The Essential Guide to Caviar: An Afternoon at Petrossian
Caviar is a decadence recognized around the world - a food synonymous with luxury itself. Naturally, I had to make a trip to the best place to get caviar in New York City, Petrossian. Petrossian pays homage to the delicacy. Inside the beautifully dominating facade of the historic Alwyn Court Building is a hushed room where, late on a Sunday afternoon, only had about 2 tables occupied, a few patrons who must’ve gotten a late start to brunch.
Petrossian was founded in 1920 in Paris. The Petrossian brothers wanted to introduce Parisian palates to the splendor of caviar. For almost a century the family has remained the preeminent buyer and importer of caviar and today is the largest in America. They opened the New York restaurant in 1984 and they have created a haven of caviar, foie gras, smoked salmon and champagne on the West Side - one which I was thrilled to be visiting.
I arrived to the wonderfully accommodating manager of the establishment, Mark. He graciously hosted us and truly made our caviar dreams come true and more.
Elton was to be our guide through the caviar tasting. He was an understated man with a wealth of knowledge about the coveted roe and its accoutrements.
Caviar, the eggs of the sturgeon fish, are classified by what type of sturgeon they come from and how old that fish was when the roe was harvested - the older the fish, the more rare the caviar is (and is priced accordingly).The basics to caviar are color, taste, and size, or what Elton eloquently calls, “geometry.” The caviars offered at Petrossian come from five types of sturgeon: Perciscus, Ossetra, Sevruga, Transmontanus and Baerii.
Petrossian serves the caviar in five grades: Classic, Royal, Imperial, President and Special Reserve. These grades (determined by the age of the sturgeon), are detectable by the size and color. The beads get increasingly larger by grade and the maturity of the sturgeon also has lighter roe. The taste, too, as we learned is more “robust,” they say, as the maturity increases. The texture is firmer as well and you can feel that bursting of the bead in your mouth that is so characteristic of caviar.
We were served a selection of grades and sturgeon types throughout the afternoon - some more bold, others more mild and nutty. What Elton explained is that caviar is very personal - each sturgeon has a different flavor and each who chooses to enjoy the riches of the sea will have a particular fondness for one over the other. The Shassetra, for instance, was brinier, while the Ossetra and Transmontanus were both more mild and buttery. Even after copious amounts of each variety - Elton’s curated selection left us wanting more.
Elton served us our varieties of caviar with crisp toast points and hot, soft blinis (the ones served at Petrossian were larger, more like a pancake, than a typical blini). After trying each selection of caviar on its own (in order to truly taste the varieties), we spread a dollop of crème fraîche on the toast and blinis and indulged in grams and grams of the decadent goodness.
The caviar was served in sterling silver and the serving spoons as well as the small paddle with we were to use to taste our caviar with were all made of 24-carat gold. It is thought that any other metal disturbs the true taste of caviar.
Petrossian spared no expense on us. We, of course, had many glasses of champagne to sip with our caviar (as the French do, said Elton), but he also brought us over chilled vodka (as the Russians do). The champagne was a Grande Cuvée, and the vodka was no ordinary vodka. It was a vodka made with arctic water and filtered with quartz - not metal, to leave a smooth finish.
Elton also made us Petrossian’s signature caviar martinis, vodka martinis with condensed caviar beads and cucumber garnish. To finish off our caviar adventure, Elton brought over rosé champagne, the perfect way to end our Sunday afternoon.
If you are already a caviar enthusiast, a visit to Petrossian is a must. If you are just a part time enthusiast or a complete novice, head to Petrossian and ask for Elton to guide you through the varieties and nuances of their incredible caviar selection. For those not in New York, don’t fret; they ship worldwide.
For this part time enthusiast, I left feeling like a true connoisseur (and the perfect amount of tipsy). It is an experience not to be missed.