The egg-as–culinary test is something of a cliché. Many an old-school chef is said to have employed it as a means to separate the worthy cooks from the unworthy. The making of an omelette was even a major plot point in the recent film The Hundred-Foot Journey, with a French restaurant owner using it to determine whether young chefs “have the gift.”
It's a hackneyed use of the evaluation and, like much of that film, misses the point almost completely (thanks to an injury, the chef in question gives direction rather than personally cooking the thing, rendering the whole exercise meaningless). But still, there you have it: The egg worthiness test is familiar enough in cooking folklore to give wobbly credence to the film's culinary authority.
I have never understood the perfectly-cooked-egg test. In fact, most of the eggs I eat in restaurants, particularly omelettes, aren't anywhere near as good as the ones I can make at home, and I often resent paying restaurant prices for them. At least, I didn't understand the test until recently, when I had the simple omelette at Petit Trois, Ludo Lefebvre's tiny ode to the bars of Paris.
With this omelette, the egg itself is presented as pure texture, a lightly frothy yellow solid, with absolutely no visual or tactile clue that it has ever touched a pan. The filling, of Boursin cheese and herbs, is practically the same light, creamy consistency as its egg wrapping. Outrageously rich yet with an ethereal quality of weightlessness, it is, quite simply, the best omelette I have ever had.
It is not the only dish at Petit Trois that falls into this category. Let's see, what else? The best jambon beurre sandwich. The best croque-monsieur. The best escargot.
“I'm sick of hearing about the whole Trois Mec endeavor,” my editor complained when I told her I'd soon be turning in a review of Petit Trois, which is next door to Trois Mec and shares with it a bathroom, a chef and ownership (it is co-owned, like Trois Mec, by Animal chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo).
I understood her complaint. Here at L.A. Weekly, as with other food media, gallons of ink have been spilled in the effort to heap praise on Trois Mec, a tiny tasting menu restaurant that is out of reach for the average diner, both in terms of price (around $100 per person) and logistics (a web-based ticketing system, which requires a fair amount of dedication to overcome).
Is Trois Mec the most exciting restaurant currently operating in L.A.? I think so. Will continuous squawking about it bore people? It's entirely possible.
The interesting thing about Petit Trois (and what I told my wary editor, as well as dragging her there to eat an omelette) is how very different it is from Trois Mec. Where Trois Mec has the most prohibitive reservation system in town, Petit Trois takes no reservations. It is a bar, where you might stop in for a bite, and it's entirely possible to be in and out in 45 minutes or so, if that's what suits you. Seating is limited to stools at the marble bar and stools along the opposite wall. Green-vined wallpaper and arching mirrors complete the transportive look of the place. Step inside, and you could be in France.
Whereas Trois Mec has a set, five-course menu of dishes unlike anything you might recognize as classic, Petit Trois serves a short à la carte menu of utterly prototypical French bar food. You're here for a simple glass of red wine, filled to the brim of a small wine glass (as is the style in Parisian cafés), and steak frites, the ultimate in hearty French bar food. Like almost everything here, the steak frites are both intensely nostalgic and also somehow even better than the version of your golden-tinged nostalgia.
And in many ways, the brilliance of this little restaurant is not in what it does have but what it doesn't. Lefebvre and co. have stripped away much of the clutter we expect from our best restaurants: tables, reservations, a wine list. Hell, they don't even take cash.
You do get bread service, a generous hunk of baguette made by a home baker Lefebvre discovered, along with a crock of French butter, the kind that might have you pondering the charmed life those French cows must lead in order to produce dairy this sweet and pure.
In fact, it's easy to overload on dairy here. There's that omelette, of course, and much of what you'll want to eat is butter-drenched. Fat Burgundy escargot gush butter and garlic when you pry them from their shells, and you'll need your baguette to sop up the pungent morass from the plate. The croque-monsieur, which used to be served only late at night but now is blessedly available all day and night, is a monumental glory of a sandwich, its ham and cheese and bread base topped with a tower of lightly singed béchamel that's custardlike in its fluffy richness. Lefebvre has joked that its fat content makes this a once-in-a-lifetime sandwich — any more would be tempting fate.
The omelette comes with a vinegary green salad on the side, and there are occasionally other vegetable options: a green bean salad with a creamy horseradish dressing and slivers of nectarine, or a small jumble of shaved carrots. They work as a foil to the rich sauces, but let's be honest: You're here for the steak tartare, for the frites, for the decadence of it all.
The wine selection is very small and very French: around half a dozen wines, including sparkling, available by the glass and bottle. The one departure from true Parisian culture is a cocktail program, brought on by Lefebvre's recent cocktail conversion, which he blames on Mad Men. It might be odd to eat your escargot along with a variation on a negroni, but that doesn't make it any less fun.
Allow me one short Parisian reverie: When I was 13, my mother and I spent a month in Paris, in a small hotel in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I wish I had a book chapter's worth of swooning food memories from that trip, but I don't. What I do remember is the hotel's chocolate cake, one of the only things you could get from room service late at night. It was a simple square, made with very good chocolate, delicate but rich, and served with slightly sweetened whipped cream. In the quarter-century since, I've dreamt of that cake often. Wouldn't you know it? Lefebvre here serves a chocolate cake just like it, an exact replica of one of the few Parisian nostalgias I have.
And that's really the point of the place. One night, when Petit Trois was packed, and Lefebvre was entertaining a gaggle of food celebrities at the marble counter facing the kitchen, he leaned across the group of people and said in his thick French accent, “You know, this is why I love this place. At night, when you step inside, it is just like Paris!”
Lefebvre has created a slice of his home in a former Thai restaurant in a strip mall in L.A. It is simultaneously one of the most modest and most ambitious restaurants to open in recent memory. It's a love letter to another city, written in food, by one of our greatest culinary poets.
See also: Our photo gallery of Petit Trois
PETIT TROIS | 718 N. Highland Ave., Hlywd. | (323) 468-8916 | petittrois.com | Daily, noon-11 p.m. | Plates, $7-$39 | Full bar | Lot parking, valet after 4:30 p.m.