At Part & Parcel, chef Phillip Lopez's modern delicatessen, and at his restaurants Root and Square Root, there's no mistaking who is in charge. The chef's touch is evident everywhere — from creative charcuterie plates toppling with obscure cured meats and pickled bits to the avant-garde approach and cutting-edge techniques that pepper his creative menus. At Petit Lion, Lopez's latest endeavor inside the glitzy new Troubadour hotel, it's more difficult to spot the chef's touch.
Though the layout of the space is unique — anchored by a beautiful horseshoe bar — the muted hotel decor feels dated and at odds with the menu, a contemporary take on French bistro fare. It's also hard to miss that it's a hotel restaurant, because the open dining room feels like an extension of the lobby.
The limited menu offers a few appetizers, salads and entrees and reads like a polished take on contemporary French cuisine. Execution, however, is hit and miss. Some of the smaller dishes are the most successful. Crab-stuffed deviled eggs were deliciously creamy and packed with Dijon mustard. Miniature potato crisps on top added a nice crunch, and a dollop of smoked caviar provided the briny touch needed to tie the flavors together.
Also good was the trout rillette, in which creamy smoked fish spread is served under a cap of heirloom cherry tomato preserves. The tomatoes are sweet and burst with juices that pair perfectly with the fish.
There are moments when the restaurant ably carries the Francophile torch, including hanger steak au poivre and perfectly crisp pommes frites served with tangy lemon aioli.
There are dishes that speak to the Middle Eastern influence in contemporary Parisian cuisine, such as berbere-spiced carrots. Chicken bonne femme is seasoned with sumac, giving the dish a light citrusy heat. While the flavors of the chicken were good, the meat was dry, and the final presentation of the dish was lacking. Potatoes were shriveled and overcooked.
There's been some hype about the restaurant's burger, and some of it is warranted. Its two patties were perfectly cooked — in the delicate range somewhere between medium and medium rare — but they were doused in the kitchen's special sauce, which drowned other components — melted American cheese, shaved red onions and pickles — and the bun was stale.
One of the best things I ate at Petit Lion was a slice of carrot cake, a cream cheese-topped indulgence decorated with wispy carrot strips, tiny carrot marshmallows and buttery candied pecans. A quenelle of house-made vanilla ice cream and streaks of salted caramel provided finishing touches. Here, finally, was some of the creativity and playfulness diners associate with Lopez' restaurants — and it was delicious.
Petit Lion feels like it's still figuring itself out. It's fraught with the tension of attempting to satisfy the hotel crowd and diners who have come to expect a more innovative approach from a chef who usually is not afraid to break the rules.