Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Get thee here. Now.
The intersection at Robertson and Beverly in West Hollywood is one I try to avoid at all costs during the work day, especially the unprotected left turning south on Robertson -- you'll be there for days during rush hour! After the sun sets, however, the cross street is a different creature. The writers at the Coffee Bean move on to a bar, the furniture showrooms close up for the day, women haul the spoils of their successful shopping day back home and the area becomes a shadow if its daytime self. And on the southwest corner of Robertson, just north of Beverly a pristine, glowing treasure sits -- and it is a treasure, with it's skillfully prepared dishes, affable service, and not-quite-discovered location. Like with your favorite band, you talk it up to everyone you meet who will listen, but don't want to them to "sell-out" with their new found fame either, only I want that for Petrossian and its chef, French-born Ben Bailly of Joël Robuchon culinary lineage because it's just too good to be kept a secret.
My first experience with Petrossian -- and possibly my introduction into the world of caviar -- was at their New York outpost maybe five years ago. The dining room was nearly empty but we still had a wonderful time gingerly scooping beluga caviar using mother-of-pearl spoons onto blinis decorated with all the accoutrements, accompanied by champagne and vodka. It was a divine afternoon of which I did not have to foot the bill because I probably wouldn't have had the fortune to enjoy it otherwise. That level of indulgence was what I associated the Petrossian Boutique & Cafe in West Hollywood with -- and they do offer the same fantastic caviar -- but, until I saw Jo's amazing food porn at MyLastBite, I hadn't realized it was so much more accessible. Though it is included on the menu and in various dishes, caviar neophytes need not be deterred. There are plenty of other caviar-less options, but it's quite possible that after a bite of the hand-cut steak tartare, cut through with a layer of caviar, you will be a convert.
So on a brisk January evening, my group of girls coordinated with my sister's visit for my first Petrossian WeHo experience (the rest of my family had already come for brunch the month before). We started off with the smoked salmon rillette on toast that reminded us something our friend Susan would serve in her home, and that is a fantastic compliment. It had a delicate flavor, especially for salmon, and it felt familiar and intimate, inviting us back for more with each bite. It was followed by the foie gras salad, which I would probably never be compelled to order, but the photos and positive response to the dish nudged me in the right direction so we gave it a shot, and I'm so glad we did. The chopped green beans mixed with toasted walnut and black truffle vinaigrette complimented the smooth, rich foie gras terrine perfectly. We dug into the dish for more, but it wasn't for just the terrine or just the green beans -- it was for the composed bite because the salad, shot through with a hint of acid, was such a well-suited balance to the creamy foie gras.
Another favorite of ours was the black truffle mac 'n cheese. A seemingly simple dish to make, I've had a couple that are gummy, congealed, or completely overpowered by competing flavors, and this was none of those things. Orrecchiete is a favorite pasta variety of mine for its chewy texture and it didn't fail me this time either as its crevices cradled the bacon studded sauce with each "little ear". Shaved truffles are a welcome addition to any dish and you will never find me declining some, but the sauce was so rich and aromatic that had they not been there, I wouldn't have been the least bit disappointed.
I am still dreaming about the steak frites that we had nearly three weeks ago. The frites were my kind of thickness with a wonderfully crisp shell and still meaty interior. What started out as a sample of the dish because I was already so full became a gorge on fries and meat, generously swathed in the peppercorn sauce before reaching my mouth. I have been a big fan of the steak frites at Church & State downtown, and their béarnaise was my favorite for a good part of last year, but suddenly, the sauce accompanying the steak, sweet with balsamic vinegar and shallot confit, has shot to the top and I don't know what can compete. I'm not even a condiment girl when it comes to fries (there's just no need for ketchup!), but the frites just about became a vehicle for more sauce.
Of course we were beyond full, but being the gluttons that we are, we still ordered a trio of desserts for the table -- the vanilla panna cotta with white peach espuma, Sicilian pistachio crème brulée, and chocolate moelleux (a chocolate muffin-like-cake with a liquid center. By the generosity of Chef Ben Bailly, those three desserts became five and we all shifted our eyes at each when they arrived at the table, in disbelief that we could finish it all, but good call, Chef -- we demolished them all. I have an affinity for all things pistachio so the crème brulée with a caramelized top of the perfect thickness I could not get enough of, but the panna cotta was so smooth and had such a silken texture that I must have had the one closest to me all by myself.
To be surrounded by the company I was with is always pleasure enough, but bite after bite sent us into gastronomic bliss. I haven't even mentioned that we had a no-pork-fish-foie-gras-or-miscellaneous-animal-parts eater as well as a friend with a seafood allergy and we were all sublimely contented. We didn't even scratched the surface of the menu -- the short rib raviolo, foie gras crème brulée, and seared duck breast await, though I don't know how we'll get past the foie gras salad, Napoleon tartare, or steak frites, but I reluctantly hope to see the rest of city's food lovers there the next time, and the next, and the next.