During times of economic uncertainty, luxury items tend to increase in popularity. Maybe it’s due to high-income people delaying buying big-ticket items but treating themselves to smaller pleasures, or generally stressed-out consumers splurging from time to time. Combine that reality with social media’s interest in visually appealing dishes, plus an intriguing shift by younger consumers toward classic items, and the time is ripe for caviar.
The sturgeon roe has long been the poster child of premium products, but as more farm-raised versions come onstream, caviar prices aren’t necessarily as high as they once were, especially in comparison to the general inflation of most food.
Caviar sales in 2022 exceeded $100 million, according to market research firm Fact.MR, and another research firm, Market Data Forecast, predicts compound annual growth in caviar consumption in North America of 8.9% through 2025.
Jason Hall, chef of Tao Group Hospitality’s Sake No Hana and adjacent Silver Lining, a high-end cocktail lounge and piano bar, which opened in New York City in December, said his younger customers at Silver Lining have taken a shine to the traditional caviar service offered there. It’s served in silver vessels with mother-of-pearl spoons along with buckwheat blinis and other traditional accompaniments. An ounce of Kaluga caviar is $80, but Hall said he offers premium golden osetra when it’s available.
“You’d be surprised, but we sell a decent amount to a younger audience,” Hall said. “It looks great on the table. It’s a pretty, elegant room. It’s a good thing to share, and it’s a pretty fun dish.”
He said that younger people in general are gravitating toward classic presentations like that.
At Sake No Hana, Hall offers a more playful caviar dish in his three egg chawan mushi. Chawan mushi is a traditional Japanese egg custard, and Hall makes it with the addition of sea urchin (the second egg), and then adds golden osetra caviar (the third).
“It’s really briny and really salty and helps balance out some of the fat of the custard and the richness of the uni [sea urchin],” Hall said.
Sake No Hana also has a sushi roll made with very highly marbled A5 wagyu beef and topped with Kaluga caviar. Hall said the less expensive caviar goes well with the beef. It also allows him to charge $28 for it, which is quite reasonable for Manhattan.
At Machete in Greensboro, N.C., executive chef and co-owner Kevin Cottrell also finishes a savory custard dish with caviar. It’s a caramelized onion panna cotta with uni cream, powdered Funyuns snacks, and pickled red onion “caviar” made by setting the pickling brine with a seaweed-based gelatin and then dropping it in very cold oil so it solidifies into little globules that resemble pink caviar. Then it’s finished with a heaping scoop of Siberian Baerii caviar (which although originally from Russia is now farm-raised across the globe).
“It sells really well,” Cottrell said. “We have a diverse mix of guests where some know and love the fine, expensive ingredients, and some just want to reach out of their comfort zone and try new things. We love being the place that offers both of those options.”
Technically, caviar refers only to the eggs of sturgeon, but Cottrell uses other roe too, such as salmon and trout, which are generally less expensive, and less prestigious in the eyes of most guests, but still provide a briny, fishy burst of flavor.
For the summer menu, Cottrell plans to offer Chinese egg rolls topped with caviar.
“One of my favorite bites ever was grabbing some Chinese egg rolls from my favorite local spot and loading them with piles of caviar. It just goes so well together,” he said.
His interpretation of it for the summer will be a fried egg roll shell stuffed with a whipped cream of charcoal grilled cabbage, a duck sauce made of umeboshi plum and egg yolk, chives and a spoonful of Baerii caviar.
The Las Vegas location of Ocean Prime is the 18th unit of the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants steak-and-seafood concept. Although all of the restaurants offer caviar, the Las Vegas one will also offer a full by-the-ounce caviar service with traditional accoutrements such as onion, chopped egg, and crème fraîche, as well as lemon blinis.
On the menu at the Las Vegas restaurant’s lounge are chips with caviar dip. It’s an upscale version of a classic onion dip, but with capers, pickled red onion, and caviar, served with house-made potato chips.
“This is a more casual and approachable presentation to enjoy a luxury dish that allows our guests to share and snack with friends,” said Ian Rough, the chain’s corporate chef. He said all Ocean Prime restaurants offer deviled eggs with white truffle topped with American Hackleback roe, which “balances nicely with the creamy filling of the eggs and truffle.”
Steven Goff, chef and owner of Tastee Diner in West Asheville, N.C., has introduced a caviar service along with dinner at the former breakfast-and-lunch spot that is the oldest restaurant in Asheville.
Goff bought the restaurant about a year ago, and by day it’s still “an old greasy diner,” he said. “I mean, we scrubbed the grease off, but during lunch we’re pretty diner-y,” he said, although everything’s made from scratch now.
He offers both sturgeon caviar and locally sourced Sunburst trout roe.
