The ethic behind The Bump Bar, Sausalito’s new caviar tasting bar is simple. If vineyards allow the potential customer to sample to goods before throwing, perhaps a few hundred dollars at a bottle of wine, they why shouldn’t the same approach be applied to caviar? Why should you have to blindly trust that the contents of the tin that you have just purchased match your taste. You shouldn’t have to. And now you don’t have to.
The Bump Bar is a project of the California Caviar Company, purveyors of sustainably farmed caviar and roe, and the idea is to take all of the guess work out of purchasing caviar. This 20-seat bar is set inside the company’s packing facilities, sort of the equivalent of a craft beer company’s tap room bar. Here you can order dozens of caviars, individually by the gram, as flights or as part of a tasting menu, seven courses in all, which includes traditional caviar service followed by seafood-centric dishes that focus on a particular variety.
“The hardest thing with caviar is that you don’t know what you like,” admits company founder Deborah Keane with a dose of refreshing honesty. “A lot of people will have a bad experience and say, ‘I hate caviar. I tried it once, it was salty, fishy, and it’s not my thing.’ But when you have fresh caviar that has been properly raised, properly farmed and properly processed, it’s not fishy-salty. And when you can try it by the gram, side by side by side, you’re like, ‘oh, I do like caviar. And this is the caviar I like.’”
And it is that refreshing approach as well as an inbuilt humor that is the vibe of the venue. Even the name is a slightly playful, named after the way that prospective buyers inspect the eggs by placing a small “bump” on their hands to warm it up for tasting. This slightly punning playfulness spills over into the bar’s experience as each customer is served with a “bump” of caviar as they walk in the door.
For Keane the goal is to take what is normally an industry practicality and turn it into a real appreciation for the product for the customers. It’s a way for them to build their confidence, understand and develop their own preferences and obtain the breadth of knowledge to make educated purchasing decisions rather than just buy something based on luck and a pretty looking can.
And then there is the tasting room’s marvelous menu. Nate Tauer has created a range of caviar-centric dishes such as ham and onion croquets, black cod with chicken jus, roasted pineapple, smoked onion and Siberian caviar. Also available are Binchō-tan grilled lobster with sunchokes, celery and saffron-infused whitefish roe; and fluke crudo with dashi, black lime, California seaweed and white sturgeon caviar.
The Bump Bar also offers a more traditional caviar service, blini with crème fraiche, pickled red onion, a hen egg and Queen’s Reserve white sturgeon caviar. It also offers more concise pairings of roe and Cava for a fairly modest sum right up to that of high-end Champagne accompanying $400 per ounce caviar.
“At California Caviar we believe in everyday indulgence,” says Keane. “One of my favorite quotes is, ‘caviar: the pause that says I love myself.’ I love the Michelin experience, but not everybody has three hours to sit down and go through 18 courses. But we all deserve a little something special. Whatever it is that you’re looking for, we hope to have that experience for you.”