Caviar ‘Bumps’ Are All the Rage
Jimmy Han, 41, a bar owner in Los Angeles, was at Coachella in April when he and four friends decided to do a “bump” in a pop-up seafood restaurant — though not the kind you may be picturing.
After ordering a seafood platter, he opened a gold tin of Regiis Ova caviar, poured a spoonful on his fist between his thumb and index finger, and then proceeded to lick it off with his tongue, like salt after a tequila shot.
“People used to get high off of drugs,” Mr. Han said, laughing, as he crushed the fish eggs against the top of his mouth. “Now, we’re getting high off the food.”
Caviar bumps — in which a dollop of the fish roe is eaten (not snorted) off the back of one’s hand — have become a decadent and naughty way to consume the pricey delicacy at certain restaurants, fashionable bars, art festivals and other showy gatherings.
“A watch collector came up to me yesterday at Frieze and said she saw a video of me doing one on Instagram, and she wanted to try,” said Kristen Shirley, 37, the founder of La Patiala, a luxury lifestyle website, who was referring to the art fair in New York last month.
When Ms. Shirley entertains friends at her apartment in SoHo, they drink Champagne and do caviar bumps around the kitchen island. “I love caviar bumps because you don’t have to put together a huge cheese board and get all the crudité,” she said. “You just need a tin and a spoon.”
As a self-proclaimed caviar connoisseur, she prefers the taste that way, too. “If you put caviar on blinis or chips or put chives or red onion on it, it masks the flavor,” Ms. Shirley said. “Why are you eating something that costs $200 an ounce just for it to taste like red onion?”
She may be onto something. Caviar specialists say that this is how they have traditionally sampled roe. “When you would go to the fishermen and try 100 different cans of caviar to select which ones you wanted, you wanted a quick way to taste the caviar without muddling your palate,” said Edward Panchernikov, the director of operations for Caviar Russe, a Michelin-starred restaurant on Madison Avenue that specializes in caviar.
While Caviar Russe does not offer bumps on the menu, other restaurants see it as a novel way to sell the indulgent treat.
Temple Bar, a retro jewel-box lounge in the NoHo neighborhood of Manhattan, added caviar bumps to its menu ($20) when it reopened last October. “It’s decadence on decadence but not unapproachable,” said Sam Ross, a bartender and bar owner, who is one of the partners. “It’s the high-low thing you see at restaurants right now.”
Samantha Casuga, the head bartender at Temple, estimates that it sells about 10 a night. “What will happen is someone will be like, ‘Should we do a caviar bump?’ and it feels a little naughty,” Ms. Casuga said. “Then other people see it, and they want to do one, too.”
At Tokyo Record Bar, a 12-seat izakaya in Greenwich Village, diners can order a caviar bump with sake for $20, though it’s not advertised on the menu. “We always have a ton of caviar around also, so this seemed like a fun way to give people a good experience,” said Ariel Arce, the owner.
Ms. Arce, who also sells a brand of caviar called CaviAIR, said that the growing popularity of caviar bumps (and of caviar in general) is the result of improved farming techniques, which has made the delicacy more affordable. In the past, caviar was considered too expensive to serve so casually.
“Wild caviar is completely unaffordable, but now China, Netherlands, France, Uruguay and the United States have nailed the farming practices,” Ms. Arce said. “Caviar now can be approachable and affordable.”
Still, farmed caviar is still very much perceived as a luxury that is savored for special moments. Josh Blum, a private chef in Miami, who regularly hosts dinner parties for celebrities, said that caviar bumps offer a fun way to break the ice. “At Formula One this year I gave one to Diplo,” he said. “It was pretty funny. I think it was his first time doing it, and he loved it.”
“It’s so social,” Mr. Blum added. “It’s what I do in the kitchen to bond with someone, instead of taking shots of alcohol. I can’t do that when I work.”