Goff said he’s “kind of surprised” at how well it’s selling. “Most of our guests who have ordered it have been super happy to have it,” he said, adding that premium products in casual settings seem to appeal to the modern guest.
“A lot of times they want to eat nice food … but they don’t want to feel pressured by the environment they’re in,” he said.
Goff said he also appreciates that caviar, similar to the tinned fish he offers, is operationally easy and keeps the kitchen from getting overwhelmed.
“You’re just putting things on a board. … All the work was done by the people who harvested the roe,” he said.
Mike Collantes, the chef and owner of Soseki in Winter Park, Fla., said the increase in the number of sustainably farm-raised caviar, often at lower prices than traditional wild Caspian Sea caviar (which at any rate is rarely available at this point due to both sustainability and political issues) makes it more accessible. So he offers it on two or three dishes with each menu, which he changes every 45-60 days. He said his regular guests, who come about once a month — so not particularly special occasions — often order one of them.
“They just know we’re going to take care of them in that way,” he said.
Casa Sensei, a pan-Asian Latin fusion restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., offers what it calls a Million Dollar Roll for $50. It’s a riceless sushi roll with scallops, foie gras, truffle butter, 24 karat gold flakes, and Italian farm-raised white sturgeon caviar, instead of the more typical tobiko, or flying fish roe.
Co-owner Patricia Lara said that, given its price tag, it’s not the top selling roll, but it is ordered often.
“The buttery, slightly sweet yet nutty and creamy qualities of the white sturgeon caviar are what make it so appealing to our guests,” she said. “For someone who knows these flavors and loves them, it's considered a treat. It's also appealing for guests to be able to try indulgent flavors when paired together in a way they haven't experienced before.”
Golden Kaluga garnishes a curried egg dish at Indienne in Chicago.
Photo: A curried egg dish garnished with Golden Kaluga at Indienne.
Based on a South Indian dish called Nadan Mutta Roast, chef and partner Sujan Sarkar’s version is a poached egg over a warm mousse of caramelized onion, ginger, garlic, tomato, and a proprietary spice blend. It’s topped with a quenelle of the caviar and a latticework of fried buckwheat, and accompanied by a baked roll and cultured cream with cilantro oil. It’s part of the restaurant’s non-vegetarian tasting menu.
“Egg and caviar are a perfect match, and the hint of spice in the curry enhances the flavor,” Sarkar said. “This is such a unique dish that represents a modern version of regional Indian food.”
Asador Bastian, a Spanish chophouse in Chicago, offers a pintxo — the Basque term for tapas — called a caviar churro, which is, indeed, a churro topped with golden Kaluga caviar from China.
Founder and chef Doug Psaltis said the $28 starter sells “very well.”
“Most of our tables start their meal with caviar churros,” he said.
“I believe now with the great quality farm-raised caviar, and making it more affordable, guests are able to enjoy it without leveraging their mortgage,” he said.
Caviar is even making it onto dessert menus. Chef Evan Hennessey of The Living Room in Dover, N.H., offers a brown butter miso ice cream with caramelized black garlic sauce and Siberian Supreme caviar for $10.
“It’s a fun juxtaposition of flavors that work best because of their temperatures,” he said. “We have a creamy, slightly earthy, umami, and sweet ice cream with a wonderful nutty touch of brown butter. This is complemented by the sweet and sour, and yet funky, taste of a black garlic gastrique sauce — a caramel that has the acidic notes of sherry vinegar and the funky umami bomb of black garlic. The only thing this dish needs is salt, so we add that with the luxurious oceanic salinity of Siberian caviar.”
Birch & Rye in San Francisco offers two rye doughnuts with caramel and its own private-label caviar on the dessert menu for $36. Chef and owner Anya El-Wattar said the dessert stemmed from a caviar-focused tasting menu introduced in June of 2022.
“We wanted to close the meal on a high note, with a dessert that was at once elevated and unexpected. We found that the gentle brininess of caviar was a perfect complement to caramel, which makes sense as the ingredient is often accented with salt,” she said. “The white rye flour brings a bit of earthy flavor to the doughnuts while also keeping them light and fluffy. The dish was extremely popular, so we kept it on the menu.”
And at The Winsor House at Island Creek Oyster Farm in Duxbury, Mass., olive oil cake is served with orange curd, sour cream gelato and a dollop of white sturgeon caviar for $45.
“We wanted to showcase the caviar while also exposing its versatility,” chef Ben Fisher said. “The nuttiness of the olive oil cake is brought out with the subtle orange curd, but what brings it together is the saltiness of the caviar. It stands out while also bringing the entire dish together to basically melt in your mouth.”
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]