Often depicted as an extravagance for the über wealthy, caviar warrants its reputation for opulence. An arduous harvesting process, subtle yet complex flavors, and limited resources make caviar (salt-cured, unfertilized roe, traditionally from the belly of sturgeon) a bucket-list item for many a gastronome. But with reasonably priced caviar services and dishes across the Holy City, this splurge item is now an attainable treat.
Traditional Caviar Service:
1. THE ORDINARY
Hackleback caviar—the only legally, wild-caught sturgeon available stateside—is served here with traditional accoutrements: minced red onions, crème fraîche, chives, and chopped hard-boiled egg yolks and whites, accompanied by a mother-of-pearl spoon (a necessary tool since caviar’s fragile shells are prone to absorbing metallic flavors). For a Southern twist, cornmeal johnnycakes replace the classic bite-sized blinis. At $45, the spread is, according to executive chef Mike Lata, “a relatively affordable luxury item.” But if you’re feeling extra indulgent, Lata recommends ordering the classic lobster roll with the ounce of roe right on top ($76).
Still Fancy, with a Twist:
2. CHUBBY FISH
At cozy Elliotborough seafood haven, Chubby Fish, this off-menu dish is worth a visit alone. One-ounce tins of California white sturgeon caviar arrive on an antique platter with zesty house “fancy ranch,” minced shallots, chives, egg yolks and whites, fried capers, fresh grated horseradish, a lemon wedge, and actual Bo Rounds from Bojangles. “We do our caviar service at $55,” says chef James London, “so that everyone can experience it at a price point that won’t blow them out of the water.”
3. RAPPAHANNOCK OYSTER BAR
With half- and one-ounce servings, roe novices can try out wild-caught hackleback caviar, trout roe, or a paddlefish alternative caught in the Mississippi-Missouri River Complex ($10-$66). Here, classic garnishes are blended into an egg salad, which can then be spread onto Geechie Boy Mill johnnycake-style blinis for a local spin. “We believe that caviar should be approachable,” says general manager Kyle Anderson. “Everyone can and should enjoy it.”
Just a Taste:
Along with a traditional caviar service ($45, featuring subtle, smoky bowfin roe from Louisanna’s freshwater), diners can sample the “Cajun” roe atop lump crab salad with the à la carte Crab + Caviar ($3). Bowfin roe also makes a notable cameo on the tuna tartare ($14), made with citrus crème fraîche and sliced cucumbers on buttered toast.
5. THE ROYAL TERN
American hackleback caviar brings its subtle brine and textural pop to scallop carpaccio finished with olive oil, sea salt, and chives ($12). Smoked trout roe from North Carolina lends a hint of woodiness to the steak tartare, rounded out with capers, shallots, chives, aioli, and a side of crostinis ($16).
Photographs by (Nico & Chubby Fish) Mary Kat Hoeser, (The Ordinary) Mary Martin Harper, & (Rappahannock) Lizzy Smith