Caviar is a timeless expression of luxury. But where we get it, and how we enjoy it, have changed over the years.
As a result of pollution and overfishing of the Caspian Sea, fisherman in Russia and Iran are no longer the most trusted suppliers of the beloved eggs, and beluga, sevruga and osetra are no longer the holy trinity of sturgeon species from which we harvest the roe.
In response to environmental concerns, the import of Russian beluga was banned more than a decade ago. Industrious suppliers responded by improving sturgeon farming methods to create superior products, crossbreeding beluga fish (the largest of the big three), and finding better sources of osetra — arguably the new king of the American caviar scene. The search for sustainable products has seen hackleback sturgeon, once viewed as a cut-rate pretender to the caviar title, develop into a product deemed worthy by many top American chefs.
When it comes to enjoying the beautiful eggs, a few rules remain unchanged. Scooping caviar from a tin, and eating it directly from the spoon is fine. But make sure that spoon isn’t metal, since it reacts with the delicacy, causing oxidation and creating a metallic taste. (Mother of pearl, or even bone spoons are the traditional fix, though plastic works well in a pinch.)
Good caviar should not taste salty. Salt, used in most curing processes, can overpower the natural taste of the eggs. Malossol or “little salt” curing methods were developed to minimize the effects salt have in changing the taste and consistency of roe. So when tasting quality products, connoisseurs look for subtle buttery and nutty hints that transcend more prominent briny flavors.
The most traditional caviar presentations are with toast points or buckwheat blinis and an assortment of chopped egg whites and yolks, sour cream or crème fraiche, diced red onions and, occasionally, capers. Modern chefs, however, are constantly on the lookout for new ways to use the ingredient. Las Vegas offers excellent opportunities to explore how far out of the box (or should we say tin?) they can take the eggs. If you’re planning a caviar tour of the valley, here are a few spots you shouldn’t miss.
Within Mina’s growing international restaurant empire, it’s impossible to keep track of which kitchens might be offering caviar at any given time. But a visit to his eponymous Bellagio flagship is guaranteed to offer both his best selection and most elegant preparation. The chef created the latter for his wife while the couple were on their honeymoon, and it’s a five-layer experience that tops a crispy potato cake with sieved egg white and egg yolk, alderwood-smoked salmon, chive crème fraîche and a top layer of the guest’s chosen caviar. It’s created tableside on the restaurant’s caviar cart, which currently offers three varieties of osetra caviar, either on a parfait or with blinis and traditional accompaniments, alongside a shot of vodka or glass of champagne.
JALEO AND BAZAAR MEAT
Jose Andres is known for his avant-garde cooking techniques that sometimes appear more scientific than culinary. But the chef also knows how to let the finest ingredients speak for themselves. Jose’s Tacos, offered at both his Cosmopolitan and SLS restaurants, demonstrate his ingenuity and respect, setting pristine royal osetra caviar atop the world’s finest pork product: Jamon Iberico de Belotta. The two ingredients are offered on their own at his tapas restaurant Jaleo, or paired with Japanese nori at his meat emporium, Bazaar Meat.
The Cosmopolitan’s supper club offers three varieties of caviar: a surprisingly good hackleback and two types of osetra. In addition to ordering them traditionally, on their own or in a flight of all three, the chef offers two signature dishes. The first is a taco with hamachi and roe laid out in a thick Yukon potato shell. The other is on a flatbread, with Hollandaise, bacon and thyme.
RESTAURANT GUY SAVOY
Chef Savoy has long been known for his “Colors of Caviar” appetizer: layers of caviar vinaigrette, caviar cream, green bean puree (for acid), straight-up caviar and egg sabayon, which offers contrasting colors, textures and tastes in one delicious course. The restaurant’s caviar menu also has added a langoustine adorned with royal caviar, octopus and osetra served amid rising funnels of cold steam in a pot-au-feu of salmon mi-cuit in a beurre blanc with a heaping serving of roe to the choices in the dining room and the lounge.
When you spot caviar sliders on the menu, it almost seems sacrilegious. But despite the rock ‘n’ roll attitude exhibited in their name, and presentations, these are a fairly traditional preparation with a creative presentation. The eggs are sandwiched between two blinis, slider-style, and adorned with a touch of crème fraiche, then topped with a thin sliver of fingerling potato chips for the requisite Hard Rock attitude.