There is a new trend in knowing the story behind your food that we hope doesn’t fade out. Over centuries, the gap between farm and plate has widened for Americans. We shop the aisles of our grocery stores and know nothing about who grows or raises the food that we consume. How do they treat the animals, the crops, the environment? What are they putting into this food that we then absorb into our bodies? We have become so disconnected that some children may not even realize the milk they drink comes from a cow.
Thankfully recent food movements and trends are pushing to bridge this gap. It is important for us to know the answers to all those questions, so we can make educated decisions about what we eat based on what is important to us. Someone may be concerned about GMOs and growth hormones, while someone else is dedicated to helping our environment, or both.
At Tsar Nicoulai, we are passionate about keeping the food we produce clean and healthy and using practices that don’t harm our environment. Our sturgeon live in tanks that mimic their natural habitat. They are fed non-GMO feed and are never given growth hormones, so you can be confident in the quality of the fish. A sturgeon will be on the farm upwards of eight years, requiring much dedication from our farmers and team to make sure that the fish are healthy and happy under the California sun. Our farmers have even been known to sing to our fish. You might think that doesn't affect the outcome of our caviar, but we would challenge you to prove it doesn't ;-).
We recently implemented an aquaponics system to grow lettuce. The natural waste from the fish tanks flows down to our floating lettuce plants. The lettuce takes the rich nutrients from the water, cleans it and sends it back to the fish tanks. It is an incredibly sustainable, closed system that produces great caviar, and great lettuce, not to mention how much better it is for our environment. This is what we believe we should be supporting and the types of food that we should be consuming.
As a company, Tsar Nicoulai is completely hands on. We control every part of the process in every product we make. We check and control the quality of our caviar ourselves. Because of this we can also be 100% confident in the safety practices used in all aspects of our business. We have nothing to hide and are always happy to discuss our production with our customers.
Do we want to support a company that doesn't take pride in their product or their employees? What would that say about the product itself?
We want to take a moment this Labor Day to recognize our employees, farmers and partners at Tsar Nicoulai Caviar. It is because of all of them that we can be proud of the caviar, roe, smoked goods and lettuce that we produce. We love to share the passion of our team with our customers as it is important to us that they know where their seafood comes from and just how great it is!
We admit, we have a lot of favorite days of the year, but National Caviar Day, July 18th, is a big one.
We are especially excited to celebrate as we have been busy out on the sturgeon farm working with professionals in aquaculture to set up Bare Roots - our lettuce growing aquaponics system. The fish tanks and the lettuce fields work together to produce more sustainable and better products. You can read more about the magic (ok, the science) on the UC Davis website as well as stay tuned to our blog for more details.
In the meantime, don't overlook your plans for National Caviar Day. We are offering 50% off all caviar, roe and smoked fish purchases when you visit our online shop. Use the code 'caviarday' at check out now until July 18th, 2018.
Summer is the perfect time to gather some friends and enjoy life over something a little indulgent and a lot beautiful. We put so much thought, care and pride into our caviar and we love nothing more than to share it with you. And for you to share it with people you care about. Open some champagne, top a blini, the top of your hand, a potato chip, or whatever your heart desires, with some caviar and embrace all the good things in life. Amidst all the craziness that swirls around us, let's use National Caviar Day to slow down and make a beautiful moment that will stay with us for a long time.
It is that glorious time of year when you just want to cook or grill fresh and colorful things all the time. Gatherings with friends and family always linger when the days stay lighter longer. Keeping it fresh, simple and pretty become priority so there is more time for stories and laughs. We love how the vibrant color of our Ginger-Infused Whitefish Roe and Golden Whitefish Roe pops against the deep backdrop of sliced roasted beets. This dish makes a great appetizer for a sit down dinner, cocktail or backyard party. Once you roast the beets the rest comes together pretty quickly.
I usually roast beets whole and unpeeled at 400-420 degrees F, wrapped in some foil (either individually or in groups of 3-4 beets of similar size). After about 45 minutes I start to check them with a fork. If the fork slides through the beet easily they are done. If it doesn't, check them about every 10 minutes for doneness. Really big beets can take a couple hours to roast.
Once the beets are done and have cooled slightly, you can rub the peel right off under running water. Beets can stain, so be careful! Cut the beets into 1/2 inch slices, top with some creme fraiche and roe. Garnish with some greens for extra color.
Some exciting things have developed over here at Tsar Nicoulai Caviar...
In late September we had a chance introduction with a distributor for Tsukiji who directly imports fresh fish from the Tokyo auction for sushi restaurants in the Bay Area. Yoshi, a former chef of Sushi Ran, along with his associates, explored the opportunities for Tsar Nicoulai in Tokyo. The initial impression was favorable.
We hosted Yoshi and Kiochi who represent Sakasyu (the parent company of Tsukiji Market Auctions) at the farm and office to learn about the great stuff we do at our Sturgeon Farm and about all our daily operations. We sent them off with some caviar samples to scope out the local response.
