwheat blinis at Petrossian, the treat is showing up on restaurant menus with a vengeance. However, it’s also experiencing a resurgence as a DTC food item, as social media provides a new vehicle for connoisseurs to showcase how to do caviar right.
“Caviar is a more familiar luxury food item than it was a couple decades ago with younger enthusiasts coming to fruition,” Ali Bolourchi, president of Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, tells InsideHook. “Part of it is more people are exposed to it, whether it’s through family foodie connections, or, honestly, TikTok and Instagram. We’ve had some items go viral at Whole Foods, and as I looked at the posts, the predominant portion of them were people in their early 20s and 30s. Caviar is no longer a pinky up, dry martini, shot of vodka, fancy Champagne accompaniment. People are having it with nacho cheese Doritos, Pringles, french fries, tater tots. Caviar is becoming more approachable, and that’s why you see it on many more menus today. People are less scared of it.”
Tsar Nicoulai Caviar, which is immensely popular in Napa Valley due to a shared emphasis on local terroir, is a Northern California-based farm founded in Wilton several decades ago. Since 1984, the brand has worked to earn their reputation as “the pioneers of American caviar” by meticulously raising and caring for a “beloved” native white sturgeon population that was, like all species of sturgeon, on the brink of extinction. Tsar Nicoulai only farms this single indigenous fish, never non-native species, for environmental impact reasons.
Working in conjunction with UC Davis to preserve the local sturgeon population, Tsar Nicoulai is one of the oldest white sturgeon farms, and the only one in the U.S. with an on-site smokehouse and hatchery.
“It did take us a while to produce award-winning American caviar,” Bolourchi says. “And to grow the idea of American caviar as kind of that shared terroir with Napa and their wines. At some point, there was a growth in consumer education and awareness that it wasn’t just Two-Buck Chuck — some of the greatest Cabernets in the world are coming from Napa Valley. That’s the value of the soil and the terroir, which we share as well. Our Sacramento County agriculture for our white sturgeon aquaculture allows us to produce a hyper-local, award-winning, delicious item.”
The expansion of caviar production into new markets within North America certainly helped contribute to its popularity over the last few decades, even if plenty of aficionados still harbor affection for the traditional Ossetra and Beluga caviars, both which come from species of Russian sturgeon. For instance, the bulk of the caviar Petrossian sells is Ossetra, and other well-known fine-dining outposts like Jean Georges at the Waldorf Astoria in Beverly Hills serve a special selection of Petrossian’s Ossetra caviar on their menu.
Whether you’re enjoying caviar in a traditional manner, with egg yolks or lemon gelee at Jean Georges, inside a “caviar cannoli” at a more contemporary spot like Grandmaster Recorders, or plopped on a potato chip at home, Bolourchi thinks the appreciation of this once intimidating luxury item is only going to continue to grow.
“If you love seafood and you’ve become a sushi fan, caviar is having the same sort of revelation,” he said. “Is sushi sought after because it’s a luxury food? No, I would argue people love sushi because it’s delicious, they’ve just gotten educated on what to look for and what the expectations are. Caviar is the same way. More and more people are beginning to understand it, and we hope that it has the same revolution that sushi had.”
Below is a list of places for newbies and veterans to go for interesting, inventive, as well as traditional caviar presentations, but as far as where to start if you’re considering buying a tin for your own kitchen, Bolourchi thinks there’s no better place to start than his Estate Caviar, which sells for $40 for a 0.5-ounce jar. “Tsar Nicoulai’s Estate grade of white sturgeon caviar is the first grade of caviar we had,” he said. “We developed it in the early ’90s, it’s our most awarded grade of caviar, and it tastes like freshly salted sea butter. If you like mild overall flavors of buttery and saltiness, it’s just a rich, fatty kiss of the sea. It’s the ultimate gateway, the perfect start — this is the eater’s caviar.”
If you want to try an old-school, traditional caviar service, look no farther than Jean Georges. First, order up an icy glass of Champagne, then dig into a toasted egg yolk prep, scrambled eggs with caviar and vodka whipped cream, or their own specialty of caviar atop Meyer lemon gelee — served in a half-slice of lemon for good measure.
West Hollywood, Costa Mesa
Plenty of menus in L.A. offering caviar source it from Petrossian — that’s how trusted and respected this French-based purveyor has become. But don’t forget to go to the source! The original Petrossian cafe in West Hollywood is a delight for either brunch or dinner, and the potato rosti with smoked salmon, creme fraiche and a liberal spoonful of caviar is a perfectly savory brunch item. If you’re in Orange County, a brand-new outpost at the South Coast Mall is tucked away inside the Tiffany & Co. store, naturally. What goes better with caviar than diamonds?
Marina Del Rey
Chef Josiah Citrin has been waltzing through the fine-dining world, picking up Michelin stars with ease for years now. It’s no surprise that one of his latest seafood-driven menus, at Dear Jane’s in Marina Del Rey, offers up fish sticks topped with caviar, alongside a seven-layer dip. Pure salty genius.
One of the most delightful new-school preparations is the caviar cannoli at Grandmaster Recorders. A little morsel stuffed with creme fraiche and caviar is a perfect option for anyone looking for a salty snack.
Sprinkled liberally within the Day Boat Scallop appetizer alongside lime, jalapeno and avocado, Saltie Girl’s incorporation of caviar into other seafood dishes offers a great blueprint for future use. They’ve also got a whole section of items using their own Kaluga caviar, incorporating it into lobster rolls, pasta and a playful dip with fried shallots and potato chips.
Chef John Hans Yeo has been running his Kaviar concept out of Pasadena for a few years, but recently expanded to a second location in the Arts District, where a private caviar room designed by Aureta Thomollari is part of the layout. Thomollari serves her own branded caviar in the room, but sprinkles appear on other dishes like shiso tempura with uni, the bluefin toro sashimi and the truffle toro signature roll, which is also covered in truffle and 24K gold flakes.
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