Dean Yasharian, executive chef and owner of Perle, had prepared for years to open his own restaurant, not to close one.
Just days before his planned and oft-delayed opening back in March, the Coronavirus pandemic affected Los Angeles County and Pasadena, closing restaurants for dining in, and turning his upscale French bistro-style restaurant into a pickup and delivery service place. Not what you want when you take center stage.
Still, the work on actually opening up for dine-in customers continued undaunted until their opening last week.
“We had some good nights, some full nights,” said Yasharian.
“It was really nice and exciting to see people in here,” he added. “Most nights last week we had a full dining room. It’s a good feeling.”
Yasharian noted that the restaurant would ordinarily have tables down the middle of the main floor space.
“We have capacity for 63,” he explained. “I think we’re only going to be at 50. But with some tables in the middle, we feel we have pretty wide open lanes and space. It’s pretty spacious.” (The restaurant is currently serving 30 diners in-house.)
Judging by the attention to detail, it’s easy to see the appeal of an authentic French bistro, though there are a few here already, no surprise in a town that eager foodies track like hawks.
Taking over the dark mahogany space from its previous sandwich shop incarnation took months of work and serious long time savings, he said Tuesday, on a closed business day. The restaurant’s floors and surfaces gleamed, as did the new plexiglas and wood partitions built by a brother-in-law, now separating many of the tables.
Dark surfaces are now white, and thanks to Yasharian’s handyman skills, even the previously worn-out rattan chairs have a new life.
“It’s a very big personal investment,” said Yasharian. “My wife and I brought our life savings into this, I got countless hours unpaid, and I brought a lot of sweat equity.”
In fact, in March, just as the virus shuttered the restaurant’s doors before they could open, Perlé was “probably a month and a half behind schedule construction,” he said. But, “We basically needed to open. We needed that revenue, and then we had to shut down again.”
But now for the moment, with the looming threat of a coronavirus spike, diners are welcome.
Raised in Pennsylvania and upstate New York on a family farm, Yasharian grew up around raising food. The son of a dairy farmer, he attended a specialized culinary program at Penn State, after learning the ropes at a friend’s pizza restaurant in high school.
During college and after earning a Bachelor’s degree in culinary and hospitality management. Yasharian worked in Las Vegas and Virginia Beach before heading across the Atlantic.
For the next few years, Yasharian earned his stripes working at a one-star Michelin restaurant in Cambridge, England, where he helped them earn their second star before returning to New York City for nearly a decade, followed by a stint at the Chateau Marmont.
All of which eventually brought him to Union Street and Old Pasadena.
“And I just love it,” he said. “People can come in and have a casual meal or they can have more of a fine dining meal, or maybe can have a burger and a glass of burgundy, or just have a beer.”
And, though the restaurant was closed for the day, Yasharian was ready to cook. Taking his own liberties, he selected what was essentially a full dinner menu for us to try—a charcuterie tray, soupe de poisson, coq au vin and dessert. It was 3:30 in the afternoon, and we hadn’t had lunch yet. We were ready.
The classic charcuterie was a crazy appealing cutting board of handmade pate, a duck terrine with a touch of basil, Kasekrainer sausage stuffed with cheese, some jambon persillé and some more thinly sliced and vaguely spicy blood sausage, and country bread. Pretty magnifique.
The soupe de poisson was rich and elegant, the heady broth poured over shrimp, rockfish, some potatoes, fennel and rouille, with just enough left over in the pitcher for a second pour. In the cool of the air-conditioned restaurant, it was perfect, and will only be more perfect in a California-chilly Pasadena winter.
As I felt my fuel gauge push toward “F,” on came the coq au vin. For the uninitiated, this dish was originally a way to serve the barnyard roosters, whose meat was often dryer and tougher than that of the hens. The meat was marinated in red wine, then traditionally braised. Perlé serves the chicken legs and breasts, with perlé onions, bacon lardons (think little bacon logs), mushrooms and mashed potatoes, as smooth as cream.
Dessert was a full-sized Apple Tarte Tatin, served in a caramelized pastry crust, honey crisp apples, laid like paving stones onto the sweet crust, and brought with a small bowl of cinnamon-labneh ice cream (a neat trick since labhen is a form of yogurt cheese.)
I’d asked for coffee, but polished off whatever I was going to of the Tarte Tatin, before anyone could even find a spoon. No matter. I will only want to return for it.
Perlé could be just that little sweet spot in the restaurant community to either fill a gap, or support what is here already. Already looking like the kind of unpretentious but luxurious upscale pub that would work as a hearty steak frites place, or a Friday date night. (See if you can get that front partitioned window booth.)
“My goal always over the last ten years was to open up in the community that I live in,” said Yasharian. “To have a community place, a social house. I want everybody to feel comfortable, and to have something for them.”
Diners can expect about half of the menu to be classic French dishes with the other half being seasonal creations.
“Right now we’re a little heavy on the classics,” Yasharian explained, because of the newness of his team and the desire to bring them up to speed quickly on the basics and foundations of French cuisine.
And by the time those classics are old hat to the new crew, you might have found yourself a new favorite spot.
Perle is at 43 East Union Street, Pasadena, CA. (626) 460-8819. www.perlerestaurant.com.