Most people know that caviar is a type of fish egg. These eggs are called “roe”. So, since most people consider eggs from chickens to be a vegetarian food, why the confusion over caviar?
There is a big difference in the way eggs from chickens are processed versus fish egg caviar. With regular chicken eggs, the chicken lays its egg and the farmer (or rather, an industrialized machine) collects the eggs, and the chicken goes on to lay another egg again soon. Not so with caviar.
Caviar eggs, or roe, are taken from within the body of the fish. That is, while the chicken lays its eggs, caviar fish eggs have not yet been laid. In order to get the eggs, the fish is killed in the process, either as the roe-containing ovaries are extracted, or the fish is caught and then the roe is extracted after the fish dies.
The good news for vegetarian gourmands, however, is that vegetarian caviar substitutes, made from seaweed and algae for that “fishy” taste, are readily available. Nowadays, many people tend to purchase caviar kelp because it has the same taste as the real thing and it costs a fraction of the price. Kelp Caviar, made in Canada, comes in sturgeon, wasabi and salmon flavors and is available online through CaviarKelp.com. Cavi-Art vegetarian caviar comes in salmon flavor, as well as black, yellow or red lumpfish flavors and is available online through Food Fight Vegan Grocery.
This time of year, chocolates and cakes, Champagne and Sauternes, and luxurious caviar fill New York City storefronts, but nowhere are these wares displayed more opulently than at Petrossian, the legendary Midtown restaurant and specialty store. In close proximity to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Petrossian hosts a parade of ballet and opera stars, actors, musicians, and theatergoers who come for superior delicacies such as ossetra caviar and truffle-studded foie gras.
For Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Petrossian is serving lavish three-course prix fixe meals. “We keep the price reasonable at Christmas because it is a family dinner,” says managing director Alexandre Petrossian, 29, the third generation of the Armenian family that founded the company.
This year, chef German Calle is planning a menu that includes a choice of potato cream with vodka and caviar, a smoked fish tasting, foie gras terrine with wine jelly, or lobster consommé to start. Main courses include seared sturgeon with a caviar beurre blanc, Chilean sea bass with parsnip purée, herb-roasted filet mignon, pumpkin risotto with Stilton cheese, or roast goose with red cabbage.
Designed by Ion Oroveanu, Petrossian seats just 60 guests within an Art Deco setting of polished marble, lustrous wood, Lalique sconces, a Lanvin chandelier, and superb bronze sculptures from the 1930s. Opened in 1984, the restaurant is housed in Alwyn Court, a historic 1909 apartment building; next door is Petrossian’s food boutique, with one side showcasing its caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras, tea, and preserves, and the other its pastries and desserts. The boutique also sells silver salt and pepper shakers and mother-of-pearl spoons, requisite for eating caviar in its purest form. A few steps up to the rear is a small café.