March 7, 2017

Champagne wishes and caviar dreams, beluga edition

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This was a night we've been waiting for since December, and I was glad that it finally happened tonight.  Ever since I first got my hands on some Russian beluga caviar late last year, a few of us have been discussing the possibility of doing a beluga tasting.  Our schedules went through a few changes, but we managed to clean out our stash tonight.

Rather than asking our favorite chef the Man in White T-Shirt for another favor like last time, our friend RC offered to host us for this gathering, and proceeded to cook up a storm.  We had only been able to drool over pictures of Chef RC's cuisine at Chez Ro Ro, and tonight we finally had the chance to have a taste.

First, a little Joselito Gran Reserva bellota, which has been aged for 48 months.  Very nutty, but also has a surprisingly sweet finish.

Chef RC's first course of the evening was a single, giant Japanese clam (蛤) - which was purchased at Tsukiji Market (築地市場) yesterday morning.  Steamed with a little wine and served with a slice of radish, and garnished with some myoga (茗荷), yuzu (柚子) rind, and perilla flowers.  Simplicity and purity.

Next came a single Amela tomato (アメーラトマト) - also brought in yesterday - which was simply quartered and served with a sprinkle of fleur de sel and a drizzle of lemon-flavored olive oil.  The tomato delivered very clean flavors, and the olive oil was a perfect complement.

Then came the evening's main event.  We brought out all the caviar and lined them up, and took turns taking pictures.  A tasting like this doesn't happen everyday - at least not for the likes of us - so we were all eager to record it for prosperity.  There was a suggestion to name the different tins, and after a little bit of discussion, we eventually settled on the very creative quartet of A, B, C, and D...  orz

I brought along a few packs of mini blinis, as well as a little tub of crème fraîche from Isigny.  These always come in handy.

A: Iranian beluga - RC's contribution and a gift from one of his (obviously very generous) friends.  This has been sitting around for a while, and clearly some of the eggs have burst.  Pretty good in terms of depth of flavor, definitely tasting of the sea... almost a little umami.

B: Russian beluga, packed in December 2016 - Fergie's contribution.  Lighter in terms of flavor, definitely less salty.  Oily and nutty.  The eggs in this tin look the freshest.

C: Russian beluga, packed in November 2016 - my contribution, from the same 22-year-old fish whose eggs I tasted in December.  I think we all agreed that this was the best batch.  Really big flavors, full of the ocean and seaweed, nutty, good acidity on the finish along with slight bitterness.

D: Russian golden oscietra, packed in December 2016 - my contribution.  slightly more salty with nice acidity.

Clockwise from top: Iranian beluga, Russian beluga (Dec 2016), Russian beluga (Nov 2016), Russian golden oscietra
For the first time - since we had a few samples to compare - I noticed that the golden oscietra eggs were visibly smaller.  I had shrugged off my supplier's comments about the beluga eggs being big, but now I finally know what he was talking about...

Since we just had all this good stuff, our host decided that we should have some of the "regular" stuff for comparison's sake.  Out came this jar of oscietra, which looked like it had been picked up in a supermarket in Russia.  It's been sitting around for at least a year, and upon opening the jar we can see that a lot of the eggs had burst.  Honestly, this wasn't very tasty at all... no complexity nor depth of flavor beyond the salt and fishy notes... none of the oily, nutty flavors of the others.

Conclusion?  Yeah, it's worth paying up for quality when it comes to caviar.  But is beluga worth double the price of golden oscietra?  Well... that's the same kind of question as whether Romanée-Conti is worth 3 to 5 times the price of La Tâche...

Chef RC went back to the kitchen to cook up this 1.7kg red seabream (真鯛).  This was, of course, taken from Tsukiji yesterday and killed via the Japanese ikejime (活け締め) method.

This was baked in the oven with a little salt rub on top.  Served with a variety of salts - including matcha (抹茶), Hawaiian red, and seaweed.  Cooked perfectly.

Last but not least, Chef RC came up with this aitchbone (イチボ) of Japanese Omi (近江) beef.  It was marinated with a mix of two-year-old Shinshu miso (信州味噌) and soy sauce for 2 hours.

The result was stunning.  Perfect execution.  Very tender beef, yet not excessively marbled.  Served with Taiwanese shallots which were deep-fried in goose fat, and red pepper chiffonade.  How this is the work of a amateur home chef is beyond me...

Small Person brought us some Comté that had been aged for 36 months.  Yum.

I picked up this sake castella (酒ケーキ) made by Dassai (獺祭) on the spur of the moment, and figured it would be interesting to try it out.  While some of the others were surprised by the level of alcohol inside (it was only about 2%), I was quite happy with it.  I love Japanese castella (カステラ), and this had junmai daiginjo (純米大吟醸) inside!

On top of the goodies he brought back from Tokyo, our host also shared with us some of the treasures from his cellar - as he forbade us from BYO.

2002 Dom Ruinart Rosé - very fruity and a little flinty.

1999 André Beaufort, dégorgée en juillet 2010 - really smoky with heavy toasty notes.  A very mature Champagne with a long finish.

1999 Henri Giraud Fût de Chêne Collection - very mature and smooth, toasty, a little savory and mineral, with aged citrus and marmalade.  A little pungent at the end.

Juyondai Special (十四代 秘酒) - very smooth.  Deep and rich on the palate, or as the Japanese would say コクがある.

1986 Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon - pop-and-pour.  Animal, leather, cedar, smoky, red bell pepper, and a little eucalyptus.  Still medium to full-bodied, and the tannins are still there.

What a fantastic evening! Not only did we get to do a rare tasting of beluga caviar, we were treated to a delicious dinner with fresh Japanese ingredients cooked by an expert.  Now... when do we schedule our next gathering?

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