- Angela Hansberger For the AJC
There is extraordinary magic that happens when combining two delicacies. Even though caviar is not as exclusive as it once was, it is celebratory. Add Champagne for the embodiment of luxury.
For centuries, the two have been symbols of luxury and rarity. Sparkling wine can be called “Champagne” only if it is produced in the region of Champagne, about 45 minutes from Paris. Similarly, lightly salted fish eggs are only “caviar” when they come from Sturgeon. The popularity of those tiny black pearls tasting of the sea led to overfishing and an eventual ban of wild caviar in the U.S.
Farmed caviar has come a long way since then. The University of Georgia’s Siberian sturgeon caviar evokes the taste and texture of wild Osetra. Using innovative aquaculture methods and filtrated spring water from North Georgia, it is more abundant, sustainable and reasonably priced, too.
Both caviar and Champagne add a touch of luxe to a dining experience, and the upcoming holidays are the perfect time to treat yourself or your loved ones. Despite the hefty price tag, chefs and sommeliers keep things playful in the ATL.
This gracious Decatur space nails all the vintage elegance of early 1900s hotels, from the thick wooden bar with brass accents to shelves of antique glassware accessible by rolling ladder. Guests nestle into tufted leather booths and bentwood chairs for craft cocktails and cuisine that pay homage to classic hotel fare. From a dedicated shucking room comes an endless parade of oyster towers.
A silver tray of caviar fits wholly into the aesthetic. Diners choose from rotating options. A 30-gram jar of farm-raised North Carolina Osetra rests in an ice bowl with a tray of fluffy johnnycakes and baby-sized slices of brioche. Alongside are finger bowls of herb salad, creme fraiche, chopped shallot, and bits of preserved lemon. Order an Aubry Brut, a grower Champagne from Reims. Its oyster shell-like minerality is fantastic with the caviar’s creaminess.
303 E. Howard Ave., Decatur. 404-378-3502, kimball-house.com.
Chef Nick Leahy’s menu at Saltyard is globally influenced, but his sourcing of ingredients is strictly local, even the caviar: farm-raised UGA caviar from Siberian sturgeon that rivals the wild catch. The dark gray salt-cured gems are clean in flavor with a buttery, velvet finish. Leahy does the work for you. Satin-glazed porcelain is juxtaposed with a row of silver dollar cornmeal blinis, a spread of smoked fromage, and a heap of the glossy dark grains. It’s an easy splurge at $24.
Managing partner and sommelier Sebastijan Katic recommends Billecart-Salmon Brut to sip. Fleshy and dry with perfumed tiny bubbles, its elegance is a picture-perfect match for caviar.
1820 Peachtree Road NW, Buckhead. 404-382-8088, saltyardatlanta.com.
This Westside steakhouse is coated in lavish excess. Low lighting, gilded mirrors, plush banquettes and fancy perfumes in the powder room set the stage for an extravagant menu. Dom Perignon is available by the glass. The 2004 vintage has a savory, nutty subtlety with sea breeze on the nose — a beauty with caviar. Taste through the caviar, set up here like tasting the sparkling wine, to experience the pop of the eggs, their ever so slight salinity, almond-like nuttiness and creaminess as the tongue presses it against the roof of the mouth.
Choose from steelhead trout roe, hackleback or Osetra presented on ice with deluxe garnishes: steak tartare, black truffle aioli, chopped egg, shallots and sumac creme fraiche. Scoop from the heap of briny pearls with a mother-of-pearl spoon and top puffs of twice-fried pommes soufflés.
1170 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta. 404-665-4555, marcelatl.com.
Avalon’s classic steakhouse goes for sublime elegance by pairing another delicacy from the sea with its caviar. Half a dozen oysters, three East Coast and three West Coast, are shucked and served simply with smooth, buttery gray pearls of caviar. Pair them with a bottle of light, refreshing JCB Brut Rose No. 69 from Burgundy. It’s mineral-driven with a soft texture and bracing acidity that complements the oceanic qualities of both caviar and oysters.
950 Third St., Alpharetta. 678-722-8333, oaksteakhouseatlanta.com.
The French-Russian-inspired white tablecloth dining room recently underwent a multimillion-dollar redesign, but timeless classics like caviar service thankfully stayed the same. Located downtown in the Hilton, some 30 stories above the city, Nikolai’s delivers sweeping skyline views as an accouterment to 1-ounce servings of either Osetra or hackleback. Trays also come with chopped egg, cucumber, onion, capers and creme fraiche.
The wine list, curated by general manager and sommelier Daniel Rudiger, is 900 bottles strong. He suggests pairing Nikolai’s caviar offerings with Bollinger Special Cuvee or Pol Roger Champagne; both bubbles have a tight structure, crisp acidity and toasty notes to balance the soft texture and savory mildness of the Osetra.
255 Courtland St. NE, Atlanta. 404-221-6362, nikolaisroof.com.
Linton Hopkins’ chic American steakhouse at The Battery Atlanta adjacent to SunTrust Park oozes with elegance. Venetian plaster walls, soft gray leather banquettes, silvery mirrors and pearlescent touches grace the dining area. A wide variety of meat cuts fill the menu. It’s the kind of place where steak tartare is prepared tableside. Caviar service is similarly elegant with black pearls of UGA sturgeon served over ice in a gleaming vessel. Traditional accompaniments (creme fraiche, chopped egg) come alongside buttered toast served in a silver toast rack.
There is a bevy to choose from among the 900-bottle wine list. Jo Landron Atmospheres Brut matches well with the Osetra’s clean but rich flavor. Made from an uncommon mix of pinot noir and folle blanche grapes grown in ancient volcanic soils in Loire, it’s bone dry with a long finish and toasty notes. Or you could go local with a bottle of Wolf Mountain Plenitude that is lightly floral and crisp with wisps of citrus.
2605 Circle 75 Parkway, Atlanta. 678-996-5344, c-ellets.com.
At Bacchanalia’s sharp, stylish new digs, Edison bulbs light the room, tables are made of reclaimed wood, and intricately woven rope divides the expansive space. Much like unassuming materials make the space sleek, chef Jonathan Kallini has a way of transforming the simplest ingredients into the extraordinary. Traditional caviar service features a choice of North Carolina Osetra, UGA Siberian, North Carolina white sturgeon or Siberian Reserve. Creme fraiche, finely diced chives, fresh garden herbs, potato chips and blinis encircle the bottom of a two-tiered silver tray; the dark eggs are like glitter in the ice bowl arrangement above.
Sommelier Andrew Harris suggests pairing J. Lassalle Preference Brut, a rich and complex grower Champagne from Reims, with the Siberian Reserve eggs from Uruguay (the only place in the Southern Hemisphere that produces caviar). “It’s just right with the weight of the larger-sized caviar with buttery flavors and cleanliness of the salinity,” Harris said. And it’s available by the glass!
1460 Ellsworth Industrial Blvd., Atlanta. 404-365-0410, starprovisions.com/bacchanalia.