By Adam Erace
Sustainable-farming breakthroughs and a renewed fine-dining scene have helped caviar shed its image as an inaccessible oil-tycoon pantry staple. Witness its popularity in creative kitchens across the U.S. – sometimes with Tater Tots.
New-school Gold Coast steak house Maple & Ash specializes in fine beef, but diners can also find Siberian sturgeon, kaluga, and American osetra caviars on the menu. Despite the price (from $120 to $220 per ounce), chef Danny Grant keeps the service fun and playful: The roaming maître d’ might even stop by your table and pile a “bump” of caviar on the back of your hand. 8 W. Maple Street.
Satin-glazed porcelain trays make the caviar service at Top Chef winner Nicholas Elmi’s dimly lit canteen, ITV, look like the most prestigious TV dinner ever. Platter compartments hold silver-dollar blini, glassine potato chips, and a cheeky “seven-layer dip” of avocado, crème fraîche, capers, and cured egg yolk. Diners’ choice of paddlefish, hackleback, or Siberian sturgeon eggs, among other rotating caviar options, glitter in an iced bowl alongside. 1615 E. Passyunk Avenue.
At her cozy Champagne bar, The Riddler, owner Jen Pelka presents three price tiers of roe-and-bubbles pairings in vintage Russian silver servers. “I’d love it if people put on a pair of heels and walked in wearing a fur on a Tuesday night,” she says. In addition to the high-end “Queen Reserve” royal white sturgeon and Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, there’s also a lighthearted low: Great Lakes whitefish and the “Champagne of Beers,” Miller High Life. Regardless of patrons’ spending, Pelka serves Lay’s potato chips gratis on the side. 528 Laguna Street.
When sourcing roe for Seaworthy, Daniel Causgrove looks locally. “Caviar is no longer dependent specifically on overfished species from the Caspian Sea,” says the chef, who serves fine Carolina hackleback (“pleasant beach grass and herb finish”) as well as affordable Louisiana bowfin. “It’s not too expensive,” he says of the latter, “so you can really have fun loading on the blinis.” 630 Carondelet Street.
To many in the South, “Carolina caviar” means some version of a corn-and-black-eyed-pea salad served with crackers at summer picnics. That’s also the name of the North Carolina company producing private-label tins of paddlefish roe for McCrady’s Tavern, Sean Brock’s culinary love letter to the Gilded Age. Brock layers the roe parfait-style over puréed egg yolk, crème fraîche, chopped shallots, and chives, and, in a delicious touch of down-home genius, serves it with crispy Tater Tots. 2 Unity Alley.
Top Photo: Maple & Ash.