In spite of everything, a fledgling restaurant looks forward to welcoming its first customer

Hadley Tomicki
Chef Dean Yasharian was set to open his restaurant Perle in Pasadena on March 19, but the pandemic dashed those plans. He began offering takeout last week and will finally open his dining room Thursday.  (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

After two decades working in some of the world’s most demanding kitchens, chef Dean Yasharian was set to finally open his own restaurant in mid-March. Then the COVID-19 pandemic dashed those plans.

The debut of Perle, his French bistro in Pasadena, was planned for March 19. Despite cases of COVID-19 rising across the nation, the chef initially thought he could stick to the date.

But a mandated countywide shutdown of dine-in restaurants forced him to confront difficult choices about a project he had devoted two years to getting off the ground.

“We needed that revenue to come in on March 19,” Yasharian said. “It’s been a struggle, and I feel that new restaurants are out to dry and sort of set up to fail in this pandemic.”

Lacking name recognition, he initially decided to wait things out. But as the months ticked by and bills stacked up, he began offering takeout last week and, on Thursday, he’ll finally open the dining room to customers.

Chef/owner Dean Yasharian of Perle will finally open his dining room to customers on Thursday.  (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

The 38-year-old spent more than a decade at Daniel Boulud's Restaurant Daniel in Manhattan before a yearlong stint as sous chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 2008. He also helped open Bar Boulud in Manhattan and in London.

Five years ago, Yasharian moved to L.A. and was executive chef at Chateau Marmont, serving the storied hotel’s demanding, high-volume clientele for three years.

At Perle, he seeks to do something more personal for Pasadena.

"I want to cook for the community where I live, where people are coming for the food and I can see and touch every plate that goes out again,” says Yasharian, an Altadena resident.

In appearance, Perle plays the part of a prototypical Gallic bistro.

The black-and-white dining room is hung with old family photos and framed covers from vintage French food magazines over rattan chairs, mahogany tables and an impressively carved wooden bar. Custom divider walls were recently added to abide by social distancing rules; all seating is indoors.

The menu puts an unconventional spin on time-honored French cuisine, offering two distinct sides.

The menu’s left flank features classic French cooking and seasonal, modern American recipes sprinkled with inspirations from California, Iran, Armenia, Asia and North Africa.

Miso samon at Perle.  (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

There are moules frites with labneh and bulgur wheat, steak tartare with lavash crackers, traditional escargots and Lyonnaise salads. Coq au vin bears a touch of pomegranate molasses and ridgeback prawns from Santa Barbara are accented with salt-cured lemon and Aleppo pepper.

The menu's right half, on the other hand, is meatless, although many of the vegetarian and vegan recipes mirror those same French benchmarks.

This side includes French onion soup with a gratin of vegan cheese; buttery, panko-crusted escargots fashioned from mushrooms; a Lyonnaise frisée salad with tofu egg and smoked mushroom lardons; a croque-monsieur with vegan ham; and coq au vin featuring soy drumsticks marinated in red wine.

"I was never one of those chefs who hated on vegans," Yasharian said. "I was never onboard with just giving them a plate of vegetables."

Coq au vin, clockwise from left, a charcuterie board, beet salad and asparagus at Perle in Pasadena.  (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)
Apple Tarte Tatin at Perle.  (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Perle will initially be open only for dinner, though Yasharian is hoping to add a brunch menu.

The road to opening a restaurant is never easy — Yasharian and his wife, Pauline Zee, spent their life savings and a year building Perle, named for their eldest daughter, and then endured another year of permitting pain and other delays — but Yasharian has had to deal with more than most.

After the shutdown, Yasharian was forced to let his newly trained staff go and was unable to secure adequate relief funding or government loans because the unopened restaurant didn’t have an active payroll or revenue.

“It feels like we’ve had a black cloud over our heads,” he said.

Nonetheless, the chef remains optimistic and excited to welcome Perle’s first customers.

“I’m pumped,” he said. “This is what we’ve all been waiting for.”

43 E. Union St., Pasadena, (626) 460-8819, perlerestaurant.com