Caviar for Beginners

My adventure inside the Ferry Street Marketplace in San Francisco, CA a few weeks ago was amazing. While exploring the website before my trip, I came across the link to one of the first stores you see when you walk into the building: Tsar Nicoulai Caviar.

My first experience with caviar was in Mexico when Loving Boyfriend and I picked up a small glass jar at a specialty foods store in Puerto Vallarta. I had been wanting to try it, and with the exhange rate being somewhat favorable towards my pocketbook, I figured the time was ripe to enjoy a bit of fancy-schmancy food on a warm sandy beach with my then-tan boyfriend (do remember that we live in Oregon, where we are continually pasty white for the majority of the year). We bought some crackers and grabbed a plastic spoon and off we went to the beach before we had to ship out back to the chilly Northwest.

We sat down on the beach, opened up the jar, lopped a dollop on a cracker and tasted the caviar. I honestly don't remember what kind it was, but it was quite salty. And fishy. But strangely satisfying when the tiny, round morsels *popped* in your mouth. We ate as much as we could before we felt fishy-salty saturated, and then proceeded to try and give the rest away, as we had to catch our plane and we didn't want to waste such an extravagant food item.

You should have seen the looks we got when we came up to strangers on the beach in Mexico, admist all of the vendors hasseling the poor tourists, and asked them if they wanted what remained of our jar of caviar.

Mostly we got wrinkled noses and exclamations of "Fish eggs?! No thanks. EW."

Especially trying to give it to younger couples, thinking that they might be adventurous, like ourselves, but without much money to spend on such delicacies. But then we happened upon an older, French couple. The husband immediately said, "No thank you." But the wife, ah, the lovely wife: she asked us what kind it was. She took it! The evil side of me thought: ha ha ha ha ha ha...sucker! (Nah, I don't really have an 'evil' side...it just made for a better ending.)

Anyway. By the time I had made my way to the Ferry Street Marketplace, I had decided I was going to do a caviar tasting at the Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe. I walked right up to it, sat down on one of the black leather stools, and when offered the menu, proceeded to pick out the cheapest tasting menu I could find, the American Sampler for $15. As they say, a "generous" 5-gram portion of 7 of their sustainably farmed caviars.

A gorgeous presentation, complete with a slice of fresh lemon, a sprig of dill, a tiny edible violet, and an elegant mother-of-pearl caviar spoon. Clockwise from the top: American Golden Caviar, Gold Pearl Trout Caviar, Wasabi Whitefish Caviar, Ginger Whitefish Caviar, Truffled Whitefish Caviar, Beet and Saffron Caviar (that's the gorgeous red one centered in the top picture), and finally, Hackleback Sturgeon Caviar. All served on homemade buckwheat blinis with a dollop of creme fraiche.

I also ordered myself a bit of champagne to set my morning brunch (and subsequent food shopping heaven) off on the right foot (hmm...maybe that's why I ended up buying so much that day...).

Each one was unique, and this caviar was a far cry from our first experience on the beach. Not fishy at all, just slightly salty and having that clean, 'fresh from the ocean' flavor (granted, none of these came from the ocean...must have been the salt). The blini and creme fraiche complimented them superbly, and best, each of them had that deliciously satisfying *pop* on the tongue. Also true, each portion was a "generous" two bites. The flavored caviars are infused with the flavors they are named after (I asked, and they incubate the eggs gently with the resident fungi, vegetable or other flavoring agent for several hours), and now I'm hooked...a dangerous affliction for one who has a weakness for buying food and a small wallet. But, I did, on this occasion, refrain from purchasing the whole store and only came home with their brochure (damn 8 hour car ride!). So, my advice is: Don't try to give caviar away in Mexico. If you get the chance and find yourself near the Ferry Street Marketplace, go there and indulge yourself the 'right' way, and you won't end up with any leftovers. For a reasonable price, you can feel like you're sitting on (or, in this case, eating) a million bucks.

Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe
1 Ferry Building #12
San Francisco, CA
Phone: 415-288-8630

10 comments from you:

Dawn said...

Hm. I don't know about caviar. I am finally accustomed to the 'pop' of smelt roe with my sushi! But, it sounds like a perfectly exquisite food/life experience, and I'm all for that.

Kate said...

Oh, I'm so glad you're back and your exciting blog is once again tempting me into trips to speacialy markets. Now I'm craving caviar like MAD.

rob said...

Caviar is one of my favourite things (that's probably why I've made two dishes with it in the past two months, I guess).

I first tried it as a kid and found it merely okay. A couple of years ago, I splurged on some osietra and creme fraiche, and actually made blinis too. It was Rachel's first taste, and it was awesome.

I was saddened to learn that as of 2006, Caspian Sea caviar is no longer a legal export. That means British Columbia sturgeon caviar for now.

Melissa CookingDiva said...

Michelle, they look delicious! On the same "fish egg" subject, I was introduced to the Tuna fish eggs(huevas de atun.) They are HUGE and bland. It takes a lot of seasoning, probably overnight and they sure wake you up! Very nutritious...
Next time I come across one of them---I will write about it!

michelle said...

Hi Dawn - if you start out small and tasty, I promise you won't ever worry about it again! I love smelt roe on sushi too :) Plus, there's so much local, sustainable California caviar to try!

Hi Kate - it's good to be back too, believe me. Glad someone else craves fish eggs like I do :)

Hi Rob - I know, I love it too, and believe me both of your posts made me wish I had some in my fridge! I'm convinced that creme fraiche and blinis are a perfect way to try it your first time...or maybe on some scrambled eggs, or potato latkes or... I have heard about Caspian Sea caviar - you could also test out some California caviar like this company, I'm interested to see any differences in taste between there and BC.

Hi Melissa - sounds interesting! Do write about them next time you come across them - I love reading all the knowledge you share about everything you make!

Linda said...

I fell in love with The Ferry Market this past fall ~ now I wish I had given into temptation and tried the caviar.

cookiecrumb said...

Did you just flip over the truffled caviar? I've had it three times now. MMM.
What a funny story about caviar in Mexico.xx

vlb5757 said...

I ate Caviar the first time in culinary school and have not forgotten it ever since. I can't afford the kind that I like, but the memory alone will last until I win the lottery! lol! Nice piece about the caviar. You've been a busy girl!

michelle said...

Hi Linda - Next time! I find caviar isn't something I come across very often, so when I do, I give into my temptations!

Hi Cookiecrumb - Oh yes, yes, yes - it was definitely one of my favorites, you lucky woman, you.

Hi Vickie - I can't afford to buy a jar of it on my own, but this was "vacation" so a brunch like that was well worth $15 :) When we win the lottery we'll have our own caviar brunch!

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