On a recent grey, windy San Francisco morning my friend and I decided to take a 30-minute trip over the Golden Gate Bridge into Tiburon, a warm, sunny enclave in Marin County located on the Tiburon Peninsula, which reaches south to the San Francisco Bay. Both of us love caviar, so the new venture by Petra Bergstein Higby — co-founder of The Caviar Co. at 1954 Union Street in Cow Hollow — was calling our names. Petra and her sister Saskia opened their San Francisco shop to make caviar more approachable, and the newest venture goes to another level.
Caviar comes from sturgeon, ancient fish tracing back to the Triassic period over 200 million years ago. Like sharks, their physiology is mostly unchanged from their dinosaur days. A type of anadromous fish, sturgeon travel upstream to spawn. It takes 15 to 20 years for sturgeon to mature, which is why overfishing has become a crisis. Black Sea sturgeon are on the verge of extinction because they produce beluga, the king of caviar. Poaching in the Caspian Sea alone has been 10 times over legal limits.
Farming has become the sustainable way to raise sturgeon for caviar, and breakthroughs in conservation have led to ways of harvesting roe without killing the fish, making it even more sustainable. While farmed fish sometimes comes with a stigma, farmed caviar is every bit as good as wild, but sustainable and less costly. Currently most caviar in the world is produced in China, but the sisters wanted to highlight the farms in the United States, particularly Northern California. The Caviar & Champagne Tasting Room at The Caviar Co. in Tiburon offers another platform for them to share their passion for this delicacy and to show people it isn’t just for kings and czars.
Now offering inside and outside dining in the heart of Tiburon’s quaint downtown, the large patio is the way to go on a warm, sunny day, but the interior also provides a welcoming, light-filled space. There is a retail section to purchase caviar, accessories, servers, and champagne (including a custom champagne vending machine). They offer caviar flights hand-selected by the expert team or you can build your own flight, which comes with crème fraîche and house-made blini. Selections range in price per ounce from $15 for trout or whitefish roe to $170 for the prized Golden Imperial Osetra. You can also “choose your vessel” from traditional blini, brioche toast points, house-made potato chips, and even Ritz crackers.
The menu presents six dishes carefully crafted to show off the caviar, from Hog Island Oysters on the half-shell ($18) to an upscale riff on chips and dip ($19), one of my favorite menu items. The creamy herb dip is redolent with lemon, shallot, chives, and a “secret herb blend,” topped with smoked trout roe. With the light, crispy, salty potato chips, it’s as addictive a treat as you’ll find.
If you want to go traditional, try the smoked salmon with house-made blinis, crème fraîche, and briny, creamy Siberian sturgeon caviar ($60), which was my favorite caviar of the day.
I grew up eating burrata, and I’m still always excited to see it on a menu. Here, it arrives with brioche, toasted pistachios, and paper-thin prosciutto ($20). You can add Kaluga hybrid caviar, a large, firm pearl with a delicate, buttery finish ($28).
The not-to-miss dish is the black truffle grilled cheese ($37), brioche toast sandwiching the award-winning Point Reyes Toma (which in Italian means “wheel of cheese made by the farmer herself.”) Toma melts like a dream and is aged for 90 days to give it a grassy tang. Truffle carpaccio, Italian black truffles at the peak of flavor, thinly sliced and preserved in extra virgin olive oil from San Francisco’s Truffle Shuffle, adds that earthiness. The sandwich comes with a dollop of classic California white sturgeon caviar to scoop on top, adding a briny, nutty finish. While it sounds rich, somehow it manages not to be. Every ingredient stands on its own, making for the best gourmet grilled cheese I’ve ever had.
The Champagne list features 10 bubbles by the glass and roughly 20 bottles and half bottles, as well as several mostly local wines and craft brewed beers. Pro tip: Ask about the Truffle Shuffle black truffle kettle corn sprinkled with Balinese truffle salt and white cheddar, a sweet and savory snack that pairs amazingly well with those bubbles.
Caviar & Champagne Tasting Room at The Caviar Co.: 46A Main Street, Tiburon, CA 94920, 415-889-5168, thecaviarco.com, Wednesday–Sunday noon-7 p.m.
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