Fraiche with Chef Ben Bailly
Recently I attended Street Gourmet LA‘s birthday party at Petrossian and there was a special announcement made that Chef Benjamin Bailly was leaving to head up another kitchen. Ben wouldn’t say where he was going and there was a week of much speculation. I had a few places in mind that recently saw chefs moving on but I was completely surprised when it turned out Ben was going to Fraiche in Culver City.
I’ve been to the Fraiche in Santa Monica and always meant to check out the Culver City location. With one of my favorite chefs at Fraiche, I quickly made reservations and headed over last Monday night. When I got there, I expected to order from the new menu (the one online hadn’t been updated as of last week) but was told Ben was going to do a tasting menu for us. I checked with my group if that was okay as we had no idea how much it’d cost. But when asked if we wanted the wine pairing, of course we agreed. Good thing for credit cards, huh?
I started out with the Frisky Sour (love the name) and it was described to me as “not as strong as an old man drink.” Considering I normally drink old man drinks, this was fairly light. I would have gone on to try old man drinks but we were into our wine pairing. Everything was so reasonably priced that ordering a bottle or two wouldn’t be much hardship.
The menu is divided into appetizers, salads, mains and pastas. There’s also a section called “share.” Under that section, Ben sent over eggplant caviar, smoked trout rillettes, piquillo cheese spread and chicken liver parfait. I really enjoyed it all with bread but later regretted the bread as we moved through the courses.
For the salads, we had the burrata which was simply appointed with broccolini and accented with poached pear and hazelnuts. We also appreciated the crispy egg with the frisee aux lardons as well as the crunch from the brussels sprouts with chorizo and belgian endives with duck breasaola. I think the crispy egg is one of Ben’s signature trademarks. I first had it at Petrossian a few months back , topped with caviar. One of my friends in attendance is half-French and it turns out her family is from the same part of France as Ben. They reminisced about crossing the border into Belgium for beer. It was all very charming and delightful.
The next course was the tartare course. What, you never heard of a tartare course? Well, now you have. But beef is so passe. Why not the adorable hamachi or meaty veal? The hamachi tartare is cubed and carefully sandwiched between two thin slices of turnip. The result looks a bit like something out of a Japanese anime.
Sometime during the pasta course, I felt full. But surely that didn’t stop me from enjoying the creamy risotto with escargot or the lovely pop of munching on the wild mushroom and marscapone agnolotti. And how could I not love the hand-cut maltagliati with the pork ragu or the rich bucatini carbonara?
Fraiche’s menu may have originally been more Italian than French but I like that Chef Ben is keeping the pasta courses. And he’s no newbie at pasta making. I recall the other meals I’ve had from him at a decidedly more French restaurant that also featured pasta.
We were happily eating our fish course; mussels, daurade and loup de mer when I took a sharp breath and realized there had to be a meat course and bien sur, dessert! Oh my! I adored the mussels. Great broth and despite my stomach revolting and whimpering in fear, I ate a few more before we gave our remaining mussels to a friend who happened to be at a neighboring table. Of the two fish, I liked the loup de mer just a tiny bit more because of the accompaniments. The seared daurade came with braised endives, orange, raisins and pine nuts. All great stuff but the crispy loup de mer had a sunchokes soubise (that creamy stuff), wild mushrooms, crosnes, salsifi and a great Bordelaise sauce. I may have been jealous of my friend going to Joel Robuchon in Vegas for Thanksgiving but here was Chef Ben who worked there practically in my own back yard. Win for both of us.
Ben had said the menu for Fraiche wouldn’t have anything he’s served at Petrossian. But then the truffle burger and pork belly came out. The burger is a smaller version of what he’s served before and the pork belly was suspiciously like the one I inhaled during dineLA week. Perhaps neither are exactly the same and they were probably specials and not on the regular menu so we’re not going to call Ben out for misremembering…because I want this delicious pork belly all the time! The burger is on the bar menu and not on the dinner menu at Fraiche.
Is it possible? Have we arrived at the dessert course? We tried four desserts which seemed like 8 since each one came with a scoop of ice cream, gelato or sorbet. The chocolate ganache with a olive oil ice cream was decadent as it sounds. The most interesting one for me was the panetone bread pudding with the marascapone gelato but for those who like molten lava cake, Fraiche served one up called the chocolate coulant that is probably the most upscale version I’ve ever seen with peanut butter ice cream. Finally, Ben snuck in another dessert I’ve had from him- the pistachio creme brulee with the wonderful apricot sorbet. Despite the candied sugar sculpture, it’s quite a light dessert and not as rich as a vanilla creme brulee.
While I loved Petrossian, it was a special occasion restaurant. I could not frequent it as often as I would have liked to. The menu at Fraiche with its rustic French influences and Italian touches is perfect to explore regularly. The bar with an intriguing cocktail program and the accessible wine list all makes Fraiche a go-to restaurant when in Culver City.
We rolled ourselves out of there, haunted by Ben’s promise (taunt?) of more treats to try during brunch. Oh brunch! Who wants to go?
Here’s Stuffy Cheaks’ take on the night.
9411 Culver Boulevard
Culver City, CA 90232-2616