Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Foodventure #34: Providence (Los Angeles)

Months after saving up for the excursion, I finally had the chance to dine at the L.A. gem that is Providence. Having been awarded numerous culinary accolades (from being named one of America's tops by Gourmet magazine to being deemed the best of 2006 by the fickle Chowhounders,) I, of course, have high expectations for the place--but will such aspirations only let me down?

I met up with fellow foodie
Kevin (who also took the pictures for this post, since yours truly got caught up in the gastronomical anticipation and inevitably forgot the camera -_- ). We both opted for their famous nine-course market tasting menu with wine pairing (but the more budget- and calorie- conscious can opt for a mini- five course tasting, while the more indulgent can dive into a decadent 18-course degustation.)

As Kevin noted, Providence occupied a space formerly held by
Patina. Under the direction of Michael Cimarusti (formerly of the Water Grill and Spago before that), Providence's menu is focused on usage of fresh, seasonal seafood combined with the L.A./Californian tradition of playful and eclectic creations.

The atmosphere and vibe of Providence came to me as simply elegant, with striking light/dark contrasts between the walls, the floor and furniture, further accentuated with the room's lighting (mostly dim with various spotlights). The restaurant didn't waste space and time on needless props and decorations and I later understand why: the food is the centerpiece here, deserving of the complete attention of all five senses.

After ordering, we were greeted with bread, butter and sea salt, good but unremarkable, and shortly after that, the two-course amuse.

Part one: dungeness crab-stack with lemon jelly and parsnip flake. A wonderful flavor and texture combination, the firm and sweet crab meat played nicely against the tart jelly and the crisp flake. A definitely delight to the palate.
Part two: A small mug of carrot soup with curry foam. Also good, but less amusing, I like curry and I generally like carrot soup, so glad that the two got along well. But it didn't have that zippy "oh wow" zing that I got with the crab stack.
Our first appetizer: kanpachi slices with yuzu lime, white soy and shiso leaf. Even though I'm on the verge of amberjack-yellowtail overkill (lots of restaurants has been featuring this fish raw as of late -- is this the salmon of the decade?), it was wickedly delicious. The buttery slices of the fish was nicely balanced with tangy yuzu and the distinct herby, minty note of shiso.
Our second appetizer is maine lobster with yellow beets, american cavaiar and tarragon (and I couldn't tell if the golden, translucent slice on top is jellied beets or just plain 'ole jelly). Unique pairing, though for better or for worse, the lobster's taste seemed to be obscured by the tangy-sweet beets, salty caviar and the fragrant tarragon. I am not a big fan of lobster to begin with anyways, so personally I was fine with creative clash of flavors and firm meat.
Appetizer three: Nancy Hill's hand-picked diver scallops from Maine, seared, with applewood smoked bacon, hearts of palm, pistachio and star anise gastrique. This reminds me of a modernized version of a wilted salad (of course, with more emphasis on the non-greens) - the scallop and bacon is a classic pairing, but the veggies, nuts and sauce definitely elevates it to a higher level - particularly with the fresh crunch of the pistachios and the "greeness" of the leaves.
Our first entree-ish plate: John Dory with a broccolini puree, flowering broccoli, purple carrot and carrot butter - another one of those popular fishes that's gotten a lot of play recently; I agree with my dining compadre that the fish itself doesn't have much flavor of its own -- so I'm on the fence about its pairing with other bland-ish ingredients. It lets out what little innate taste of the john dory glisten out, but also misses an opportunity for this nondescript fish to act as a backdrop and soak up stronger tastes. However, given Providence's premise of wanting seafood's fresh naturalness to stand out even in light of all the dressing, I think they made the right call, but wished they picked a fish with a little more character.
Entree, part deux: Sweetbreads with chanterelles, braised artichokes, black truffle slivers and peas. Oh. goodness. I almost feel guilty saying that this dish is a block (and artery-) busting hit, considering that it's the a non-seafood course (the only one we had during this meal). The crisp fried rich sweetbreads were amazing with the earthy fungi and the slightly-briny liquids from the braised 'chokes! Simply heavenly but too bad it's not on the regular menu, I'd go for this a la carte the next time around!
Third entree, British Columbian King salmon (yay for wild!) with shimeji mushrooms, black truffle essence, butternut squash with a salmon skin crisp. Comparatively conservative in the flavors, but that's cool with me since this course is solidly delicious. It's hard to go wrong with a nice piece of rich, fatty salmon. Or sweet and substantial butternut squash. The salmon skin chip is a wonderful touch too.

