Caviar has been around for 250 million years, making it not quite as old as Earth itself, but one of our eldest delicacies. The first documented instance of caviar comes many millennia later, from grandson-to-Genghis Batu Khan in the year 1240, and it took nearly 600 more years for it to grow into the coveted culinary delight it is now renowned to be.
Caviar is, typically, the roe, or eggs, of sturgeon, a fish with more than 20 species, many of whom we refer to by common names familiar to caviar fans, such as beluga. However, as our cooking cultures have evolved, chefs and home cooks have appropriated the idea of caviar, creating “caviar” out of everything from eggplant to black beans and corn (Yippee ki-yay for cowboy caviar!).
According to a Google Ngram Viewer query, it reached its pinnacle of popularity in 1986, right around the old “greed is good” days. But, caviar is still fashionable, and it isn’t just for folks born with a mother-of-pearl spoon in their mouths. A taste of the real stuff can be yours for a price that won’t break the bank. In honor of National Caviar Day, we’ve rounded up indulgences for every budget from 14 restaurants around the nation. PS: We’ll let you decide for yourself whether it pairs best with Champagne or vodka (Team Craig Claiborne, FTW, in my opinion).
Brennan’s of Houston, Houston, Texas
Executive chef Danny Trace adds elegance to his deliciously layered take on a favorite sport-watching snack with his blue crab and caviar nachos. Fire-roasted corn, Saint-André queso, alligator pear (a.k.a. avocado) mirliton pico de gallo, and lime crema rest on crispy chips — and the whole thing is crowned with an ounce of Petrossian caviar. Dig in for $100. You may not want to share, even if your team is winning.
Catch, Santa Monica, California
How do you make lobster even more luxe? Add black truffle and California caviar, of course. That’s what executive chef Alberico Nunziata does (along with a bit of green apple for acidic balance) at this restaurant in Hotel Casa del Mar! The fresh, light shellfish is the perfect canvas for the rich flavors of these affluent ingredients. It’s yours for the eating at $23.[Photo courtesy of Hotel Casa del Mar]
Faith & Flower, Los Angeles, California
Potato salad has its origins in European cooking, so it’s no surprise that the staple of homegrown picnics returns to its roots at Faith & Flower, one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants of 2014. The warm new potato salad from executive chef Michael Hung is made with a creamy grain-mustard vinaigrette and generously topped with trout caviar – for just $14.
Found Kitchen and Social House, Evanston, Illinois
While many people seek out the extravagant beluga and osetra caviars, chef Nicole Pederson stays true to her mission of offering locally-sourced ingredients, serving 30 grams of beautiful American paddlefish ($44) and hackleback caviar ($55). Crème fraîche and toast points accompany each elegant and simple dish.
L’Etoile, Madison, Wisconsin
The flavors are big and fresh in the premier dish of the $125 seven-course tasting menu at L’Etoile. James Beard Award-winning chef Tory Miller combines local Blue Valley Gardens asparagus with smoked trout, radishes, and cattail shoots, topped with hollandaise and decadent smoked trout roe, for a light-yet-indulgent first course.
Mas (farmhouse), New York, New York
You need a line of credit to do a caviar tasting, right? Not at Mas you don’t! The appetizer menu is an affordable way to sample wild American malossol caviar with traditional accompaniments of toasted brioche, crème fraîche, and shallots. The paddlefish is $38 for ½ ounce portion + $76 for 1 ounce. Hackleback is $42 and $84, respectively. Or, sample the wild king salmon gravlax with paddlefish caviar, baby red beets, spring onions, horseradish crème fraîche, and an ‘everything’ tuile on chef Galen Zamarra’s tasting menu.
Minton’s, New York, New York
Down-home ingredients meet uptown extravagance with chef J.J. Johnson’s roasted Okinawa sweet potato entrée with crème fraîche onion dip and paddlefish caviar. The roast-y root vegetable is the clear star, but the supporting cast has just the right amount of flash. Try it for $29. [Photo by Liz Barclay]
Niche, Clayton, Missouri
Chefs Gerard Craft, the 2015 James Beard Best Midwest Chef, and executive chef Nate Hereford create their own caviar in this seductive egg amuse bouche. Missouri egg custard is made with Illinois maple and maple vinegar, roasted shitake mushrooms, and a trout “caviar” fashioned from strong smoked trout stock seasoned with housemade trout garum and set with agar agar to mimic the look and umami flavor of caviar. It is available as part of an eight-course tasting menu. [Photo courtesy of Greg Rannells]
Petrossian Paris Boutique & Restaurant, West Hollywood, California
You can’t talk about caviar without mentioning the Petrossian name, which has been synonymous with caviar since the company was founded in Paris in 1920. Executive chef Giselle Wellman created a carb-y (yet delicate) caviar dish with housemade pasta, crème fraîche, chives, and caviar (of course!), garnished with Petrossian’s trademarked Caviar Powder. Order it at dinner for $22 for a half portion and $35 for a full plate.
Providence, Los Angeles, California
You’ll feel downright famous when you sample the uni in yuzu dish at Providence in LA’s Hollywood neighborhood. The lavish deliciousness that is caviar finds its place atop executive chef Michael Cimarutsti’s delicate soy milk panna cotta, alongside gold leaf. It has been featured on the tasting menu (prices vary).
Sepia, Chicago, Illinois
The smoked trout from James Beard-nominated chef Andrew Zimmerman features classic New York deli flavors and classy caviar. Priced at $29 and served with sauerkraut, rye gnocchi, and elderflower mustard, and topped with steelhead roe, this entrée is sure to have your neighboring diners say, “I’ll have what she’s having.”
SoBou, New Orleans, Louisiana
The French influence meets local flavors and ingredients in chef Juan Gonzalez’s NOLA kitchen. His Louisiana oyster and caviar taco brings together a crispy fried oyster and Cajun bowfin caviar in a tortilla. Topped with a Crystal Hot Sauce aioli, it’s a steal at $6. Laissez les bon temps — et le caviar — rouler!
SPQR, San Francisco, California
There’s an American caviar renaissance happening again (the first one ended exactly a century ago), and SPQR’s executive chef Matthew Accarrino is at the forefront. He has his own eponymous caviar, produced to specific standards by Michael Passmore in the Sacramento Valley. Accarrino serves his sustainable, affordable product in several dishes, including the sturgeon skin crisp with Meyer lemon yogurt, which is under $25.
Sushi Roku, Beverly Hills, California
Beverly Hills is one of the country’s most opulent zip codes (just ask Kelly Taylor), so it is only befitting that executive sushi chef Hiroshi Shima serves his super-fresh blue crab tartare with uni and caviar. Priced at $32, this is the holy trinity of lavish flavors.