Jul 10, 2011
Back to School Means Back to Drool at Caviar 101: An Introduction to Indulgence. Petrossian Boutique and Restaurant. West Hollywood, CA.
Pencils down. Spoons up!
Back in the summer of '79, I tried my hand at Boogie Boarding. It was the thing to do if you wanted an ounce of elementary school cred. Huntington Beach was the venue. On that day, the surf was relatively calm and there were no wave hogs on the scene, so along with my best buddy Mike and younger brother Warren, I grabbed my piece of Styrofoam and attempted to catch a wave.
Instead of The Endless Summer glory I had imagined in my young mind, the wave caught me and then had its own ideas. After tumbling around in Poseidon's rinse cycle, I popped up from the sea with a mouthful of the Pacific burning my throat and, worst of all, sinuses. No amount of gargling water or hacking could get that taste of the briny blue out of my gullet. That was the sudden end to my brief Boogie Boarding career.
Why, you ask, do I burden the reader with this self-indulgent paddle down memory lake (to keep with my aquatic imagery)? It's simply to illustrate that tastes can change. My traumatic and vomit inducing dunk into the ocean by Mother Nature caused me to despise the flavor of Oceana for a long time. Eventually, however, I grew to appreciate, even covet, the flavor of the sea, all that is briny, everything oceanic.
I can say in no uncertain terms that one venue in Los Angeles reigns in this particular pelagic flavor profile. Petrossian in West Hollywood is that place. Since the 1920s, Petrossian has been the premier purveyor of the highest quality caviar in the world.
As Neptune himself attempted to emasculate me with the raging power of the sea, Petrossian restored it all with an edible education they call "Caviar 101".
If you're not privy to regularly mingling with expensive, high grade caviar, then Petrossian's Caviar 101 (held every first Thursday and Friday of the month throughout 2011) is a palate expanding experience. For the casual caviar indulger, this "class" is an epicurean escape to the exquisite, a taste of the good life — the really, really good life.
This journey through Petrossian's kingdom of caviar takes you from the briny basics of common fish roe to precious beads that impart the flavors of far away exotic waters.
An outstanding taste of caviar can begin with a quick sniff of a faint, fresh ocean breeze. The egg grains should glisten like wet gems. A really good experience can take you well beyond salty, shuttling your mouth to buttery, nutty and back again to the deep blue.
Trout Roe: luxurious & affordable.
Because Petrossian is the industry leader when it comes to sourcing, packing and distributing the highest quality caviar, even their entry level products, like Trout Roe, are satisfying. The Trout Roe are medium sized eggs, bright orange (almost like gummi bears), with mild briny notes and a slight fish flavor. Many people don't like anything tasting fishy even when they're eating fish (which has always boggled this diner), I, however, enjoy the slight fish flavor and feel it actually adds some depth to this low cost roe.
Salmon Roe before bros!
The Salmon Roe had a similar profile to the Trout Roe, though slightly more subtle in flavor and coloring. This salmon roe is also incorporated into some dishes at Petrossian.
Vodka and caviar like Will and Kate — the perfect mates.
As is such with most tastings, booze is the palate cleanse of choice. At Petrossian there were a couple of alcoholic beverage choices. I opted for vodka in honor of caviar's Russian origin... and because vodka is awesome.
Not available at Papa John's.
Since mini spoonfuls of caviar hardly a meal makes, a shared appetizer of Caviar Flatbread — crispy pizza-esque crusts smeared with crème fraîche, topped with chopped chives, capers, red onion, scrambled eggs and dollops of Classic Transmontanus caviar — supplemented plates and quelled rumbling bellies.
This flatbread appetizer was also concocted as a nod to the old school way of eating caviar when questionable and unreliable freshness was a factor due to lack of refrigeration and substandard caviar processing. The other ingredients were used to mask the flavor of "south bound" fish eggs, making them go down easier. Now it's a bit of food nostalgia for folks who can recall those times and yearn for that taste combination.
Proud to eat an American.
I delivered the small spoon riddled with American Hackleback caviar to the tip of my tongue then raised the tiny, black beads to my palate and slowly pressed. Some of the grains popped, others oozed, each gradually surrendered dribbles of fresh, briny, thick sea nectar down my throat and straight into my limbic system. To say this was an exceptionally sensual experience is to say Facebook is popular. Duh.
Happy to be banished to this Siberia.
When Caviar 101 approached its final few tastes, I noticed that my experience was veering from Petrossian's written descriptions of what specific caviars should taste like. To wit, I was tasting "buttery and nutty" with the Royal Siberian when I should've been getting a "strong taste of the sea".
Our instructor, General Manager Christopher Klapp, posited that I may have a "faulty palate".
"Forget you!" I countered in my best Cee Lo Green voice. Of course, he was joking about the faulty palate and suggested that I was experiencing "tasting fatigue" and, at this point, was used to salty and wasn't noticing the strong briny flavors anymore, instead I was sensing the other dimensions in the caviar, like "buttery".
Christopher Klapp droppin' caviar knowledge.
The fact that our instructor could actually crack a joke made me think this introduction to caviar wasn't as stuffy and serious as I anticipated. In fact, it was fairly casual. Questions from the "students" flowed more easily as the alcohol did, naturally. Strangers became friends. There were regulars, locals and newbies of all ages and backgrounds participating. With an affordable fee of $35 including alcohol, it's a remarkable deal especially in that part of town.
Which caviar is this again?
I thoroughly enjoyed the remaining tastes: the prestigious Alverta President, the Chataluga Prestige and the Shassetra.
But ask me what distinguishes them from one another. Forget you! They were all buttery, nutty and briny. I guess. And definitely vodka-y by the end of the class.
Besides, I can always enroll in "Caviar 201" if I really want to get good at this caviar eating business. I think I just figured out what to take for summer school.
Petrossian West Hollywood
321 North Robertson Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90048
Monday-Friday: 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Happy Hour: Monday - Saturday, 4 to 7 p.m.
CAVIAR 101 is held every first Thursday and Friday of the month throughout 2011. $35/person.