Though “petites” is French for “little,” both the story behind Paso Robles’ gem Les Petites Canailles and the flavors coming from the kitchen are anything but.
Let’s start with the backstory…
First, it is important to note that Paso Robles is a wine country on the rise with more than 200 wineries and 40,000 vineyard acres producing at least 60 types of varietals across the region.
A chief reason for its popularity is a fellow named Stephan Asseo, a native of France and acclaimed winemaker who moved to Paso with his family in 1998 and founded L’Aventure Winery. Among his three children is son, Julian. At 16, he knew he wanted to become a chef, so left his adopted home of Paso for his native France, where he was accepted to the Lycee Hotelier de Gascogne, a world-renowned culinary school near Bordeaux. After finishing culinary school he moved to Paris to work at La Fontaine de Mars before making his way back to the United States with a dream to create dishes to perfectly pair with his family’s wine.
But, he did not move back to Paso straight away. First, he ventured to Los Angeles. And while his culinary exploits there were fine, the time spent in the City of Angels was important as it was where he met Courtney, who would become his wife. The lovebirds would leave Los Angeles in 2008 for Las Vegas, both making big names for themselves with Julian earning positions in the kitchens at both Joël Robuchon and Restaurant Guy Savoy and Courtney running the bars at Todd English and then DB Brasserie by Daniel Boulud.
After starting a family, the Asseos relocated to Paso in recent year to be closer to family (and to have a third child), opening Les Petites Canailles – with the full translation being “the little rascals” in French in homage to their children – in Fall 2019 just prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The interior is meant to feel as if being hosted in the Asseo home, with portraits of the family (all three of their kids are insanely adorable, by the way) as well as wedding and vacation photos hung as art. Each table feels as if you could be sitting around the family’s kitchen table, and casual attire is common despite the lavish-feeling menu. The bar is small and intimate, and fully stocked with all of L’Aventure’s best varietals (of course!) as well as wines and beers from across the region and throughout the family’s favorite vineyards in France. There are no cocktails, but they honestly are not missed. Oh, there is even the option to taste wine brands that the family was involved with before L’Aventure, which is a real treat.
Before getting to the food, there is one other element it is hard to miss when visiting: the mural.
Along one side of the restaurant’s exterior, there is a mural – it must be 20-feet high and with every color in the rainbow depicted – that illustrates all the things that make Paso special from its land and food to its people.
OK, once the “shots for the gram” are done, it is time to dine!
The menu is a modern take on French cuisine, using as many ingredients from nearby artisans, farmers and butchers as possible. It changes regularly based on the seasonality of ingredients, but the starter menu always has a whimsical take on octopus well worth a taste. When I visited, Chef Julian somehow paired octopus with hummus, and it totally worked. There is also a bread service that will rock your world, no matter the time of year.
Most guests who visit opt for a handful of small bites and starters to share, and then each get an entrée, with some ordering bonus sides. And yes, for the foodies reading this, Chef Julian did learn the famed Robuchon pomme purée recipe and, yes, it is on his sides menu. Other stars on our fall seasonal menu included: the Tarte Flambée, which is a flatbread of sorts from the Alsace region of France, with lardons, fromage blanc and gruyère cheese; Burgundy escargot risotto with Carnaroli rice, parsley garlic butter and roasted jus; moules-frites with spicy nduja, garlic confit and fresh herbs; and the 16-oz. Snake River Farms American wagyu ribeye topped with bordelaise sauce but also with a side of shallot white wine butter for good measure.
As one would expect dining in his home, Chef Julian made the time to visit the table, showing off his fabulous accent while making us laugh with his bold, boisterous personality and booming voice. We really did feel like special guests in his home away from home.
To learn more, visit www.lpcrestaurant.com.