L.A.'s PYT is doing an elevated caviar service with tonburi, a dark, quinoa-esque kernel known as “mountain caviar” from Japanese summer cypress trees
Vegan Caviar
Credit: Courtesy of PYT

When the day calls for you to treat yourself, there’s really no better way than to indulge in caviar service. From those delicate, mother-of-pearl spoons to the perfectly bronzed blinis and the shiny little beads of onyx-colored sturgeon eggs looking up at you (just beggin’ for that ‘gram), it’s an experience known to evoke a happy dance in even the staunchest of reserved restaurant-goers.

While the ornate experience itself is classic, the latest in caviar isn’t about tapping into your inner-tsar, instead it’s all about saying by to the Old World and embracing your inner plant-based-loving Angeleno and going ... completely vegan.

Focusing around a caviar tin of tonburi, a dark quinoa-esque kernel known as “mountain caviar” from Japanese summer cypress trees, PYT’s newly launched vegan caviar looks exactly like its classic counterpart, sans animal products.

A delicacy from the Akita prefecture of Japan, tonburi is typically used in Buddhist vegetarian shojin-ryori cuisine. With a beautiful earthy flavor and striking resemblance to sturgeon caviar, using it as the centerpiece for a new sort of caviar service just made sense to PYT chef, Josef Centeno.

“I started sturgeon caviar service at PYT a few weeks ago with a few infused vodkas that we make in house,” Centeno tells Food & Wine. “And since we are mainly a vegetable-focused restaurant, it was only appropriate that I offer a vegan or vegetable option and this seemed perfect.”

Not typically used as the headliner in a dish, Centeno has been playing with tonburi for years before giving it its day in the sun. “I started using it at Manresa to add a different texture to raw fish in crudos. It adds a little bit of crunch. It’s always gone in the hamachi crudo at Bäco and at Orsa & Winston as well.”

Centeno’s inspired version plays with traditional accoutrements as well. The luxurious vegan spread comes to your table alongside corn and Sonora red blinis made from local heritage organic grains from Tehachapi Grains Project, aonori potato chips, cashew cream, chives, pickles and capers. Yes, please.

And because no caviar service is complete without some ice-cold vodka to sip on, Centeno and the team have also put their own spin on the classic pairing. So raise a glass of house-infused vodka made with caraway, fennel, celery seed, tomatillos, pickled beets, or pasilla chiles for the full experience.