Caviar was one of those things I always knew was super expensive even if I wasn't quite sure what it was. At the grocery store, my mother, not usually the type of parent to discourage me and my siblings from looking and touching things, would not let us manhandle those tiny jars filled with black bubbles and definitely did not offer to buy some for us.
When I finally did learn the story behind these expensive fish eggs, caviar had lost much of its culinary street cred. Fancy restaurants weren't using it as a garnish, high-rollers no longer felt compelled to conspicuously consume beluga at cocktail parties, and the media wasn't pushing the common man to splurge on a jar for Valentine's Day or that wedding anniversary. Caviar, it seemed, was passé.
And while I wouldn't exactly say caviar is staging a comeback, it's making subtle appearances at wedding receptions, home gatherings and on menus...even if in an ironic fashion. For example, The Pass features an outstanding appetizer of pork rinds with a caviar service; Max's Wine Dive similarly juxtaposes fancy fish eggs with downhome fare via their cupcakes and caviar small plate. So perhaps once too-cool-for-school caviar, turned seriously uncool, is actually, well, becoming cool again. In that retro, uncool sort of way.
If you're interested in exploring the world of caviar, you needn't wait for more local restaurants to feature it on their menus. The expensive small portions are, I think, best enjoyed in an intimate setting with a few close friends. A number of grocery store chains, such as Central Market, offer a limited selection of caviar. I have found Spec's to have the most diverse offerings at semi-reasonable prices.
There's no law against grabbing some sevruga and scooping it out of the jar with Fritos, though as long as you're indulging, go whole hog, I say, and buy the proper equipment (and some nice water crackers). Mother-of-pearl cutlery is the material of choice for serving caviar because, unlike metal flatware, it doesn't interfere with the delicate taste profile of the fish eggs. A glass serving dish that incorporates a space for ice is also ideal for maintaining the cool temperature of the caviar. Many of these items can be found at the larger locations of Spec's as well as online at retailers such as Gourmet-Food.com.
Finally, what kind of caviar to try? Well, depends on how much gold you have. SeriousEats has a helpful guide as well as more serving tips, but at the end of the day just try what looks good to you and what won't put you in (major) debt. One plus of very small serving sizes is that if no one likes it, you'll hardly be stuck with a ton of leftovers.
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