Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe
Ferry Building Marketplace
Embarcadero @ Market
After a day of museum visits and walking around one of my favorite cities, I was looking for a place to have a light dinner before catching a train home.
I almost took a seat at the market's seafood bar, attracted by the view of late-afternoon sunlight on the bay and the first rush of commuters heading toward the ferries. Instead, I went for a splurge: a caviar-tasting bar.
The U-shaped bar at Tsar Nicoulai Caviar Cafe seats 15 and offers a small menu of caviar samplings and caviar "tapas plates." The menu invites the visitor to sip a glass of bubbly "while purling our renowned California Estate Osetra on your palate." I know next to nothing about caviar, and I thought purling had something to do with knitting, but here was an opportunity to taste and compare.
Tsar Nicoulai heavily promotes its sustainable farming methods and states that its product rivals imported caviar. Sturgeon, the type of fish traditionally associated with caviar, are endangered in the wild.
I chose a flight of three caviars paired with generous pours of sparkling wines from Schramsberg, a Calistoga, Calif. vineyard.
The caviar arrived on house-made blini, thin pancakes made from organic buckwheat, each with a dollop of crème fraiché.
My favorite was the Estate Osetra caviar (left). The buttery texture and the combination of salty and fishy flavors was just right.
The Hackleback Sturgeon Caviar (center) was a little too salty for me, and the Paddlefish Sturgeon Caviar (right) tasted a little too strongly of fish.
The three wines -- 2002 Blanc de Blancs, 2001 "J" Brut Rose, and 2002 Domaine Carneros Brut -- were not as dry as I expected but enjoyable with the caviar.
Another time, I'd try the "Parisian" sandwich: sushi-grade ahi tuna with creme fraiche, capers, red onions, a sunny-side-up quail egg, and golden whitefish caviar served on a toasted bun.