Petrossian: Building on Caviar Legacy at West Hollywood Cafe
321 North Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90048
310 271 6300
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Date of Visit: March 1, 2010
There are a limited number of premium, family-run brands. Cartier is synonymous with fine watches, and in the world of caviar, no name is more respected than Petrossian. The family has been the industry’s leading purveyor for 80 years, ever since brothers Melkoum and Mouchegh Petrossian founded the original location in Paris. The Petrossians now own boutiques, restaurants and cafes in Paris, Monte Carlo, Manhattan and Las Vegas. In their recently expanded West Hollywood location, they stock imported fish roe that costs up to $428 per tin, but it’s the cafe that drew me to North Robertson, a retail strip best known for chic design, art and fashion.
When the Petrossians expanded their West Hollywood location last May, they hired up-and-coming chef Benjamin Bailly, most recently the sous chef of L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, to create a menu that would showcase their caviar. The Petrossian publicist invited a small group of food writers (including me) to sample Chef Bailly’s latest offerings, and it turned out that his food was even more interesting than the caviar.
David Davis of L.A. based Studio Davis went with a clean and simple design, transforming the former Petrossian office space into a contemporary, airy boutique with a 15-foot ceiling, multiple display cases and a communal “Tasting Table” lined with tiny black beads that resemble caviar. The adjacent café, which used to house the entire retail operation, now hosts casual seating and black-and-white photos of Hollywood giants like Marilyn Monroe. You’ll also find sidewalk tables along Robertson Boulevard framed.
Petrossian practically shouts opulence. On the window, yellow and orange block letters tout “Caviar,” “Champagne,” “Foie Gas,” “Smoked Salmon,” which are all ingredients that are prohibitively expensive to many Angelenos, but certainly more welcome in an upscale neighborhood like West Hollywood. The Petrossian cafe menu features plenty of opulent options, including multi-element champagne tastings and a Royal Caviar Trio that is truly worthy of a King, with 30 grams each of Royal Ossetra, Siberian and Transmontanus caviars for a whopping $390. Thankfully, further down the page, no “signature” dish or “main course” tops $28.
Our evening began with an original cocktail, effervescent Mumm Napa champagne with a sinker of candied hibiscus flowers that had been preserved in rhubarb syrup and contributed an herbaceous sweetness. Hibiscus is popular as a Mexican agua fresca, called Jamaica.
There’s a reason that caviar, tangy crème fraiche and blini has become a classic combination. Petrossian set out a plate of warm, springy pancakes topped with crème fraiche and two types of roe, but by the time I got to the plate, the other food writers had devoured the sturgeon roe. I was happy to “settle” for bursting orange trout roe.
At home, chips and dip typically involves guac and a bag tortilla chips. At Petrossian, they fold and pile crème fraiche with black Transmontanus caviar before sprinkling on crumbled hardboiled egg and chives. The whisper thin chips were crafted from earthy Peruvian purple potato and sweet potato chips.
The next stop on the caviar parade involved Caviar Surprise, tins of Transmontanus with subterranean layers of creme fraiche and King crab suspended in apple cider gelee. The gelatinous base was a textural surprise that I didn’t enjoy.
Eating caviar isn’t exactly painful, but a little goes a long way, and after three different caviar-forward bites, it was fun to find Chef Bailly’s steak tartare “spring roll.” Yes, there was more caviar – in this case pressed caviar – but his Prime hanger steak was the star, wrapped in rice paper with minced chives and parsley. The crispy crostini base added a good textural contrast. This was an inventive play on a Vietnamese classic, a novel fusion with French cuisine.
Shrimp Papillote was another creative dish: sweet, plump prawns wrapped in crispy phyllo “wontons” and drizzled with sweet passion fruit and chile ginger sauce that added a subtle but satisfying kick at the finish that left me wanting more.
Foie Gras Creme Brulee featured a crispy, torched top and fluffy cloud of green apple espuma. The foam was a little sweet considering green apple is typically tart, and the custardy foie gras tasted good, but was so rich that it was impossible to finish the entire glass. Of course other writers had no such trouble. Then again, one writer ate more than one tin of Caviar Surprise, but I digress.
Chef Bailly made several satisfying dishes, but no dish was more comforting than his Crispy Egg, an egg that was cooked with extreme precision, encased in a golden, yolk-rich coating of bread crumbs, and plated on a smoky cippolini onion soubise with tiny cubes of sweet smoked salmon. Up top, it was no surprise to find more sturgeon roe. After the yolk was unleashed into the soubise, each bite involved a dizzying mix of sweet, salty, crispy and silky elements.
Our final savory course involved a fork-tender fillet of Skate Wing Grenobloise (in the style of Grenoble) topped with a brown butter foam. He plated the skate with intensely tart caper berries and cubes of sherry vinegar gelee. Underneath the skate, we found crushed potato that reminded me of German potato salad. That’s a good thing.
For our grand finale, Chef Bailly presented a Dessert Tasting. We took turns digging spoons into a trio of glasses. My favorite was his Gianduja parfait, rich chocolate ganache topped with Praline, a crusty mix of almond and hazelnut made with honey sweetness. Up top, he added a dollop of fluffy vanilla mascarpone, where the crushed vanilla was clearly visible in the cream. This dessert was rich, but absolutely addictive.
The other two glasses were just fine, but not as dynamic as the chocolate parfait. Chef Bailly’s pistachio creme brulee was topped with strawberry syrup, chunks of macerated strawberry and whole pistachios.
Chef Bailly’s vanilla panna cotta was a good version of a French classic, topped with diced mango and finished with a syrup of passion fruit, mango puree and vanilla bean. He did have one surprising twist: Pop Rocks embedded in the panna.
Overall, the meal was good, and different than what I expected. Petrossian is 80 years old, but by hiring Chef Bailly, they family is clearly not rooted in history. I would eat at Petrossian again, but next time, I’d skip the classic caviar-centric dishes and focus exclusively on Chef Bailly’s more interesting compositions.