I ordered a Vodka Martini for $35 a few weeks ago. It was delivered by a server in an engraved V shape glass set on a silver tray. andFilled with Chopin Family Reserve vodka andVermouth with pickled dwarfpeach garnish andBegaigned with a small-as-advertised potato and sour cream and osetra caviar. This Reserve Martini Tray at Veronika New York City, you can say what you like about inflation and elitism.
“There’s been a reset personally and economically, in this need of wanting to go out and, oh my God, to treat myself with things like expensive vodka, Champagne, and caviar,” says Eric Alperin, a cocktail veteran who’s now the director of beverage at Veronika andCultureWorks is its parent company.
After a long evening of sipping vodkas at Warsaw’s Imperial Hotel, Alperin chose to pair the Polish Chopin (made with young potatoes). andRested in Polish oak barrels). “Vodka is a beautiful accompaniment with salty foods,”He said. “It refreshes the palate; it’s not a cleanse, but a refresh.”
Two Favorites Reunited
I’ve been a Martini drinker for more than a decade andA caviar lover since childhood, I was an opportunist for many years. But something amazing, if it is not so obvious, happened in the past year. Martinis andCaviar and Page Six are now more than occasional companions. They’re everywhere together.
It’s the reunion for the boom-and-bust pair—and I’m not talking about straight vodka, an enduring caviar sidekick. Newspaper articles dating back to the 19th century andIn the early 20th century, detailed dinners were served with Martini cocktails. and caviar. Revelers at Passaic, New Jersey, Lima, Ohio, Davenport, Iowa andSumter, South Carolina, was the epicenter of the scrumptious cocktail known as a Martini. Prohibition ended the fun, or at least made it illegal. andFurther damage was done by the Great Depression.
In the 1960s, James Bond helped to revive caviar-making.andThe fictional Mr. Bond preferred champagne with his beluga caviar, but he rarely mixed them. Caviar enjoyed a brief moment in the early 1980s and again in mid-’90s, the latter coinciding with the rise of the Martini bar. We are now in 2022, having emerged from a global pandemic and in dire need of a strong drink. andYou are looking for great fun. A Martini revival is a great addition. andGlobal reshaping in the caviar industry and the duo’s reemergence feels inevitable.
Luxury at its best
“A lot of guests are looking for experiences when they visit bars and restaurants,” says Sondré Kasin, the principal bartender at New York’s Undercote, the cocktail bar beneath the Michelin-starred Korean barbecue Cote. “During the pandemic, a lot of people were sitting home, and they now want to go back out to have fun and experience something new.”
Bartenders tipped me off to the particularly generous size of Undercote’s caviar bumps, $30 a pop for 8 to 10 grams of Regiis Ova Royal hybrid kaluga, ideally paired with one of the bar’s four Martinis. Kasin says Undercote made caviar more affordable last summer by adding bumps to the menu.
Bumps are not a new phenomenon, however. “It’s a historical way of tasting caviar,”Sarah McKinney discusses the beverage andThe Caviar Co. “It’s how fishmongers graded it. They would take samples from big tins, and as the caviar heated up, they would taste it off their hands. The warmth of the body releases oils in the caviar.”
However, almost overnight, bumps began appearing on cocktail menus. New Yorkers can add $20 to any Martini at Temple Bar. I highly recommend the Salt & Pepper Martini. andA $18 upgrade to the Martini Experience at Pine & Polk. At Martiny’s, bumps are served not on human flesh, but on a wooden hand curled around a Martini glass.
There are people who don’t like bumps, and there are others who prefer spoons and blinis andChips are used to deliver caviar. But I’m not one of them. Bumps can bring you a moment of blissful salty-creamy joy in a stressful world. They’re also an ingenious way for bars andRestaurants to increase check averages without adding labor. Who’s to begrudge the industry for trying to capture easy revenue after the last two years?
“It’s a low lift for bars, the ability to get a bump on your hand, and it’s a good way to get some money,”Alperin. “Even if I know they’re making a good margin, I’m happy to pay.”
