Editor’s note: Restaurant critic Merrill Shindler returns with his annual recap of the area’s best eats. He’s already highlighted the best local restaurant for Italian food. Now, it’s French-American cuisine. About to be served are Lebanese food, brunch and seafood. Look for all of his reviews and stories here: www.dailynews.com/author/merrill-shindler
Best french food
13705 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks; 818-989-2600, valley.petittrois.com
The team of Ludo Lefebvre, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo come to the Valley. And, Lord have mercy, they certainly do it in style!
Petit Trois, a spinoff of the original Petit Trois in a funky mini-mall south of Hollywood (itself a spinoff of the exceedingly quirky Trois Mec next door), is the original on steroids – offering breakfast, lunch and dinner (the original is lunch and dinner only), in a considerably larger space (the original is basically two counters, at which you sit on stools).
Where the original is madcap, the Valley incarnation is a proper restaurant, offering proper French bistro cuisine, though often with a snappy twist from the restlessly imaginative chefs. How else to describe, for instance, the Mec Muffin served for breakfast – the house take on the McMuffin, which raises a notably nasty culinary experience to the level of great food, using several of the same ingredients, but prepared with far greater skill.
The muffins here are, of course, house-made – they’re English (French?) muffins of such perfect crispness, they could easily be eaten naked. The Parisian ham is a thing of beauty, looking and tasting like real ham, because it is real ham. The egg is beautifully turned, with a yolk that spills open. There’s a smearing of sage, of all things. And the American cheese – which is decidedly not a Kraft single – is a reminder that, at one time, American cheese was a cheddar variation that was real food, and not a food snob punchline.
The breakfast menu has its fair share of good French bistro dishes – a classic croque monsieur and croque madame, eggs en meurette (with eggs in a red wine sauce), an omelet with Boursin pepper cheese, tartines topped with scrambled eggs and smoked salmon or bacon. And of course, Nutella, always Nutella.
There are croissants. There are madeleines. (And a big hello to Proust!) There’s also steak frites, trout almondine, a fantastic confit fried chicken leg covered with a giant frisée salad.
But the dish that turns heads is the Big Mec Double Cheeseburger, which oozes a foie gras Bordelaise sauce – indulgence on top of indulgence. Heads turn when one emerges from the kitchen, for this is a dish that stops diners in mid-bite, causing eyes to boggle, and brains to explode. It’s a dish made for Instagram – and the smartphones come flying out.
It does the same thing come lunch or dinner, a showstopper of a dish that tends to make casual diners overlook the fact that there’s much more on the menu worth eating, most of it very bistroish. Petit Trois is the place to rediscover the pleasures of escargot – snails to you, buster! – done burgundy-style in garlic, parsley and butter sauce. With lots of chunky bread for mopping up the good juices.
(For the record, I’ve long believed the dish could be served with anything snail-like, mushrooms perhaps, and it would be just as good. The snails are a novelty ingredient. It’s the sauce that makes the dish worth eating. A bowl of the sauce with a plate of crusty bread would be just as satisfying. I think.)
Indeed, good (and strong) sauces abound at Petit Trois – they may be the restaurant’s defining quality. The wonderful cognac-pepper sauce on the steaks, the intense garlic vinaigrette on the frisée salad, the béchamel on the croques, the bordelaise on the burger, the white wine sauce on the mussels, the herbed mayo on the avocado and shrimp salad, the mustard sauce on the crab cakes.
I haven’t had the Brittany wild sole meunière in a lemon brown butter sauce, which takes 30 minutes to prepare, and goes for $89 – about three times the cost of anything else on the menu. But were I a betting man, I’d bet it’s pretty darned good. Especially the sauce.
The menu is not large. It does not overwhelm. It’s far from encyclopedic. Rather, it’s a greatest hits version of the best French bistros, a restaurant that would soothe most, were the weather outside grim and gray, and only a good French onion soup, topped with a thick layer of Gruyère and emmental would warm your soul.
But this is Sherman Oaks, and the weather is seldom anything but bright and cheery. And a cocktail list of libations with names like Fleur du Mal, Ode to Picon and Manhattan Noir work just fine, as does a chilled glass of Aligote. Along with a crazed chocolate soufflé. Paris and the Seine can live in your imagination. Ventura Boulevard will have to do.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email [email protected]
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