Rustic Mondays at Fraiche Restaurant

When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Japan on March 11, 2011, and massive tsunamis engulfed the northeast coast of the country, the world watched with sadness and grief at the immense loss of life.  In the midst of this devastation, many have stood up to make a difference by donating their time, money and services for Japan.  Chefs and restaurateurs in Los Angeles have also done their part in raising awareness for relief efforts by hosting dinners where a portion of the proceeds go to charitable funds.  One such fun and delicious event was hosted by Chef Benjamin Bailly and Chef Ricardo Zarate at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City, where proceeds from the dinner went to Operation USA.

The dinner was the first to kick off a weekly series called Rustic Mondays, featuring a guest chef and his or her prix fixe 3 course dinner in conjunction with Chef Bailly’s 3 course offerings. For a mere $35, diners can choose from either Chef Bailly’s dish or the guest chef’s dish for each of the 3 courses.  Rustic Mondays are not meant to be a competition of chef vs chef, but more of a collaboration and celebration of culinary diversity.

Chef Bailly, who now oversees the kitchens at both Fraiche locations (Culver City and Santa Monica), represented his French heritage while Chef Ricardo Zarate, who was recently crowned Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2011, came strong with his signature Peruvian delights.

Chef Bailly started off the first course with a Salade Gourmande, a large filling plate of baby greens, haricot verts, sautéed mushrooms, sweet candied tomatoes and goat cheese croquettes tossed with hazelnuts and a very subtle truffle vinaigrette.  A perfectly poached egg bled its thick bright yellow sap onto this salad while the warm goat cheese croquettes proved to be the highlight.

Chef Zarate’s Ceviche Mixto with tender squid, large meaty succulent shrimp, scallops and covina tossed in a Leche de Tigre sauce was the most successful and delicious dish of the evening.  His famous signature dish, a delicately flavored bowl of fresh seafood with bold contrasting textures from crunchy fried corn kernels, diced red onions and airy camote, reminded me through every successive bite why he won the prestigious Food & Wine award this year- unpretentious, simple, humble and delicious.

The seared Scottish salmon in Bailly’s Saumon Aux Lentilles was perfectly cooked, a sweet moist piece of fatty fish that paired wonderfully with the creamy country mustard sauce.  The Puy lentils ragout, while blissfully injected with bacon essence, would have fared better with less cooking time and cleaner textures.

Zarate’s Pachamanca was a double fisting meat lovers paradise, a simple yet satisfying entrée of braised lamb that melted in my mouth, next to a generous serving of equally tender pork belly cooked with a crispy crackling layer of skin.  Meat and potatoes, and in this case Peruvian potatoes with fava beans and baby carrots, were elevated to sophistication with Zarate’s divine sauce.

The French sure know how to please a woman, and they always strike where it counts.  Bailly’s beautiful Paris-Brest hit the spot with its soft airy buttery pâte à choux and its glorious praliné crème studded with cocoa nibs.  2 servings of this beautiful pastry still left me longing for more.

Sol y Sombra, a refreshing cold dessert by Zarate, contained fun delightful textures from its mixture of dried plums and almonds on quinoa con leche with a drizzle of purple corn syrup.

Rustic Mondays, a global celebration of Los Angeles chefs, was off to a wonderful start at Fraiche Restaurant with our beloved Chef Zarate as its first guest.  Future guest chefs will include an amazing line up of some of our most famous and cherished talents.  In addition, Deysi Alvarez and Jody Barton will be creating unique cocktails to pair with these dinners, such as the Algorrobina made with egg yolk, carob syrup, cream and pisco, my favorite drink of the evening.  Thank you to Chef Bailly and Chef Zarate for contributing a portion of the dinner proceeds for Japan earthquake and tsunami relief.

Fraiche Restaurant

9411 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Random trivia: Did you know that pâte à choux, made from butter, flour, eggs and water, refers to the light airy pastry dough that is the basic template for many other dishes that we love to eat?  Flavored with cheese they become gougères, mixed with potato purée and fried they become pommes dauphine, shaped into elongated tubes and filled with cream they are éclairs, and they are also what make croquembouches, profiteroles, beignets and crullers.