The caviarandThe Martini landscape is more expansive than the bumps. Undercote can make caviar-topped beef Tartare, as well as full caviar containers, if you have at least $500. You should definitely order the N°9 Martini (gin, manzanilla sherry, andVermouth) served with a potato topped with caviar at The Nines
The Vesper Club is located in The Continental at the Grand Hyatt Nashville and serves a $100 five-course Martini.and-caviar experience. Developed by bar director Jon Howard, the tasting has some of the trappings of formal caviar service—the silver trays, crystal bowls, and mother of pearl spoons—but instead of blini and crème fraîche, bartenders serve MartinisDesigned to be paired with every bite of caviar
“With a nine-seat bar, we can provide this special amenity for guests, this extra thing and experience within the same walls of The Continental,” says Howard. “It’s just caviar and drinks and letting people be happy.”
It’s also the wedding Martinis and caviar have always deserved. Caviar is one of the best. Martinis (all of thich are served in delicate vintage glassware) is a combination of Ford’s Gin, Carpano dry and Dubonnet rouge vermouths, andplum vinegar, which has a red berry andHoward says that fruit notes showcase the best of the fruits “creamy, buttery, fatty”California white sturgeon Caviar has many of the same qualities. Chopin vodka, Lo Fi dry Vermouth, Italicus, Suze and a citrusy Israeli Caviar are paired together. andLemon oil
Howard buys caviar at The Caviar Co. andHis selections offer a glimpse into the huge changes that have taken place in the industry since 2005 when the U.S. Fish andWildlife Service prohibited the import of caviar from endangered wild beluga sturgeons from the Caspian. andBlack Seas
Aquaculture became more sophisticated over the years. andThere are caviar farms now in several countries, including Americas, Madagascar, Uruguay and Poland, Israel, Thailand and France. and Malaysia. China produces more than a third of the world’s caviar, much of it exceptional Kaluga Hybrid. Caviar prices dropped by half between 2012 and 2012 due to all the supply. and2019 is the most important reason bumps exist andIn cocktail bars, caviar garnishes are more popular than ever.
All Fads Can Be Fickle
But it will last.
I walked into The Russian Tea Room in New York city’s Midtown neighborhood on a recent Friday night with no reservation. There couldn’t have been more than 10 parties in the whole restaurant, and instead of sitting at the bar as planned, the host seated me (party of one) in one of the restaurant’s lipstick-red booths. It was a great seat, from which I ordered caviar. and an ice-cold Vodka Martini, appreciating, maybe for the first time, how lovely vermouth’s sweetness played against salty caviar.
With its rich history andOver-the-top dining room. The Russian Tea Room should have been filled by young people eating caviar andDrinking Martinis, much in the same way Gen Z’ers now gravitate to Bemelmans Bar. But Russia’s war with Ukraine has stifled business (no matter that The Russian Tea Room was founded by immigrants fleeing communism andhe has expressed solidarity to Ukraine). Likewise, McKinney says that caviar’s association with Russian culture—despite the fact that there’s zero Russian caviar imported into America—has impacted sales of The Caviar Co.’s Russian-osetra-style tins.
It’s a fickle business. Caviar’s success depends on the nation mood. This was buoyant following the pandemic. However, it could easily become bleak with war, inflation and political division. andNot to manifest it, but a coming recession. The Wall Street Journal reported in 1996 that the dot-com bubble was expanding. It also noted a boom in the caviar industry. “a booming economy is making ordinary people feel rich again and splurge on luxuries.”We all know what happened next.
Alperin is adamant that we have not yet satisfied our post-pandemic cravings andGuests are willing to spend more for this experience. “wow factor.” “It’s important,”He said. “It brings back that sparkly, titillating feeling and energy of being surprised when you go out.”
I want to preserve that energy for as long and as possible. So I’ll keep ordering Reserve MartinisWith adorable little caviar-topped snacks. I’ll take fat bumps with friends andSit down and contemplate tins Siberian sturgeon while sipping a Martini. Maybe with lower prices and its repositioning as an everyday luxury, our caviar moment will last—maybe.
But if caviar does evaporate from the bar scene, I’ll also be OK eating a few extra Castelvetranos, consoled by knowing caviar and MartinisAll will be well in the end.
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