Monday, February 7, 2011
Giselle Wellman could have been intimidated when she took over as Executive Chef at Petrossian West Hollywood from Ben Bailly in December. If she was, she didn't show it, launching a new menu in less than two weeks. Bailly made quite an impact during his tenure and when he left to become executive chef at Fraiche in Culver City Petrossian hired Wellman, who was on the opening team at Bouchon Beverly Hills. There were some big clogs to fill and she has filled them admirably, continuing to evolve the menu, while keeping some of the Petrossian classics.
I was invited to try her new dishes and Gourmet Pigs and I sampled many of Chef Wellman's new items on the menu during a recent dinner. The elusive duck confit salad remains untried, something to look forward to on my next visit. The meal began with the classic Caviar and Blini. The assortment included trout, salmon and Transmontanus roe on a bed of creme fraiche and blini. The roe had a wonderful pop, that was accentuated by the bubbles in the prosecco.
In addition to the dishes we ordered, Chef Wellman sent out the Egg Royal, made with Scrambled Egg, Vodka Whipped Cream and more of the excellent Transmontanus roe. I am a sucker for egg dishes and this one delivered. While not as extraordinary as a similar dish by Chef Adam Horton at Saddle Peak Lodge that I had last month, this was a fun way to begin the meal. The presentation in the egg shell was also reminiscent of a dish I have had at Jean Georges in New York, one of the many top notch restaurants that Chef Wellman has worked the kitchen of. The whipped cream melded with the eggs and the roe on top added a salty pop to each spoonful.
We continued with Smoked Sturgeon Risotto with Pressed Caviar, Chive and Crème Fraîche. This was a surprise hit. Smoked sturgeon is not something that I can recall in any other composed dish I have tried. I like that Wellman looked beyond caviar to the other quality ingredients, such as smoked fish, that Petrossian is known for, and used it in a novel way. This was one of those dishes that was delicious, not just "interesting." The crunch of the apples, the salty pop of the caviar, the smokiness of the sturgeon and the soft creaminess of the risotto all melded into a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Our first main (shared as were all dished) was Striped Bass with Yukon Gold Potato Noodles, Vodka Crème Fraîche, Chive, Caviar. The bass was well prepared with a crispy and flavorful skin but the noodles were a rare failure. They were made in-house, which I respect, but were not tasty.
After the previous low note of house-made pasta, Wellman redeemed herself and then some with a stunner of a dish: Truffle Fontina Agnolotti with Asparagus, Mushrooms, Parmesan, and Prosciutto. (Note that the dish below lacks the ribbons of prosciutto found on Gourmet Pig's writeup as they did a non-pork version of this dish for me.) This was also my favorite dish as the packets of ravioli were cooked al dente, the cheese inside had a great flavor and texture and the vegetables on top were seasonal and provided the "meat" component of the dish. You can't go wrong ordering this dish and they are happy to leave off the proscuitto or bring it on the side if there are pork-less members of your party.
The other main dish we tried was Roasted Jidori Chicken with Butternet Squash Ravioli, Lemon Confit, Truffle Crème Fraîche, Arugula. The chicken was nicely seasoned but did not pack the wow of the Agnolotti.
My favorite of the desserts and the only one I had more than a bite of was the Lemon Tart. This dish did not shy away from the tart and sour side of lemons and consequently was of more interest to me. The tart is a great way to end a rich meal by having a light and citrus flavor in your mouth as you end the meal. Sorbets were enjoyed by my dining companions but I stuck to the tart.
Overall the transition to the new chef has gone seamlessly. The menu maintains the favorite "old friends" while inviting new friends to the party who will likely join their fellow revelers as classics at Petrossian. The front of the house could be a bit smoother. At this level of cuisine and price, Chef Wellman's cooking deserves service to match. I am glad to be able to report that Petrossian continues to deliver ambitious and delicious food and look forward to trying more of the menu as it evolves. Los Angeles is lucky to have both Wellman and Bailly running kitchens right now.
Relating to service: A note to all restaurants participating in Dine LA Restaurant Week - please provide both the regular and Dine LA menus to all tables without prompting. You do not need to ask people which menu they want. You will figure it out when they tell you what they are ordering. Doing otherwise is simply not gracious.
Petrossian: 321 N. Robertson (1 block North of Beverly Blvd), West Hollywood. Phone: (310) 271-0576. Website: http://www.petrossian.com/index.php?file=restaurant/restaurant_detail&irest_id=7
Note: We were hosted by the restaurant; the meal was provided at no charge.