Thursday, March 15, 2007
Several weeks after the fact, three distinct sense-memories pierce the pleasant fog surrounding my visit to Bubbly Fish Café: the startlingly good flavor of the California Osetra caviar, the lavish, creamy stinkiness of the Trou du Cru cheese and the mouthful of nectar that was my first sip of icewine. In truth, everything I had that night was memorable. But there are degrees of luxury.
And luxury is what Bubbly Fish is all about. Owners Deborah Pearcy and Claude Poisson, longtime regular visitors from Fresno, spied an opening in the Carmel dining scene for a café specializing in decadence. Thus was born the idea of Bubbly Fish. Here is a place for Champagne, caviar, exquisite cheeses, pâtés, handcrafted spiced meats, truffle-flavored everything and gourmet chocolates. There’s not a Carmel Valley green in sight. This is not about fancified nutrition. This is about celebrating, blowing the budget and having a good story to tell afterward.
Our trio sauntered in on a Saturday night, took a corner seat and started making our first wine selections of the night. Bubbly Fish offers 26 wines by the glass—about half of the list—with price points ranging from $6 to $22. This is a great wine list, studded with gems of wonderful complexity, and a number of bottles are a steal at around $40 (though you can also drop four bills on a 1996 Salon Blanc de Blanc Champagne if it’s that kind of night). For bubbles we settled on a Spanish D’Abbatis Gran Cava ($9), a very good, dry Domaine Carneros Brut ($13) and Bernardus Chardonnay ($10). In a great twist on the usual starchy offering, a dish of popcorn sprinkled with white truffle oil and salt appeared before us.
To the caviar, then. Bubbly Fish offers 14 varieties of roe ranging from whitefish to the lordly Iranian Gold Asetra caviar, derived from the osetra sturgeon. Most are available in 10-gram servings; all can be had in 30-gram servings (just under two tablespoons). Prices on the latter range from $20 to $300.
That makes the four offered tastings an attractive a way to sample several caviars. We decided on the Recommended Tasting ($75), a teaspoon-sized serving each of salmon roe, California osetra, German osetra and truffle-infused whitefish. Half-dollar-sized buckwheat blini and crème fraiche accompanied our sample. We realized too late that we needed to request egg, shallot, caper and chives if we wanted them—which might irritate connoisseurs (along with the metal spoons instead of traditional mother-of-pearl).
Even if cartoonishly expensive, caviar is beautiful. The salmon roe was large, pinkish and firm, if too fishy for my taste. The whitefish charmed us with its gorgeous mellow truffle infusion. But it was with the California osetra—raised sustainably in the Central Valley by Tsar Nicolai—that we got the full caviar fix. Small jet-black beads burst satisfyingly in the mouth, releasing waves of clean flavor and light, silky oil. It left us longing for more.
For Round Two we had more California bubbles, a delicious, playful Boxler Estate Pinot Blanc from Alsace ($10) and an absolutely lovely Jean Collet Vieilles Vignes Chablis ($12) that needs more of my attention. And now we arrived at the Bubbly Fish conundrum: how are we going to fill our stomachs so we can keep on drinking this great wine?
It’s a tough question to answer here. This is a before- and after-dinner destination, not a dinner-itself kind of place. But we made the most of a lovely menu of cheeses, artisanal meats and pâtés.
The cheese plate ($14.50) had our foodie friend swooning. The smooth Jean de Brie (cow’s milk), the dry, cheddar-ey chevre noir (goat) and the creamy, truffley Tartufo from dell’ Alta Langa (goat) were each enchanting, all the more so when combined on bread with rose petal jelly or apricot jam. But the aforementioned Trou du Cru, a soft cow’s milk cheese that is brushed with potent spirits while maturing, offered new insights into the complicated joy of stinky cheeses.
We also had the speck ($6.50), a delicious cured, smoked Tyrolean ham, and the Rillettes du Perigord ($6.50), a unique take on pâté. It consists of shredded duck meat and duck fat and has fantastic flavor and texture. Tastings of the handcrafted salumi and pâtés are available for $14.
It was down to the chocolate. We chose a Dark Chocolate tasting ($9.95) featuring the singular, intense chocolates of Michel Cluizel. The Tamarina, a smoky selection from Sao Tome, and the fruity Mangaro Noir from Madagascar were both excellent.
But they didn’t come close to the Jaden Pinot Noir Icewine ($18) that we shared as a parting sacrament. Silky and sweet, imbued with the full epic tale of the seasons from spring’s first sun to winter’s first bite, it sent us on our way, out of the lap of luxury and back into the world, a little richer for the experience.
BUBBLY FISH CAFÉ
San Carlos between Ocean and Seventh, Carmel • Noon-close Thu-Mon (until 8pm Sun-Mon; open late Thu-Sat). • 626-8226.