Friday, October 8, 2010

Petrossian: Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

I had a celebratory dinner this weekend at Petrossian with some friends who had recently gotten married. Caviar seemed an appropriate way to fête the newlyweds and Petrossian served us a dinner of their greatest hits, for the happy occasion.

The meal began with caviar blini with salmon roe, trout roe and Transmontanus roe. The salmon roe were large and had a nice briny salty flavor to them with a nice pop, the trout roe was smaller and nicely firm. The sturgeon roe was best of all, tiny black grey eggs that had a nice pop to them as well. The quality of the blinis was also top notch and the combination of the blini, creme fraiche and roe made it obvious why this was a classic and it paired wonderfully with the champagne that we had BYO'd.

Next was cold borsht soup in a shot glass with a small dollop of caviar on top. I had never had this traditional beet soup before but the texture was very smooth with no chunks and the salty roe on top gave it an extra kick. A peasant dish elevated.

Third came the justifiably famous Cauliflower Panna Cotta, served in a caviar tin and with a generous amount of caviar on top. The presentation of this dish is something special, very elegant and surprising. The flower alongside the caviar was another nice touch. The panna cotta was silky smooth and the caviar was decadent. I could have eaten this all evening and been happy.

Salmon tartare and Napoléon tartare arrived together, with a large plate of toast. The salmon tartare includes lime and yuzu and had avocado slices on top, along with another flower. The taste of the fish shone through clearly and this was a nice light dish.

The Napoléon was more special. It was served as a round serving of steak tartare with a layer of caviar on top, topped by a quail egg. I am a big fan of steak tartare and the meat was excellent and the addition of the salty caviar and the egg kicked it up a notch. Again the presentation was impeccable. On a prior visit, I have had a version of this dish, presented as a square with the layer of caviar in the middle, instead of on top, but this presentation is more visually appealing.

Truffle "Mac 'n' Cheese" with Comte & Parmesan (minus the ham). This dish usually includes ham but they were able to make it pork-free for me. It was the only so-so dish of the night, perhaps because it needed the bacon/ham to make all the flavors work together. This dish tasted of cheesy truffle oil and was the one item I wouldn't recommend.

Caviar Pizza: Crème Fraîche, Chives, Red Onion, Capers, Chopped Egg. This was a decadent end to the savory portion of the meal. The "pizza" has all the accouterments you might get with caviar or smoked salmon all on a nice crisp dough. The caviar was added at the end so it didn't get compromised by cooking. We were getting full at this point but ate every slice with relish. The components could be tasted individually but came together nicely in each bite. If only my local pizza joint could deliver a pie like this!

We finished the meal with a dessert sampler of Pistachio Creme Brulee, Gianduja Parfait and Vanilla Panna Cotta with Mango, Passion Fruit and Pop Rocks. The parfait was my favorite of the three, it was just the right amount of sweetness to end the meal. The pop rocks in the panna cotta felt gimmcky to us and while providing an interesting textural and sound contrast, was not something we'd order next time. The brulee was solid.

What I found most impressive about the evening was that Chef Ben Bailly was off on the Saturday night and the kitchen executed his dishes flawlessly. It is rare at small restaurants with high ambition that the execution would be comparable whether the chef is away or not and be seemless for the diners in the dining room, but Bailly has achieved that at Petrossian.

The service was excellent and water and champagne glasses were refilled promptly. Despite his recognition by Star Chefs and the LA Times, Bailly is still flying under the radar. If you like caviar, or just good food, then go. For the quality of the ingredients and execution, Petrossian is much less expensive than you would think.

Petrossian: 321 North Robertson, West Hollywood. Telephone: (310) 271-6300. Website:

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