Thursday, March 4, 2010

Petrossian - 02/15/2010

321 N Robertson Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90048
(310) 271-6300

Petrossian, the very name is synonymous with caviar and with good reason, the brothers Melkoum and Mouchegh Petrossian were largely responsible for bringing appreciation of caviar to France on the heels of the Bolshevik Revolution. The family-owned company is still best known for its caviar but has expanded its offering to include other gourmet food gifts including foie gras, and chocolates.

Though their boutique in Los Angeles has been open since 2001 the restaurant is a new addition courtesy of a 2009 remodeling. Since then, the restaurant has that has been garnering a lot of attention from local bloggers. I believe a large part of that is due to the restaurant's young chef, Benjamin Bailly.

During the meal Chef Bailly was kind enough to give us a brief bio. In an admirable display of self-awareness, Chef Bailly realized he wanted to be a chef at the tender age of 14. The bulk of his career was spent with Joel Robuchon, hopping around the globe, expanding the Robuchon franchise. The experience he gained there allowed him to take the helm of his own restaurant at the age of 27.

A friend of mine is an acquaintance of the chef and he asked if it would be possible to do a special tasting menu. Chef Bailly, who is normally constrained by the corporate vision for the restaurant seemed quite eager for a chance to let his creativity show, going so far as to come in on his day off to cook for us.

Hibiscus Champagne
The meal started with a complimentary glass of Hibiscus Champagne, the floral hibiscus softening the crispness of the champagne and providing a delightfully sweet treat at the end, like an adult Fruit Rollup.

Caviar Surprise - King crab, apple cider
Mysteriously I had a very similar course at The in Little Washington not too long ago. Chef Bailly actually designed this course was an homage to a similar course at Robuchon. This might have been my first experience with Transmountanus Caviar and I immediately noticed the sharper, more aggressive salinity, almost verging on astringent. A bit strong on its own, the caviar's intensity seemed to amplify the contrasting sweetness of the king crab. A superb course, I'd return just to get another helping of this.

Steak Tartare - Sushi style, caviar
This is a twist on a regular menu item. Instead the steak comes wrapped in soy paper and topped with another incredibly generous helping of Transmountanus Caviar. The intensity of the roe made it ideally suited to this pairing, adding the perfect amount of saltiness to the almost untouched beef.

Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut, France, NV
After finishing the Hibiscus Champagne, we felt more bubbles would be appropriate given the caviar-heavy menu.

Foie Gras Crème Brûlée - Green apple espuma
After a salt heavy opening duo, Chef Bailly switched gears going to sweet for his next course. The foie gras reminded me of a thick whipped cream shot through with sweetness and an undertone of characteristic foie gras flavor. The green apple espuma added a playful tartness that helped to lighten the dish. There is enough foie gras to make this a savory course though I'd be equally happy to see this course on the dessert menu.

Shrimp Papillote - Passionfruit, chili ginger sauce
Probably the most simply presented dish of the night, and also one of my favorites. The shrimp was absolutely perfect, with a crisp body similar to a barely poached lobster or langoustine brimming with natural sweetness. The sauce as a lively mix of bright acidity and flashes of Thai-like spice, a very bold and direct course. Right up there with the Caviar Surprise as a favorite.

Mona Lisa Potato - Coddled egg, caviar
We wondered what made a "Mona Lisa Potato," turns out "Mona Lisa" is the name of the potato rather than a preparation. The potato itself felt lighter an expected, perhaps lightly whipped which took off some of the gravity of the starchy tuber. Beneath the sea of foamy white soup was a lightly cooked egg whose silky smooth yolk provided a subtle yet complex textural contrast. An island of more of Transmountanus Caviar rested atop the egg, adding some much needed flavor to the entire dish.

