Caviar is everywhere—again—and it’s turning up in some unexpected places. Ramen shops and cocktail bars are serving fish roe, and chefs at Michelin-starred restaurants say they’re flying through tins. So what’s behind the boom?
For one, the delicacy is coming from a wide variety of sources. (Technically, true caviar is from wild-sturgeon species in the Black or Caspian sea, which suffer from overfishing, some to extinction.) “The growth of sustainable aquaculture farms has made it a lot more approachable and affordable,” says Elli Benchimol, owner of the Georgetown Champagne-and-caviar bar Apéro (2622 P St., NW). The stylish spot offers a dozen varieties of eco-friendly sturgeon roe from farms in Poland, Uruguay, and Belgium. Each has its own terroir, like wine, from the waters where the fish are raised.
Benchimol says one of the most popular varieties on the market is also responsible for the surge: a mild Chinese kaluga hybrid that’s less expensive to produce because the sturgeon come to egg-laying maturity faster. She sells it for $68 an ounce—fairly wallet-friendly in the caviar world. “Many people who aren’t into the intensity of traditional caviar have gotten into it,” she says. “It’s the gateway-drug caviar.”
Some dining rooms are promoting a “house” caviar. A restaurant will work with a producer to batch a signature style—think briny or mild—then will slap its own label on it. You’ll see it in fine-dining rooms like Bresca (1906 14th St., NW), where $80-an-ounce “Bresca prestige caviar” is served with duck-fat waffles and sherry-fig butter.
And the stuff can serve as an accent to drinks. At Apéro, the vodka-and-gin-based Diamonds and Pearls cocktail ($31) is accompanied by a mini coupe filled with five grams of house caviar.
High/low mash-ups are also in style. At Penn Quarter’s Bantam King (501 G St., NW), Katsuya Fukushima matches his dashi-brined fried chicken with a one-ounce side of domestic caviar and cream-cheese mousse ($15). At Michele’s (1201 K St., NW), the new French/American brasserie, Matt Baker dishes up “chips and dip”: butter-fried chips, custard-like ranch bavarois, and smoked trout roe ($24). He says that at Gravitas, his Michelin-starred Ivy City tasting room, classic caviar service is hotter than ever: “The fact we’re able to eat indoors again is something we want to celebrate.”
This article appears in the January 2022 issue of Washingtonian.