by john mariani
photography by evan sung | December 1, 2011 | Food & Drink
Alexandre Petrossian (right) and restaurant director Michael Chamberlain welcome patrons
Caviar chills in a silver presentoir
The illustrated menu educates and entices
Caviar even accents a martini
Erté etchings of Deco damsels grace the bar
A serving fit for a czar
This time of year, chocolates and cakes, Champagne and Sauternes, and luxurious caviar fill New York City storefronts, but nowhere are these wares displayed more opulently than at Petrossian, the legendary Midtown restaurant and specialty store. In close proximity to Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Petrossian hosts a parade of ballet and opera stars, actors, musicians, and theatergoers who come for superior delicacies such as ossetra caviar and truffle-studded foie gras.
For Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Petrossian is serving lavish three-course prix fixe meals. “We keep the price reasonable at Christmas because it is a family dinner,” says managing director Alexandre Petrossian, 29, the third generation of the Armenian family that founded the company. This year, chef German Calle is planning a menu that includes a choice of potato cream with vodka and caviar, a smoked fish tasting, foie gras terrine with wine jelly, or lobster consommé to start. Main courses include seared sturgeon with a caviar beurre blanc, Chilean sea bass with parsnip purée, herb-roasted filet mignon, pumpkin risotto with Stilton cheese, or roast goose with red cabbage.
Designed by Ion Oroveanu, Petrossian seats just 60 guests within an Art Deco setting of polished marble, lustrous wood, Lalique sconces, a Lanvin chandelier, and superb bronze sculptures from the 1930s. Opened in 1984, the restaurant is housed in Alwyn Court, a historic 1909 apartment building; next door is Petrossian’s food boutique, with one side showcasing its caviar, smoked salmon, foie gras, tea, and preserves, and the other its pastries and desserts. The boutique also sells silver salt and pepper shakers and mother-of-pearl spoons, requisite for eating caviar in its purest form. A few steps up to the rear is a small café.
A Storied History of Luxury
The company itself began in the 1920s, when the brothers Melkoum and Mouchegh Petrossian emigrated from Russia to Paris, where they introduced exotic Russian caviar to Western Europe, at first appealing to fellow émigrés in the arts like Igor Stravinsky. The influential Parisian hotel impresario César Ritz helped popularize the delicacy so successfully that Champagne and caviar soon became inextricable from the idea of deluxe grand dining.
For nearly 90 years, Petrossian has set the standard for caviar. Initially the company offered connoisseurs the finest caviar from wild Caspian Sea sturgeon, including the highly prized beluga. In the last decade wild sturgeon caviar has become unavailable in the US due to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which bans its import and export. Petrossian now buys its caviar from the US and other farms in Israel, Europe, and China, and maintains its reputation for excellence. “If our American ossetra is put next to wild ossetra, I dare anyone to tell me the difference,” says Alexandre.
Today the Petrossian empire includes boutiques in Paris, Lyon, Rio de Janeiro, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, as well as a burgeoning mail order business, with plans to open an establishment in Florida.
The holidays are a frenzy at Petrossian, since so many of their products are offered in gift packages, like Picnic in the Park, which contains 125 grams of caviar, a tin of monkfish liver, tarama smoked cod roe with crème fraîche, eggplant caviar, olive tapenade, chocolate truffles, fleur de sel, mini blini, and baguette toast. The ingredients for such feasts are all made especially by or for Petrossian—with one exception. “We don’t make our own bagels,” says Alexandre. “That is a New York item we wouldn’t presume to try to master.” 182 W. 58th St., 212-245-2214