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RESTAURANT REVIEW

Petrossian Paris Boutique and Cafe

A new look, a new cafe, a talented young chef. And, of course, there is the caviar.

July 15, 2009|S. IRENE VIRBILA | RESTAURANT CRITIC

Open a caviar store in this economy? Is that just a little bit crazy, or what? Quietly, seemingly with hardly anyone noticing, the famous caviar purveyor Petrossian of Paris has reopened its Robertson Boulevard shop after a four-month-long remodel and this time around, it includes a cafe open almost all day long.

At the very least, the move may be counterintuitive. But crazy? Not so much. After all, this is the Russian-Armenian family that introduced the French to caviar way back in the '20s (believe it or not, caviar wasn't always considered the height of sophistication and gourmet's longing; when some Parisians tasted the fish eggs for the first time, they spit them right out).

Petrossian Paris Boutique and Cafe is going for casual elegance and for the most part pulls it off with a menu of updated French cafe classics from a young French chef. Despite the amiable service and haute presentation, the menu falters with some too-sweet dishes and a liberal dose of truffle oil.

The cafe is actually a reiteration of the space where it has had a shop since 2001. Right on Robertson Boulevard, it's steps away from B&B Italia and the Alessi store and around the corner from the Stella McCartney boutique. Los Angeles designer David Davis unraveled the space to create a light-drenched dining room with black leather banquettes, blond wood chairs and tables and walls covered in "galucha," a faux stingray skin with a dark gray pebbled texture that mimics caviar pearls. Osetra, not beluga.

A second room has more little tables along the windows, a tall communal table and vitrines displaying the firm's elegantly packaged caviar, smoked salmon and foie gras and other gourmet products. The outside is painted the same arresting grayed cerulean blue as the Paris shop on Boulevard La Tour Maubourg.

The Petrossian cafe is not all about caviar, though.

As chef, the family has hired the young talent Benjamin Bailly, former sous chef at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas. Before that, the 27-year-old helped Joel Robuchon open half a dozen other locales around the world. But this is Bailly's first gig as executive chef and he's still in the throes of working out the details. Though he's got technique to spare, the menu has its ups and downs.

The smart thing to do is to arrive just before happy hour ends (it's 3 to 8 p.m.) when you can get a trio of miniature blini each topped with a different caviar -- domestic sturgeon, salmon roe and trout roe -- for $5 instead of the normal $9. At that price they're not loading on the caviar, but who cares when the blini are so fluffy, warm and delicious?

Of course, if you must indulge, you can order caviar service of any of Petrossian's impeccably sourced caviars. Those from the Caspian Sea are the most expensive, but the Petrossian family is also championing domestically raised white sturgeon caviar, which is the more ecologically responsible choice. If you haven't tasted the domestic variety in a while, it's come a long way from the early days. And compared with the imported caviars, domestic is much more affordable.

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Luxe offerings

Of course, you can have a blowout caviar tasting at Petrossian -- 30 grams of Persicus Imperial special reserve from the Caspian Sea at $769.

Most of us, though, will be having our caviar as a garnish on some other dish rather than as a main event. And it's even possible to eat well at the cafe without a grain of caviar passing your lips.

Let's start with soup. Beautiful soup, presented in clear glass bowls with the flare of a martini glass. Cold borscht is a brilliant fuchsia, sweet and sour (maybe a touch on the too-sweet side, easily mitigated with a dollop of creme fraiche). Wow. But Bailly also has an elegant white asparagus puree in his arsenal, along with a marvelous, frothy wild mushroom cappuccino with a finish that goes on and on. Order a cup: It's almost too intense to enjoy an entire bowlful. Chilled cantaloupe has some intricate spicing just out of grasp. What is it? I ask myself, as I take bite after bite. Again, this one is quite sweet, and so maybe my least favorite, but taken on its own terms, quite refreshing.

Salad. Pass up the perfectly fine Cobb or the bland king crab salad in favor of Petrossian salad. That would be a stark composition of green beans cut the size of peas in a black truffle-scented dressing crowned with a rosy slice of Petrossian's superb terrine of foie gras embellished with a sequin-sized scrap of black truffle. The crunch of the blanched beans against the silky, rich foie gras is utterly French in concept. Decide for yourself how you feel about foie gras. Just let me say, this is what it's supposed to be. Savor every bite.

The croque madame sandwich is also a very French item. The madame is basically a croque monsieur with a fried egg on top. The finely sliced ham and the Gruyere are top notch, the egg fried so that the yolk is still a bit runny, gilding the sandwich with a deep gold.

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