Gosh, is there anything more decadent and high-class and altogether swanky than caviar? Who born in the 20th century doesn’t remember Robin Leach’s signoff from Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous: “champagne riches and caviar dreams!” And it wasn’t just in modern times that caviar has been considered a mark of wealth, high class, and distinction: unlike lobster, which has only been considered a luxury food in the past 75 years, caviar has been consumed by the elite since the Ancient Persians started cultivating it centuries ago. In the Middle Ages, caviar was to be consumed only by royalty; it was only in the 19th century when those with a less prominent pedigree (but with no less cash) started eating the delicacy. My first experience with caviar was when I was 13: a friend of mine had it at her bat-mitzvah, a traditional Russian dish that was on the table just as much for social status as it was for taste. I didn’t particularly like it then–but then again, I didn’t like blackberries, artichokes, onions, or guacamole at that point, so my tastes weren’t quite yet defined 😉 Now I’ll only have caviar on very, very special occasions: the last time I tried it, my friend Katie & I went to Firebird restaurant on 48th Street during Restaurant Week. They had a 3-course prix fixe meal that included caviar on a blini, and I ate every one of those little salty spheres and loved every minute of it.
But wait, I haven’t even told you what caviar is and I’m going on about it like everyone knows! The reason that caviar is, was, and always will be a very expensive food is because it is very, very difficult to get your hands on. Caviar is the processed non-fertilized eggs of sturgeon. Although other eggs from fish may be called “caviar,” sturgeon eggs are the only genuine article. They vary in size and color, from tiny black Beluga caviar to bigger, golden globules, which used to only be reserved for the Russian Czar. Because of the extremely lucrative caviar industry, the world’s sturgeon population has severely decreased, making many varieties of these fish endangered–but also making their caviar very sought after. If you’re going to be celebrating National Caviar Day today, be aware: you’re going to shell out a lot of money for the privilege.
But if you do plan to go all-out for National Caviar Day, you have to go the full nine yards. It may not have the austere reputation that it did in its heyday, but the reopened Russian Tea Room can still provide shock and awe in a conversation just by mentioning its name. The famed restaurant on 57th Street can still uphold its old standards of breathtaking decor, outstanding service, and the highest quality Russian and Eastern European cuisine anywhere in the city. You want to impress your date (and spend a few bills in the process)? Russian Tea Room still provides. To start off a memorable evening, the Tea Room offers a caviar appetizer on miniature blinis. It’s dainty and small, but each piece of caviar offers a punch of refined flavor that’s unlike anything else in the world. If you’re not interested in dinner, you can always order from their “Caviar & Dessert” menu, which is exactly what it describes: extremely expensive caviar and decadent desserts like a chocolate pyramid, mi-cuit, and a “Czar’s Parfait” that not only includes caviar and chocolate sauce (!!!) but also sprinkles 24-karat edible gold on top. It’s a dish that’s not even fit for a king; it’s for a czar. If you only go to the Russian Tea Room once in your life, it’s worth it; and what better day to go than National Caviar Day?
Russian Tea Room
150 W 57th St (between Avenue Of The Americas & 7th Ave)
“As of late May, a new tasting flight of three vodkas and three caviars for $75 has been permanently added to the menu, but that’s a peasant’s meal compared to the Czar’s Palace tasting of black caviar that will set you back a cool $350. With one ounce each of the ultra-exclusive Beluga, Golden Ossetra and Sevruga caviars served on a silver tray with stacks of warm buckwheat blini, it’s as opulent as the golden tree dripping with oversized Venetian glass eggs in the second-floor dining room. After savoring each bite, do as the Russians do and wash it down with shots of vodka—or, since we’re celebrating here, a bottle of Tattinger Brut for $135.”–MetroMix
“Slide into one of those beautifully archaic red leather banquettes, order a chilled vodka, and open the menu. You don’t have to indulge in the Iranian Special Reserve ($300 for 30 grams) or even the California Golden Osetra ($120 for 30 grams). We recommend the rainbow-trout caviar ($25 for 30 grams), the eggs of which are small, sweet, and pearly orange. They come to the table in the regal way caviar should—that is, on the back of a leaping silver sturgeon, with a flotilla of warm buckwheat blini, chopped eggs and onions, and a dollop of sour cream, all of them served, in the proper czarist manner, on silver trays.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Started with the red salmon caviar on buckwheat blini with chopped egg, onion and sour cream. Caviar was beautiful and all the eggs were intact…not mushed together. The earthiness of the buckwheat played nicely with the slight saltiness of the caviar and the richness of the sour cream; onions gave a nice finish to each bite.”–David T.
“the high end caviar tasting was a fantastic way for several who had never tasted caviar before to experience it, they prepared three blinis for us with each of Iranian, Golden and Sevruga and explained the differences.”–Luke L.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!