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.
Of course, with Petrossian's Russian heritage, borscht has to make an appearance. I'm not sure, though, that I love the style. It's chilled, but it's also thick and very, very sweet. But I do like the rich, grassy flavor of her asparagus purée: It's just slightly too thick and fibrous. Duck confit salad strewn with apple, watercress leaves and hazelnuts makes a lovely first course too.
As for the mains, I'd go with the Scottish salmon on a bed of lentils with bacon — earthy and delicious — or the striped bass dressed up with that vodka crème fraîche. Flat-iron steak is a good bet too, with a deep beefy flavor and served in a svelte red wine sauce with celery root purée and cumin-scented carrots.
She's got a burger too, which I would bet is not on the menu in the Paris restaurant. But since we're all so burger-crazed these days (or at least some of us), it's there if you want it, and an excellent burger it is, made with prime beef and aged cheddar: classique.
Desserts are fine, and that's about it. I want to love the vanilla panna cotta with cardamom shortbread cookies and espresso "caviar," but it's laced with so much gelatin, the custard barely shakes. A better choice is the crème brûlée suffused with the taste of Sicilian pistachios.
With a new and enthusiastic young chef, Petrossian stays on track with casually elegant French food and a taste of luxury. Despite its West Hollywood address, the boutique and cafe feel very French, with the added benefit that you can have an actual conversation over lunch or dinner at this civilized haven in the midst of the design district.
Petrossian Paris Boutique and Cafe
Rating is based on food, service and ambience, with price taken into account in relation to quality. ****: Outstanding on every level. ***: Excellent. **: Very good. *: Good. No star: Poor to satisfactory.
Location: 321 N. Robertson Blvd. (one block north of Beverly Boulevard), West Hollywood; (310) 271-6300; http://www.petrossian.com/restaurant.html.
Price: Signature caviar dishes, $12 to $28 (caviar presentations, $59 to $390); first courses, $12 to $22; main courses, $24 to $32; dessert, $8 to $18. Lunch items, $6 to $28. Brunch items, $12 to $18.
Details: Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Happy hour 4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday. Full bar. Street parking.