In Los Angeles, Caviar Is Exciting Again
“It doesn’t come together until you have all three,” he says. “It should be great with just one element, but it’s not. It needs all three expressions to really wow.”
Bornemann creates a pasta filling with Calvisius payusnaya, a paste made with broken sturgeon eggs. The payusnaya is combined with cream and two cheeses, Parmigiano and Castelmagno, to make an “umami backbone.” The filling is put into cappelletti, which Bornemann tops with kitchen-grade caviar. Then, as an exclamation point, the chef shaves dried caviar over everything tableside.
All three kinds of caviar play important roles in this dish: The payusnaya is an intense seasoning for the pasta filling. The kitchen-grade caviar adds texture and flavor. The dried caviar, known as lingotto, is more delicate than bottarga and offers a heady aroma. One globetrotting VIP customer recently told Bornemann that this caviar-laden pasta was unlike any other caviar dish he had ever had. Then the guest ordered a second plate of cappelletti.
L.A. is in the middle of a crazy caviar moment, with high-profile chefs all over the city presenting the luxurious fish eggs in delightfully surprising ways. At 2019 Food & Wine Best New Restaurant Nightshade, Mei Lin riffs on chips and dip by serving tom yum chicharrons with French onion dip and Nightshade’s own Tsar Nicoulai reserve caviar.
“I love, especially at the beginning of the meal, just eating with your hands,” Lin says. “It’s a conversation starter. You get dirty and have fun. I also love playing with nostalgia. Pretty much everyone’s had some kinds of chips and dip.”
The first batch of Nightshade’s reserve caviar is cured with Persian blue rock salt that Lin purchased, and she plans to use Japanese seaweed salt for a future batch. Beyond the reserve caviar, Lin also serves her chicharrons and French onion dip with cherrywood-smoked trout roe. Something about the combination of the trout roe and all the other flavors results in a bite that resembles Lay’s barbecue chips.
“I didn’t mean for that to happen,” Lin says. “Who would think lemongrass and makrut-lime leaf would equate to barbecue chips? It was pretty funny. It was a happy accident.”
Where else to eat caviar in the city:
At Angler, Joshua Skenes wraps his own reserve caviar in banana leaves and warms it over the fire of his expansive hearth. The caviar is served with a barbecue banana-peel butter and a banana pancake. When Skenes first told us about the banana pancake a few days before Angler opened in June, he admitted that it “sounds ridiculous as I’m saying it out loud.” But the sweet, savory, briny, and smoky elements he’s merged together are tremendously satisfying. Skenes, by the way, uses seawater to make his own smoked salt for the caviar.
At Somni, Aitor Zabala and José Andrés offer tasting menus that have included whimsical dishes like an osetra caviar bump that’s served on a wooden hand. On Somni’s latest menu, Zabala has an ethereal dish of caviar with 21-day-aged raw bluefin tuna, smoked bone marrow, cauliflower, and pickles in a ceramic egg.
At Dialogue, Dave Beran’s tasting-menu restaurant, the chef is known for getting playfully modern with caviar. One previous Dialogue dish was known as “caviar and coffee” and inspired by childhood visits to Dunkin’ Donuts. Dialogue’s current winter menu has a smoked sturgeon dish with caviar because Beran thought it would be nice to serve a fish with its own eggs.
Fans of Josiah Citrin’s famous egg caviar with a soft-poached egg, smoked lemon crème fraîche, and golden osetra caviar will soon be able to order it at Citrin, one of two restaurants the chef is opening this month in the space where he had fine-dining institution Melisse for nearly two decades.
There will also be a second à la carte caviar dish with a toasted piece of housemade seeded pumpernickel that’s covered in caviar and served in a tin above a mousse featuring forono beets, smoked potato skins, and buttermilk. In addition, the chef will still have a restaurant called Melisse at this address: This incarnation will be a 14-seat tasting-menu-only room that will no doubt have caviar.
At Pasjoli, Dave Beran is sort of swimming against the tide by serving caviar in a decidedly old-school way. Caviar service at this elevated brasserie involves a brass cocktail cart where Bulgarian golden osetra roe is weighed on an 1840s postage scale.
“With caviar, there’s something about the ceremony behind it,” Beran says.” When you start talking about caviar, you start talking about glass and silver and the bowl of ice underneath.”
Beran wants dinner at Pasjoli, where he also presses duck tableside, to “be about transporting the guest, putting them in a place they haven’t been.” As it turns out, using an Escoffier recipe and also having classic caviar service is a way to do that because very few restaurants offer that in 2019.
At Rustic Canyon, Andy Doubrava recently did a one-off dish where he drenched cured pork collar in caviar cream. Rustic Canyon, which is working on its own reserve caviar with Tsar Nicoulai, is a restaurant that created a signature summer dish with figs, avocado, and caviar. The figs are brushed with olive oil and grilled over Japanese charcoal. Then they are topped with cold mashed avocado and osetra caviar. This dish is such a crowd-pleaser that Doubrava has also served it at a pop-up at Kato and at the Alex’s Lemonade charity event. It will be back at Rustic Canyon once the produce is in season.
One thing that’s certain is that the caviar surprises will keep coming as chefs roe with the punches in L.A. At Kato, which was just named the city’s No. 1 restaurant by the Los Angeles Times, Taiwanese-American wunderkind chef Jon Yao recently started an extended tasting menu that features kaluga caviar from China.
“It’s my favorite caviar,” he says. “The beads are so big and yellow. I like the texture, and you can feel the oil, and you can run it between your tongue and the roof of your mouth and feel the beads breaking.”
Instead of pairing caviar with crispy elements like many other chefs, Yao decided he wanted to combine many soft textures. So his caviar is served with a corn potage. There are egg yolks prepared two different ways. There’s a little dollop of cultured cream with smoked onion.
Now that Kato is such a success, Yao wants to open a fancier restaurant that would give him a shot at three Michelin stars.
“I know we want to do something with caviar there that’s not traditional by any means,” he says. “I don’t want to do chips or blini, nothing along those lines. I want textures that are not as predictable. Crispy is really predictable. There are a lot of different chews and QQ textures in Chinese food. I want to figure out something like that with caviar.”