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Petrossian Paris Restaurant & Boutique

‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend’, Marilyn Monroe crooned in the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, as she strutted down the red staircase in a bright pink dress, lavishing in the sparkly jewels that her male suitors threw in her direction.  ‘Tiffany’s, Cartier, talk to me Harry Winston!’ she exclaimed, pleading her case that diamonds will never betray us the way men will.  In my case, I went to the one man and the one jewel that wouldn’t betray me for my birthday, Chef Benjamin Bailly and the little black pearl called caviar.  Ben Bailly has been a good friend of mine since his days as sous chef at Ortolan, before which he was globetrotting with the infamous Joël Robuchon through Monaco, Paris, Macau and Las Vegas.  While I happily cooked for my friends last year for my birthday, I decided to sit back and be pampered for the joyous occasion this time, allowing the French chef to shower me with his best caviar interpretations in his final week as Executive Chef at Petrossian Paris Boutique and Restaurant.  He flourished at Petrossian for over a year, but it was time for him to move on to a different project to challenge his skills and take his creativity to a new level- he now helms the kitchen of Fraiche restaurant in Culver City.

Aristotle first described caviar as a prized delicacy in the 4th century B.C., and Ghengis Kahn’s grandson wrote about it in his journals in the 1240’s.  These sturgeon eggs have been praised as one of the greatest delicacies on the planet, celebrated by Roman emperors, Russian Czars, Saudi sheiks and English kings for thousands of years.  During the Roman empire, a jar of sturgeon roe was said to have been valued at 100 sheep.  At one point in history, caviar was a privilege and the greatest culinary luxury reserved only for royalty.  Many centuries later, its supplies became so abundant and accessible that it was served during free lunches in American saloons to boost beer sales.   However, after years of overfishing to the point of near extinction, we are back to the era of treating caviar as a rare and expensive treat.  These coveted jewels, under the spell of Ben Bailly, were transformed into one of the most decadent birthday dinners that I have ever experienced, making me feel like royalty for that one special night.

Blinis with crème fraiche and three kind of roes (salmon, trout and sturgeon) were the perfect starter, the eggs becoming more intense and briny as we moved from large to small.  The Transmontanus caviar was the table favorite, its delicate little membranes popping inside our mouths as a rush of ocean breeze permeated into our nasal cavities.

Bailly is a master of mason jar delights, and one of my favorites, which he has thankfully continued to serve at Fraiche, is the luscious chicken liver mousse, whipped light and airy to a silky finish and topped with green apple gelée.

Another signature mason jar of Bailly’s is a rustic eggplant paté studded with raisins and Marcona almonds- creamy and smooth, with a hint of smokiness.

Cauliflower panna cotta, with its gentle flavors and perfect creaminess, served as the perfect textural and gustatory base upon which the incomprehensibly generous mound of glorious black caviar could shine.  Spoonful after spoonful, the sweet vegetable custard proved to be a stellar pairing to complement the saltiness of the caviar.

My hands trembled at the thought of disrupting the picture perfect layer of tightly packed caviar in the dish called ‘caviar surprise’, served in a signature Petrossian caviar tin.  A reluctant but thrilling first scoop into the tin revealed a hidden bottom layer of king crab meat suspended in apple cider gelée with a touch of crème fraîche, enjoyed on crispy toast wedges.


An assortment of saucisson, chorizo and salamis made the champagne and wine flow more freely than ever.

I have loved Ben’s foie gras crème brûlée since the first time that I ever laid my palate on it.  A surprisingly light and airy rendition of foie gras, its gameyness so subdued and its flavor so elegant that it could easily pass for dessert, tucked under a warm layer of caramelized sugar and a dollop of sweet fig jam.

Salmon tartare topped with a thick layer of caviar and a sunny side up quail egg melted like butter in my mouth, the tender fattiness of the fish mingling with the salty caviar and runny egg yolk for consecutively fantastic bites that I never tired of.

‘Please make sure that you make me your Napoleon Tartare’, I had asked Ben, for his excellent steak tartare with caviar was the epitome of decadence, and the chef’s last week at Petrossian, coupled with my birthday, meant no holding back on either part.  Hand chopped beef tenderloin with just the right balance of acidity and spices, layered with caviar in between and garnished with more caviar on top.  Heap after heap on toasted crostini, I savored every long bite and let the flavors linger on my palate, patiently, slowly and deliberately, to make the moment last as long as humanly possible.

The little black pearls kept coming, plate after plate, even making an appearance on a pizza with crème fraîche, chopped eggs, red onions, capers and chives.  I could hear Marilyn Monroe singing her song, ‘I prefer a man who lives and gives expensive jewels,’ as I bit into the crispy pizza and allowed the caviar to work its charm.

Smoked salmon pizza with crème fraîche, red onions and chives was no exception to the grand feast, with generous lumps of black caviar studding the bright pink surface.

