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The Review: Petrossian

If you love caviar, you've come to the right place. This West Hollywood spot stays on track with casually elegant French food and a taste of luxury.

February 17, 2011|By S. Irene Virbila, Los Angeles Times restaurant critic
  • A striped bass dish with caviar.
A striped bass dish with caviar. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles…)

Weekend mornings, I'm usually happy to stay at home reading, listening to music and generally lolling around. No rushing, all the time in the world for simple pleasures. Toast with homemade jam. Freshly brewed coffee. Or there's breakfast with a friend at Petrossian in West Hollywood, where luxury can be as simple as perfect scrambled eggs garnished with caviar. The cappuccino is well made and strong. You can ease into the morning with a Bellini or a lavender mimosa — and also have the best bagel and smoked salmon in town.

Giselle Wellman, who took over as chef a few months ago, cuts the bagel thin, eliminating the doughy middle. Then she toasts and butters it, slathers on cream cheese and drapes Petrossian's signature smoked salmon on top. The slimmed-down bagel allows you to fully appreciate the salmon's satiny texture and subtle smoke, and the sharp green capers hidden in its folds.

She also makes a gorgeous dish of scrambled eggs with caviar — either with less expensive pressed caviar or with a whopping 30 grams of transmontanus caviar (similar to osetra). The caviar is beaten in with the eggs and perched on top as well. It's hard to find proper scrambled eggs; I asked for them soft, and they were about as perfect as I've ever had.

Wellman is a minimalist. No towering French toast for her. She cuts her brioche thin, the better to drizzle a sweet dulce de leche over the top instead of the usual maple syrup.

Her cooking is poised and direct. And for a young chef, this has to be a dream job. It's a small restaurant, yet she can work with the best ingredients, including luxe caviar. Petrossian is rarely super busy: Happy hour, from 4 to 7 p.m., seems to bring out the biggest crowd. At lunch or dinner, the menu is small and sleek. And unlike at her previous high-voltage positions (Jack's La Jolla, Jean-Georges and Del Posto in New York, and most recently Bouchon in Beverly Hills), Wellman can cook almost every dish herself.

Parisian caviar company Petrossian opened its West Coast outpost in 1989 (the New York locale dates from 1984), but it was nothing like this current incarnation — a small offshoot selling its classic foodstuffs. But behind the storefront and almost a secret was a demure little room where you could order blini and caviar, some dainty salads and not much else.

Then in 2009, for their 20th anniversary, the entire space was remodeled. When the boutique and cafe reopened, the restaurant had been enlarged, and now big windows looked onto the street, letting in natural light. Sidewalk tables were lined up outside between planter boxes with gardenias and topiary. A communal table for happy hour and tastings occupied the center of the shop. The very young French chef was Benjamin Bailly, who turned out the food you might get at a chic tea salon in Paris — beautifully executed light soups and appetizers, pretty salads and a few main courses.

(He's now moved on to the much larger Fraîche in Culver City and is tweeting his every dish — and every compliment he receives — heading full tilt in the very American tradition of self-promotion.)

Wellman is more the quiet, behind-the-scenes worker, whom you may or may not see in the dining room. But for anybody with business or shopping to do in the design district or along Beverly or Robertson boulevards, Petrossian is a find. With it's shagreen-papered walls, abstract paintings and vintage photos of the tsar's entourage in old Russia, it feels like a restaurant in a swank quarter of Paris.

And if you love caviar, you've come to the right place to indulge. Petrossian is one of the oldest caviar purveyors in France, going back almost a century when the brothers Melkoum and Mouchegh Petrossian relocated from Russia to Paris to sell caviar from the Caspian Sea. It took some perseverance and showmanship before the fish eggs caught on and became part of the French chef's lexicon of luxury ingredients.

Those with deep pockets, feel free to order the Tsar Imperial Caviar tasting of osetra, Siberian and transmontanus caviars (30 grams each) for $390. Petrossian caviar is always impeccably kept. But the rest of us are going to have to be content with our caviar as garnish, which is not at all a bad way to go.

Consider the signature Egg Royale, a hollowed-out eggshell filled with soft scrambled egg and crowned with whipped vodka cream and a dab of briny caviar. Concentrate on that spoonful of goodness. You could also start with caviar flatbread to share, a lovely confection of almost cracker-like crust smeared with crème fraîche and garnished with chopped red onions, chive, capers, chopped egg and dabs of caviar. Or a caviar sandwich filled with tender egg salad, house-made pickles and crème fraîche again.

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