Our connection with the Western United States Agricultural Trade Association (WUSATA) helped us secure a booth inside the USA Pavilion at FoodEx 2018 in Makuhari, Japan in early March. WUSATA is the foreign trade arm of the USDA that helps to promote overseas agricultural export via trade missions, exhibitions, and focused meeting. Tsar Nicouali's Vice President, Ali and Brand Manager, Ryan, ventured out to Tokyo to exhibit. The overall response to our caviar was very positive, and created a substantial amount of excitement for our upcoming initial shipment.
In addition to the FoodEx event, Ali and Ryan also visited Tsukiji, the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. There they met with Hicho, Tsukiji's top dealer, over some freshly cut Maguro (fatty tuna). Hicho always purchases the most expensive tuna at the market. This Maguro was $500/lb. Pictured below, Yoshi garnished the Maguro with Tsar Nicouali Caviar. Hicho said he had never seen caviar on Maguro before, but that he found the pairing outrageously good.
Historically it is believed that the Japanese Sturgeon (Acipenser Schrenkii) inhabited the sea of Japan, but the concept of custom inspired caviar is a new one. We plan to export a Japan market-specific caviar cured with one of the worlds finest salts harvested in Okinawan, launching an expansion of the concept we first cultivated in Sonoma working with the team from Jordan winery.
Ali, Ryan, and the team are working out the final details for the first shipment and are excited for orders to start coming in. We hope to follow the export of award winning California wines with award winning California caviar.
We expect a successful first launch sometime before the Summer! Stay tuned...
"Do you guys want some of this caviar?" Xenia (TNC's graphic designer and my sister) and I offered the couple next to us. We had just ordered the dish along with our island-inspired cocktails at the bar of LihoLiho Yacht Club in San Francisco's Tendernob neighborhood. The super cool pair were sharing one stool next to us when a cancellation opened up a table for them - something that doesn't always happen in this reservations-recommended restaurant. I insisted on quickly prepping a few pieces of perfectly toasted furikake brioche with french onion spread and caviar to take to their table. They looked at us hesitantly. We assured them, "Seriously, you guys should try this."
The portions are generous at LihoLiho, but it's the here-to-chillax vibe that made us want to chat and share with strangers. Gemma and Andrew Ingalls are talented photographers who are married and work together and one just instantly wants to be them or friends with them or at least have their Instagram feed. And LihoLiho is so the perfect spot to meet people like that; and people in general with whom you can share the eclectic food. We also chatted with Claire, the girl writing this book, who took the Ingalls's spot at the bar. She also happily accepted some of our caviar starter. I mean, how could anyone say no?
Earlier that day, we met with Chef Ravi Kapur, owner of LihoLiho, to talk about his cooking style and how Tsar Nicoulai Caviar fits into it. Despite the tiled Aloha greeting at its entrance, LihoLiho should not be branded a Hawaiian restaurant. The dishes are inspired by Kapur's memories and flavors of childhood, of cooking, and of life. As you can read in many glowing articles of the chef and his restaurant, it is a beautiful ode to his uncles' own LihoLiho Yacht Club back home in Hawaii - a neighborhood beach party that was put together to fund a hobby and to have a seriously good time with friends. It's something you always wish you could just do, and when you eat at LihoLiho it kind of feels like you get to. Just like the food on your plate makes you feel part of whatever memory led Chef Ravi to create it.
The furikake brioche served with French onion spread and one of two choices of an entire jar of caviar is a throw back to Kapur's time at the Boulevard, where his boss would treat the staff to caviar on New Year's Eve. They didn't just get a spoonful - it was a thick, satisfying layer on toast. Kapur easily could have served the brioche already slathered with the spread and topped with a bit of caviar but where is the fun in that? The whole point is for the guest to dive in to this memory and re-live it. Nothing less than the jar of caviar could do that. Downstairs in Louie's Gen-Gen Room, a choice of Tsar Nicoulai Trout Roe or Estate Caviar is served in a layered French onion dip with eggs and chives and a heaping pile of potato chips.
It's important to Chef Ravi not to just have a Hawaiian or Asian or Indian version of whatever popular dish everyone is serving right now. That is definitely not something you will find on the menu at LihoLiho. The dishes are original and belong in their own category of awesome. The embrace a vibrant mix of ethnicity, technique and flavor. My sister and I also shared a salad with iceberg wedge, shiso ranch, beets and mind-blowingly good furikake crunch. I am positive that both of us spent the entire evening trying to discreetly eat more than half of "those crunchy things" while the other wasn't looking.
above photo: LihoLiho Yacht Club Instagram
A beautiful, blown up photograph of Kapur's smiling mother welcomes you when you enter the restaurant. Her warmth sets the tone for your entire meal. Relaxing you into an amazing meal fueled by Chef Ravi's memories and inspiring your own.
Make a reservation ASAP! http://liholihoyachtclub.com/reservations
LihoLiho Yacht Club is located at 871 Sutter St in San Francisco (between Jones and Leavenworth). They are open Monday thru Thursday from 5pm to 10:30pm, Friday and Saturday from 5pm to 11pm, and are closed Sundays.