Fraiche LA: New Place, Same Ben
Posted by Austios on January 8, 2011
For about a year and a half, Chef Ben Bailly had been wowing both his loyal followers and his patrons at the wonderful Petrossian Café & Boutique in West Hollywood with signature dishes such as the Napolean tartare, truffle mac & cheese, and truffle burger. I was fortunate enough to dine at the restaurant during his tenure there and meet the man in person after having only interacted with him via Twitter prior.
In early November, I personally first heard word, from the man himself, that he was leaving Petrossian and moving on to somewhere else within LA. That night, he would not reveal where he was headed, but it was only a mere few days after did the news begin to spread that he would be taking over the kitchen at Fraiche Restaurant in Culver City for Jason Travi, who was the chef/co-owner prior and is now the corporate chef for Jeffery Best, who is the proprietor of Firefly in Studio City, Mesa in Costa Mesa, and Darkroom on Melrose.
For the past couple of years, I had always wanted to go have dinner at Fraiche, but being out in West LA and for me living in Pasadena, it was a little bit of a trek and I never made it out. However, as much as I love Chef Ben, I knew I had to make an effort to go try the new menu as well as visit a friend. It actually wasn’t long until I had gotten my wish. One random day, Ben invited me into the restaurant to try the food and check things out. After a brief dialogue, I decided to go on a Monday evening, when I knew it wasn’t going to be terribly busy.
Fraiche is located in the heart of Downtown Culver City, which is actually quite a nice neighborhood relative to the surrounding areas. There also is quite a nice mix of eateries as well, including Kay & Dave’s, Libra Brazilian Steakhouse, Tender Greens, Akasha, and Ford’s Filling Station, as well as many others.
The restaurant itself is gorgeous with a warm and welcoming color scheme, a cozy bar and lounge area, and a beautiful open kitchen. The hostess told Chef Ben I had arrived and he briefly came out to greet me. He asked if I was hungry, to which I subtly concurred and he said to just have a seat and that he’d take care of me. I was seated in the back corner of the dining room, relatively near the kitchen and took in the beauty of the restaurant. And yes, I was by myself.
Ben came out again and told me I didn’t need to order and that he would just send me out various dishes. I trusted his judgment and after our essentially 7 course meal when he was at Petrossian, he had an idea of how much I could eat.
My server, Gustavo, came by and I ordered a glass of the Venica & Venica Pinot Grigio from Italy. I was first presented a “bar snack” of almonds and olives tossed in olive oil and some orange rind.
My wine arrived soon after that, and not long after that, my first course arrived. I was presented with “Vitello Tonnato”, or Veal Steak Tartare. The tartare was tossed in tonnato sauce, then topped with arugula and parmesan cheese. This was incredibly delicious and a great way to start with the meal. My wine actually paired quite well with this dish. Unintentional wine pairing, how sweet is that.
When I finished the tartare, the sommelier, Paul, stopped by and having been informed that Ben was going to just send me out random dishes, he asked if I wanted a wine pairing with my dinner. I paused for a second, but then told him maybe not every course, as I was thinking about needing to drive home afterward.
Next course to come out was the Housemade Agnolotti, stuffed with mascarpone and ricotta cheeses, served with crimini mushrooms and a truffle butter. The truffle butter permeated wonderfully and was a nice rich finish to the awesomeness of the agnolotti. Paul paired this with a Trefethen Chardonnay, from California. It was not too crisp and was slightly buttery, to compliment the truffle butter.
Next dish sent out was the Basil Risotto, served with chewy escargot, lemon oil, and tomato. The risotto was cooked very nice, and the escargot provided some added richness while the lemon oil and tomato provided subtle acidity to bring great harmony to the dish. Paul came out prior to the dish arriving, as he did with each course, going with a Sancerre from Domaine Cherrier in France. Another wonderful pairing. *Note – I was actually starting to get a little full at this point
Slightly to my amazement, the next course was yet another pasta dish, this time the lamb papardelle, with tomatoes, olives, and gruyere cheese. The lamb was nice and tender, the papardelle perfect, and dish having great balance and flavor. I, for one, love lamb, so this was a great dish, even though a third consecutive pasta dish nearly had me wishing I had worn my fat pants. Not that I have fat pants, but I could have uncouthly unbutton my belt. Not that I would have, but you know…
Not knowing how many courses Ben was planning on sending out, and starting to get really, really full, I was hoping there wasn’t much more. Ben took a short break from cooking, as it was getting into the later portion of service, to come out and check to see how I was doing. I complimented him on how everything was great, but conceded that was getting pretty full. He said he had one more dish to send out, then dessert, so at least I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak.
Paul came by and brought the last wine, a Close du Prieur Pic St. Loup, from France, saying its earthiness would hold up to the truffle burger. Once he said truffle burger, I got really excited because that was the one dish I really wanted to try. I actually had tweeted about it like a week prior and I guess he remembered I had wanted to try it. Caroline was insanely jealous because she was actually a table over from me but did not receive the burger and had left long before it arrived at my table. The burger was just absolutely perfect. It had onion marmalade, boschetto, and truffle aioli. I devoured yet simultaneously enjoyed every morsel of that thing, and I polished off the fries as well, even though I was incredibly stuffed.
Finally, we arrive at dessert. I actually was hoping Paul would come out with a dessert wine, but alas, no dice. It’s ok, I probably had enough to drink anyway. What came out was the pistachio crème brulee, a dish I had at Petrossian, served with apricot sorbet and a rosemary shortbread crumble. The crème brulee was great like I remembered it, although the layer of burnt sugar was quite thick. The apricot was a nice pairing with the pistachio and the rosemary shortbread provide a hint of savoriness to the dish. It was garnished with a caramel sugar deco that was supposed to look like the wings of a dragonfly. *shrug*
Way beyond stuffed, I thanked Chef Ben for everything. I knew it would all be delicious, and I, in a way, wished I had been to Fraiche during the Travi days to have some sort of comparison, but Ben really delivered. We joked with each other during the later courses of my meal that I would probably need to sleep at the restaurant because I was so full and felt like I couldn’t move.
I cannot wait to return to try more of the food. Merci Chef!!!!
9411 Culver Blvd,
Culver City, CA 90232