Next up, a cheese plate (one sheep's milk from Spain, a goat's milk from England and a truffle-flavored cow's milk from France) with olive marmalade, candied walnuts, figs and cinnamon-raisin bread. A well-rounded platter with a nice variety of basic tastes, going across the board from the tang of the goat cheese to the slight saltiness of the cow cheese and the sweetness of the accompaniments.
Following the cheese platter, we had a freshly dispensed glass of foamy kyoho grape soda with a float of lemongrass/ginger ice cream. Fun to watch as it shoots out of a pressurized can (like the ones used for freshly whipped cream) and fun to drink as the three distinct flavors dance and mingle in effervescence on my tongue. Finishing it all, a white chocolate mousse nestled in white chocolate crisps, encircled by "mediterranean flavors" of yogurt and saffron sauces & olive bits. Definitely one of the more interesting desserts I had in a while; personally, I can do without the olives but otherwise this subtly sweet and very complex dessert is great.
And being the caffeine addict I am, I had coffee with my sweets - served in my very own little french press pot with streamlined silver containers for the accompaniments. The coffee was pretty balanced with a pinch of brightness, so good overall.
Finishing off the meal, assorted candies and sweets - raspberry macarons, praline marzipan balls, and "rubio" truffles (I'm guessing not the fish taco chain -- and if I had to take a wild guess, a ruby port from how it tastes). Exquisite with the coffee.

And so ended my nearly three hour dinner with Providence - very few and very minor hiccups along the way, but in general I'd say it exceed my expectations, and I can't wait to return when I have a special occasion to celebrate.

(Note: you may have noticed I didn't mention anything about the wine pairings; in general, all the chosen wines were wonderfully paired with their corresponding dish, as much as I could go on and on about the nose, feel and tastes of the wines, I decided to save my borderline-snobbish descriptions and opinions for some other time. In short - just trust them on their pairings, or at the sommelier's recommendation if you're ordering a la carte.)

The Bill:
Market Tasting Menu /w Wine Pairing: $140

The Rating:
Ambience: 4.5/5 (looks effortlessly elegant and relaxed at the same time, making it a great place for a business or friendly dinner)
Value: 4/5 (despite its high price-tag, I felt I got my money's worth - being able to sample a wide variety of seasonal items)
Service: 8.5/10 (overall professional yet friendly and approachable, merely shy of perfect just because so many different people serving us)
Food: 19/20 (everything I had was at least "pretty good" and most dishes kept my palate intrigued in a good way - as opposed to a not-so-good confuzzled "what the heck is this?")
Overall: 36/40

Other Notes:
- Be sure to ask about the "worst table" and its corresponding 10% discount when reserving (we didn't, bummer) ~ given the menu's prices (particularly the tasting ones) that's quite a bit of change you'll be saving and the word is the worst table is not that bad.
- Limited street parking available, there's also valet
- On its own or along with dinner, Providence also offers a dessert tasting menu, designed by pastry chef Adrian Vasquez, who's been all over the world. Comes in 3- or 5- course versions, along with optional wine pairings.
- The cocktails, made with freshly squeezed juices, may be worth a check out too.

What do others say?
- PoetKitty, almost as big a fan to the restaurant as ColleenCuisine is to Pinkberry, has been here three frickin' times (once to dessert tasting too)
- DailyGluttony got the tasting menu as a Christmas gift
- ChuckEats ate there, thinks it could oust Urasawa as his fave
- And, of course, my dining compadre's wrap-up (who, once again, I'm indebted to for the photos)

5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170


elmomonster said...

Sweeeet lord! Awesome. Great review. I think I'll take advantage of that worst table 10% discount.

Anonymous said...

I'm going for my birthday, can't wait! Thanks for sharing.

Chubbypanda said...

Looks amazing. I'm so envious.

Inez Valentina said...

Please, someone tell me of a place in OC where I can get French macaroons. They've been popping up in LA food blogs, but I'm having some trouble finding the treat locally! I'm in Orange, and I'm desperate.

H. C. said...

Can't wait to see your post on it ;)

I'm sure you'll have a very happy birthday (actually, I'm planning on a return trip there on my b-day for the dessert tasting!)

Heh, can't imagine how green you (or I) will get of the folks who get to go there for the Chef's Table tasting (15+ courses)

Good question - and I take it you mean macaron (the delicate sandwich cookies, like the ones in this post) and not macaroon (the sweeter coconutty stuff). I'll make it a point of inquiry for an upcoming post.

Anonymous said...

The food looks absolutely amazing, but the desserts look like a knock off from Patina's pastry chef. I went into Providence for dessert and thought it was horrible. Has anyone been to Patina for desserts? Theirs look and taste better.

Aaron said...

Thanks for the 9-course review. Many of the dishes you had looked radically different than Ryan's for his meal. I'm definitely looking forward to it next week. Now with your help, I'm a bit more prepared. Now it's on to Kevin's review!


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