Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Special Foodventure #97: Providence Dessert Tasting (Mid-City)

Anyone who's eaten with me knows I don't have just a sweet tooth, it's more like sweet jaws; no matter how full I am, there's always room, or a house, for sugar at the end.

But what if the meal is ALL sugar? That's exactly what I am in for when Tony of SinoSoul gathered a bunch of bloggers and yelpers to check out the dessert tasting menu at Providence (where I had my splurge meal of '07.) Hang onto your pancreas, folks, as we go down the eight-course sucrose tsunami!

Having arrived a little bit early, my friend and I slinked into their bar to check out their specialty-crafted cocktails. I got the Rhode Island Red made with Hornados silver tequila, pomegranate juice, chambord, agave nectar, ginger beer and freshly-zested citrus. It reminded me of a pomegranate margarita with a little zip from the fizzy beer, it was a decent drink -- fruity but not sweet, nice tang with a little earthy, cactus zip from the nectar and the tequila.

It didn't take long before the rest of the party arrive and we all got seated. The kitchen was already expecting the dozen of us, so the service was fairly streamlined but the waitstaff was still pretty cordial in presenting our orders throughout.
Since I'm driving that night, I opted out of wine pairings and went for coffee instead. I told the waiter that I was looking for something mellow and softer in body and he suggested the Ethiopian blend (from LA Mill, of course.) It was a nice cup 'o joe, very bright notes of blueberry with a mild citrus backdrop and not heavy or bold just like I wanted. Taking sips and whiffs I can already see this pairing well with fruit-based desserts.

Within minutes of our orders (most of us opted for the eight-course tasting), the parade of sugar started coming, beginning with:
Their mojito gelee, one of their signature amuses that almost never fails to impress. Limey, minty-refreshing and palate-cleansing, it's exactly what I would expect if someone took the cocktail and had the ingenuity to gellify it (and for the adventurous home cook/mixologist, LA Times shows you how to do these classy edible cocktails at home! Sayonara to those funky-colored and cloyingly sweet jello shots!)
Following that is their kalamansi lime gelee with lychee-shiso sorbet, coconut-soy milk "broth" with tapioca pearls and coconut streusel. Yay! My favorite dessert is not dead afterall. Ok, there's been a few tweaks but it still taste as delicious as I remembered, the tart citrus gelee against the cooling, herby sorbet in that creamy broth. I can't tell if I like the extra texture contrast from the streusel since it was the one decidely hard, solid element in a bowl of all things soft and fluid. But a delightful dish nonetheless.
Next is their sous-vide Jonalicious apples with barley ice cream, streusel, pine nut puree and dried North Star cherries. Essentially, a reinterpreted apple brown betty - all the components were solid: the apples were sweet with a slight crisp, the toasted malty flavor of the barley shown through in the ice cream, and the cherries and puree added notes of bright tartness and woodsy nuttiness, respectively. As much fun as I have mix and matching the different component, and I've said this before, I always feel there's something amiss when a classic comfort dessert is taken apart and tweaked like a lab experiment, and if anything, eating this dish made me miss a traditionally-made apple betty/crisp/pie even more.
I felt similarly with the following dessert: deconstructed pumpkin pie with curry ice cream, pecan streusel with dots of coconut milk and balsamic vinegar. While I still got the slight longing for a traditional pumpkin pie, I did like this modernization better than the apples, since the adjustments of curry spices, balsamic and coconut sauces added a distinct edge to this dish and made it considerably more complex and intriguing to eat. And that smooth, creamy spiced pumpkin custard is definitely a hit.
Moving onwards, a milk chocolate panna cotta with coconut raviolo, chocolate streusel and Bailey's ice cream. Being a lover of both chocolate and panna cotta, I found myself only liking this dish. The panna cotta itself was luscious and the Irish cream flavored ice cream mixed with it well, but somehow it lacked the extra oompf to make it truly memorable. And as fun as that coconut raviolo was (which popped like the mojito gelee) the flavor of it felt out of sync with the rest of this dessert. But just to reiterate, this was still a satisfying sweet and I spooned every last chocolatey bit.
After that, we were presented with burnt caramel ice cream with a side of pears, gingerbread and chocolate cream. The duo was interesting, and I particularly like the buttery-toasty flavor of the burnt caramel ice cream (almost like a creme brulee with a lighter mouthfeel and, of course, without the crackling sugar top) The pears and gingerbread was OK, when combined the chocolate and gingerbread easily overwhelmed the fruit's flavors.
More chocolate followed, this time it's a ganache bar with peanut butter, pretzel pieces, chambly noir ice cream and beer foam. It was very, very rich (and my friend couldn't finish her ganache bar) and, again, it felt like a spin off a familiar sweet (chocolate-peanut butter pretzels) but I think the beer creams added a nice contrast with its slight hoppy-bitterness, cutting into the dense and intense chocolate and PB.
The last listed course of the tasting is another Providence signature, liquid center lollipops -- with a "crimson berry" center encased in a white chocolate shell. The waiter made very sure that we are to eat it all in one bite, which we did -- and like the mojito starter, it was very refreshing -- like having a big sip of berry punch to go along with white chocolate pieces.
Finishing off, a few mignardises -- espresso truffle, olive oil gelee and barley caramels. Of course, the olive oil gelee came out as most memorable - and I loved how it tasted "oily, but also NOT oily" at the same time. The espresso truffles were good but after all those chocolatey courses towards the end, I wasn't really feeling it. The caramels were only OK as well, the barley flavor didn't really hit it off with me and it was too chewy/sticky.

And that's how my dessert tasting at Providence went; overall it was not bad but not as memorable as I hoped (though my expectations can be partly to blame, having a high bar set from reading PoetKitty's dessert tasting report many moons ago). So many of the courses are very similar, being modern twists off homestyle desserts accompanied with streusels and ice creams (and woe to anyone in my group who's lactose intolerant), but the reinterpretations didn't really work their magic, instead of being an improvement over the classics, they seem just seem more sterile and distant and, dare I say, needlessly cocky.

I am not sure I would do an all-dessert tasting at Providence again, dropping $50 for just desserts alone is a bit excessive and the $12-14 cocktails and the $5 coffee seemed like a more worthwhile (and less risky) indulgence. I 'll still probably do desserts again at Providence since they're still pretty good, but I'll definitely opt out of the parade and ordering them a la carte or as part of their regular tasting menu.

One final note: it was total killjoy whenever the pungent cheese cart gets pushed by our table as we're eating our sweets. If any of you are planning a dessert tasting, be sure to ask for a corner table to reduce your chance of your nostrils being attacked with brie-and-bleu fumes while you have dessert in your mouth -- it's not a pleasant mix, believe me.

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

For another take, check out what dining compadres Food Destination and SinoSoul have to say about this tasting too.

Providence on Urbanspoon


Aaron said...

That's a good point about how deconstructed comfort foods tend to lose their "comfort" quality. I just wanted to see some more creativity from Adrian, even if that means bad tastes, I would've loved to have some weird tastes.

Nate @ House of Annie said...

Awesome courses! They are all intriguing, but I'd most like to try the kalamansi lime gelee with lychee-shiso sorbet.

You have a very refined palate.

Thanks for adding us as a friend on Foodbuzz. We welcome you to come visit our site!

H. C. said...

@Aaron, yea I think it was just in that middle spot that was neither very comforting nor creative.

@Nate/Annie, would love hear your thoughts on it, it was the most memorable dessert of the night (and actually a variant of it is available at LA Mill coffee). And always great to get new foodie friends.


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