Bailly’s version of Frisée aux Lardons featured a deep fried poached egg, warm yolk oozing like molten lava once cracked open, intermingling with crispy bacon, fourme d’Ambert cheese and spiny greens.

The panko crusted poached egg made another appearance on a bed of cippolini onion soubise in a dish called ‘Crispy Egg’, this time wearing a flashy black caviar top hat.  The saltiness of the caviar gave the heavy cream sauce a nice lift.

Strawberries added a nice sweet touch to the seared foie gras dish served with red wine vinegar reduction sauce, one of the most successful foie gras dishes I have had in a long time.  A relatively strong presence of acidity in the sauce coupled with the freshness of sweet strawberries and tossed greens kept the delicious foie gras dish light enough for our satiated appetites to finish it off completely.

A trio of desserts rounded out the caviar feast- rich and thick Gianduja parfait drizzled with caramel, Sicilian pistachio crème brûlée which has become a mainstay Petrossian classic, and a vanilla bean panna cotta with mango and mango pop rocks that titillated and excited my tongue.

‘A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but diamond’s are a girl’s best friend…’

Stuffed to the brim with amazing food and satisfied beyond belief at the evening’s caviar consumption, I pictured myself as Marilyn, descending the red carpeted staircase being showered with spoonful after spoonful of Beluga caviar, perfectly tressed and impeccably dressed male suitors feeding me with endless bites of those delectable salty black pearls.  Such a decadent feast may likely never happen again, but my ultimate dream was made a reality thanks to the talented French gentleman who, like the caviar he served, was this girl’s best friend.

** Note: all of the caviar used in this feast was the Royal Transmontanus Caviar, extracted from California grown sustainable white sturgeon **

Petrossian Restaurant & Boutique

321 North Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90048-2415
(310) 271-6300

Chef Benjamin Bailly is now at

Fraiche LA

9411 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 839-6800

Random trivia:  Did you know that all sturgeon caught in British waters are the property of the Queen of England?  If such sturgeon are not declared to the Buckingham Palace, one could face 6 months in prison and a £5,000 fine.

 

Petrossian Caviar

Petrossian Caviar in Beverly Hills recently re-opened under the creative direction of executive chef Benjamin Bailly, a distinguished and talented chef.  Benjamin, having recently worked at Ortolan and L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, has worked side by side and traveled with Joel Robuchon in his many restaurants around the world.  It was an absolute treat and privilege to have him prepare an extravagant tasting menu for my friend’s birthday party recently.

Chef Benjamin Bailly

Chef Benjamin Bailly

If you know the old Petrossian Caviar space, you’ll be amazed by the transformation.  The expanded space feels even larger and brighter with the floor to ceiling glass walls that look out onto Robertson Boulevard.  The dining room has plush comfortable black leather banquettes, tall ceilings, and riveting black and white photos of Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Marlon Brando on the walls that are simply irresistible. What a grand feeling to be sipping on champagne and nibbling on caviar with these Hollywood stars!

Gorgeous dining room

Gorgeous dining room

The other section of the restaurant houses the open kitchen, a large communal table and display cases in a similar contemporary layout.  The communal table is a warm and inviting place for people to gather, and you can get a perfect view of the bustle of the kitchen.

Communal table and open kitchen at night

Communal table and open kitchen at night

Communal table and café by day

Communal table and café by day

Petrossian Caviar has been a leading purveyor of caviar since 1920 when it first opened shop in Paris.  You can find an amazing and complete selection of precious caviar here, from the local Californian farm-raised Royal Transmontanus Caviar, to well-known Ossetras and Sevrugas, to the ultimate indulgence Imperial Special Reserve Stellattus for $617/ 1 ounce.  They also sell a wonderful array of smoked fish (salmon, sturgeon, cod), foie gras, truffles, chocolates, jams, wines and champagnes.

Display case of delightful delicacies

Display case of delightful delicacies

Our wonderful dinner commenced with a new Petrossian signature drink- hibiscus champagne.  Each glass contains a whole organic wild hibiscus flower in syrup with champagne.  The hibiscus flower gives this drink a beautiful crimson color and a delicious sweet fruity flavor.  This was one of the most surprising discoveries and delightful drinks that I have had in a long time.  The best part of this drink was eating the champagne-soaked hibiscus at the end. 

Hibiscus champagne

Hibiscus champagne

One cannot leave Petrossian without eating their signature caviar blinis.  The sharp and robust Transmontanus caviar on soft tender warm blinis and dill crème fraîche is simply divine.  These small black pearls have fierce powerful flavors that permeate into the depths of my taste buds with supreme force.  The salmon roe blinis were also a joy, but oh, the sturgeon caviar!