Maine Lobster Nage - Cantaloupe, nectarine
Not sure exactly if this qualifies as another soup course on account of the whole lobster tail sitting smack dab in the middle of the bowl. However, it was the powerful scent of shellfish tinged butter from the thick lobster nage that captured my attention. Alone the soup would have been too imposing; the fruit was absolutely vital, adding enough acidity and sugar to temper the full-force of the nage.

Caviar Pizza - Crème fraîche, capers, red onions
This was one of the more intriguing menu items, and it came out exactly as I would have expected. Flatbread covered with a sauce of crème fraîche serves as the crust while classic accompaniments of onion and caper along with the caviar make up the toppings. This would have been more delicious had I not been so full but trying to keep down all the crème fraîche was quite daunting by this point.

Crispy Egg - Cippolini onion soubise, caviar
If we hadn't had enough cholesterol or caviar, the next course was sure to fix that. The focus of the course was on the egg, breaded and crispy on the outside but molten gold on the inside. The two preparations came with slightly different caviars, one the same Transmountanus caviar and the other a pressed version, in essence a concentrated caviar paste. Though the pressed caviar had more flavor I found it a bit one dimensional when compared to the natural version.

Skate Wing Grenobloise - Crushed potato, brown butter, caper, sherry vinegar
By this point I was quite literally willing the kitchen to bring out less food. Instead I got two generous pieces of remarkably tender skate wing. What caught my attention was the vividly contrasting flavors of the brown butter and sherry vinegar vying for dominance.

Veal Sweet Bread - Baby spinach, hen of the wood, parmesan
Finally the last savory, a generous portion of sweet bread redolent with organy goodness and a slightly piquant finish. The accompaniments provided earthy rustic tones which paired quite nicely with the richness of the thymus.

Intermezzo: Tsar Imperial Ossetra Caviar - Crème fraîche, blini
It would have been a shame had we missed out on a traditional caviar preparation at Petrossian but that tragedy was averted thanks to Chef Bailly's continued largesse. What a way to end the savory courses, a generous spoonful of gold and green pearls.

Pistachio Crème Brûlée - Macerated strawberry, hibiscus
This crème brûlée was going to have to be a thing of beauty if it was going to displace the one I had earlier. While it didn't, I quite enjoyed the interplay of the nuanced pistachio hues and the sweet/sour character of the fruit.

Gianduja Parfait - Hazelnut biscut, vanilla marscarpone
By this point we were down to one serving for the entire table. Just craving a taste I had a small bite but was still able to appreciate the complexity of the chocolate. Combined with the hazelnut this tasted a lot like Nutella or a Ferrero Rocher.

Without a doubt this was the fullest I have ever been after a meal. Thankfully the staff was in no rush and we spent a good deal of time recovering and talking with the chef. The chef mentioned that he came up with a small plates menu that was shot down because it ran counter to the image Petrossian was trying to project. It was evident that Chef Bailly chafes at the limits imposed on him not in the name of good food but rather a cold impartial business decision made by someone miles distant. Hopefully the powers that be realize antagonizing your chef isn't the best idea and give him some more leeway to experiment with the menu. I mean why hire a chef with his experience if you are then just going to hobble him.

Right before we left we got a quick tour of where the magic happens. A mere four burners, and a single deep frier handle all of the hot food the kitchen puts out. Chef Bailly remarked this was a far cry from the generously equipped kitchens of Joel Robuchon and that the resource constraints were a key consideration in composing the menu.

While the Petrossian name is synonymous with caviar, don't think the restaurant is a one trick pony. Even with the constraints imposed by the company, Chef Bailly has created enough intriguing courses that I wouldn't mind revisiting Petrossian again in the near future.


nelehelen said...

Great review, Ryan!

That caviar pizza looks AMAZING. I'm coming here for an early birthday brunch, but it looks like I should be going for dinner instead!

Epicuryan said...

Happy Early Birthday Helen.

I think dinner would be a better choice. But the champagne brunch looks good as well. Maybe drop Kevin's name and he'll make a special meal for you.