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Omnivore - Stay Gold: Spotting bottarga all around town

Bottarga: an ingredient of humble origins on some of the best menus in town

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Few ingredients capture the ephemeral nature of a seaside summer like bottarga does. With brisk fall weather all but upon us, bottarga dishes are a great bridge between the seasons. Lucky for us, bottarga has popped on several restaurant menus around town.

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What is bottarga, besides the focus of this here roundup?
A traditional Mediterranean staple, bottarga is preserved mullet (bottarga di muggine) or tuna (bottarga di tonno) roe. It was a kind of nose-to-fin peasant food back in the day, crafted and cured so as not to waste any part of the fish. First the roe is removed, salt-cured, sun-dried, and pressed into blocks, pretty much the same way it has been done for thousands of years. The Japanese have a similar deal called karasumi. Bottarga is often grated or shaved over dishes to impart a briny, ocean-y flavor. The subtle golden flakes are great for adding a rich umami boost to otherwise simple dishes.

Bottarga lovers no longer have to smuggle this vibrant flavor enhancer in their suitcases from trips overseas. Sustainable, Southern products are being produced in the same age-old traditional way off the Florida coast. Producers like Bemis & James and Anna Maria Fish Company are hand casting nets with a shelf stable, gleaming orange end product. We can try to describe the deep, rich, sweetly saline flavor of bottarga but your best bet is to try it for yourself. Restaurants around Atlanta have you covered if you want a delicate remembrance of the sea on your plate.

Before opening Roswell’s Osteria Mattone, owner-operator Ryan Pernice and chef-partner Ted Lahey ate their way through Italy and their menu reflects with Roman dishes that have satisfied epicures for centuries. The Carpaccio di Tonno is beautiful and simple with semi-flattened line caught tuna, olives, lemon, and paper thin slices of bottarga. The mild, meaty texture of the tuna is a sterling counterweight to the sea-laden kick of the bottarga. Sommelier Dan Pernice will no doubt choose the perfect wine to further balance your happy palate.

Richard Ullio, a native of Milan, Italy imports Sardinian bottarga for his Spaghetti alla Bottarga at Inman Park’s Sotto Sotto. A base sauce of olive oil, onions, lemon, and whole leaf parsley are would be gratifying on spaghetti. Add a generous coating of shaved curls of bottarga and not only is there depth of flavor, but depth of history.

One of our favorite lunchtime dishes at Buckhead’s St. Cecelia is the squid ink past with Sapelo Island clams. It is worthy of making a visit. For the dinner menu, executive chef Craig Richards swaps the clams for lump crab, Calabrian chili, mint, and melting golden curls of Gulf of Mexico bottarga from Bemis & James. Would it be wrong to go for lunch then dinner?

At Ink and Elm you can choose your experience: a comfy tavern on one side and a lush dining room on the other. Whichever you choose, make sure to order the broiled jumbo Virginia Oysters. Situated on a tarmac of rock salt, herbs, and spices, the oysters have the golden hue and deep, rich aroma of the cured roe. This gorgeous dish perfectly nails the essence of the bivalve: smoky and unabashedly saline. Bottarga is the yin and the oyster is the yang.

If you are lucky to snag a seat at the bar at Inman Park’s BoccaLupo, order the Linguini with sungold tomatoes, roasted Elijat garlic, and dill buds. It comes bathed in golden ribbons of Bemis & James bottarga. Briny funk plus Bruce Logue’s perfect silky pasta with bottarga that both flavors and seasons your plate is enchanting. Bar manager Questa Olsen will find the perfect white or red from her boutique selection of bottles.