Caviar and salmon roe blinis

Caviar and salmon roe blinis

Next we had shots of their classic cold borscht and cantaloupe gazpacho.  I loved the bright pink borscht- the sweet dense earthiness of red beets with a tart cherry vinegar finish.  A lovely and refreshing soup that can instantly rejuvenate and energize- this would be perfect after a long day at work.  The cantaloupe gazpacho had a wonderful balance of fruity sweetness and a tart ginger kick.  This is the perfect complement to a hot summer day.

Borscht and gazpacho

Borscht and gazpacho

My favorite dish of the evening was the foie gras and black truffle paté with fleur de sel on toast.  How can you go wrong with foie gras and black truffle?  Well, actually it is an art to prepare these delicacies, and Benjamin was impeccable in his execution.  The foie gras melted like butter in my mouth, and each additional bite awakened more of the energetic earthy aroma of black truffle. 

Foie gras and black truffle canapés

Foie gras and black truffle canapés

The Petrossian Jell-o was a refreshing contrast to the savory foie gras.  Yuzu marinated baby scallop ceviche with caviar, diced green apples, ginger and chives on a bed of green apple jell-o topped with apple foam.  It was a delightful and pleasing play of textures, with the airy light apple foam, super crisp diced apples, tender scallops and soft jiggly jell-o.  Dig your spoon all the way down to the bottom of the glass to get all of the layers of textures and flavors.  The combination of yuzu, ginger and apples give this dish a fun tart citrus kick.

Petrossian Jell-o

Petrossian Jell-o

The green asparagus risotto with parmesan and pinenuts topped with salmon roe and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction  was scrumptious.  The green asparagus slices were cooked perfectly, still maintaining a slight crunch.  The creamy parmesan risotto, salty salmon roe and mellow acidity and sweetness of the balsamic reduction was a winning combination.

Asparagus risotto

Asparagus risotto

The Scallops ‘a la plancha’ finished the savory portion of our meal.  The black pepper-seasoned seared scallops were cooked perfectly, maintaining a tender, plump and meaty texture.  They were presented on a bed of carrot purée, topped with orange foam and plated with balsamic reduction.  The sweetness of the soft carrot purée, the intense acidity of the orange foam and the dark richness of the balsamic reduction made for an interesting and complex combination of flavors.

Scallops a la plancha

Scallops a la plancha

We had 2 absolutely wonderful desserts.  The Sicilian pistachio crème brulée was superbly nutty, earthy and aromatic, and the caramel crust was perfectly crispy.

Sicilian pistachio crème brulée

Sicilian pistachio crème brulée

The vanilla panna cotta with white peach confit and white peach espuma was dazzling.  There are 2 variations to this divine dessert- one with oven roasted organic granola in the center peach confit layer, and another with caviar on top.  This was a very delicate and sophisticated dessert that wasn’t too sweet.  Just like the scallop ceviche dish, it was fun to dig my spoon all the way to the bottom of the glass to get all of the different layers of textures and flavors in each heavenly bite. 

White peach dessert with vanilla panna cotta

White peach dessert with vanilla panna cotta

Petrossian also sells a large assortment of delicate Parisian chocolates.  IMG_8965Other dishes that were delicious on a previous visit to Petrossian were the Tzar Cut Trio (a trio of classic, black sea spice and dill marinated smoked salmon) and the succulent burger.  The smoked salmon slices were served with toast points, crème fraîche and caper berries.  A must try- I really loved the black sea spice salmon.  The burger I had with caramelized onions and sun dried tomatoes was nice, but now they have revised it to a juicy Kobe beef burger with truffle cheese, onion marmalade and arugula. 

Tzar cut trio

Tzar cut trio

Petrossian burger

Petrossian burger

Petrossian Caviar is now doing Happy Hour every day from 5-8pm.  You can enjoy wonderful champagnes and delicious food in an inviting and open environment with friendly staff who will take good care of you.  Whether you are looking for a casual lunch, after work drinks, Sunday brunch al fresco, or a formal elegant dinner, Petrossian Cafe and Chef Benjamin Bailly will please your senses.

Petrossian Paris Boutique and Restaurant

321 North Robertson Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90048-2415
(310) 271-6300

Random trivia: Did you know that the only thing that genetically separates a peach from a nectarine is a recessive gene that expresses ‘fuzz’?