Saturday, June 23, 2012

Providence LA: Happy 7th Anniversary!!

Is there anniversary in the city more moving than that of Providence?  Not for lovers of fine dining, I'd say.  The deal that comes around just once a year, is enough to move self-professed gourmands to tears.  Of bliss.
A meal at the Michelin-starred haven helmed by the inimitable Chef Michael Cimarusti is normally special occasion dining, with prices to match.  But once a year, during the month of June, they celebrate their anniversary with a 5-course prix fixe dinner that makes it much more affordable while keeping the same high standards.
This year, the deal was $75 per person and again runs the entire month of June!  Worth toasting for sure - I can't name another Michelin-starred dinner deal in the city better than thsi one.  We started with two cocktails: I had the kipling's experience ($15) with beefeater 24, bergamot, riesling, yellow chartreuse, litchi.  A refreshing, delicious and original (mixing dessert wine into a cocktail? awesome!) drink.  Unfortunately I didn't write down what friend 'YZ' had, will have to check back with her!
At Providence, they don't just plop any old basket of bread down at your table, a server comes around offering all the seaweed bread and bacon roll you can handle (there were other breads too, but we didn't hear what they were after those two set off fireworks in our eyes and minds). 

Then came the first of three sets of amuse bouche: this one I've had on previous visits and is a light, palate cleansing start to the meal - one frozen mojito shaped into a bite-sized cube, one screwdriver cocktail, spherified to resemble a raw egg yolk, each served on a spoon.
The second set of amuse came on a lovely carved wood platter that was rustic and playful at the same time - love the presentation on this.  Oh right, I should also talk about the food: sunchoke puree with port wine reduction and creme fraiche, in a shot glass, and a gougere on the side. Love the shot of 'soup', which was rich in flavor but light in texture.  The gougere also came at just the right temperature, a warm, comforting bite that melts away in your mouth.

The third and last course was one of my favorite bites of the night: Crispy Salmon Skin and Trout Cheese. BEST reinvention of the classic chip and dip, EVER.  If you died just reading that, then you have the beginning of an idea of how amazing this tasted.  The trout cheese was like the Ivy-educated, perpetual society-page gracing cousin of Cheese Whiz. That is to say, no resemblance whatsoever beyond the barest superficial traits - they're both roughly orange in color, and a creamy cheesy spread. Providence's is made with trout for a uniquely intriguing flavor, a bit lighter in consistency, and served with little crisp bits of chives on top for counterbalancing crunch and herb-y goodness to cut through the thick, rich cheese.  Pair that with crispy salmon skin chips, and you have the most perfect, inspired chip and dip ever.  I would buy and stock my entire fridge with this, if they would ever sell it. And because I clearly haven't raved enough about this, I want to say that this kind of represents one of the main reasons I love Providence so much - they are definitely top of the line, fine dining to the power of fine dining in terms of food quality, service etc., but they don't take themselves too seriously, and their love of, creativity and playfulness with food comes through in their inventions like this one.
Course #1: Kompachi this first dish was simple, but with the freshest and tastiest cuts of fish I've had outside of Tsukiji market.  Maybe because it's flown in from Japan?  So amazing, I could still taste it in my mind days later.
Added course: Santa Barbara Spot Prawns though the anniversary tasting menu would be more than enough to fill us, since we were there we decided to add on one more course. We originally chose Saute Foie Gras (knowing it may be our last here thanks to the ridiculous law passed by the state of California), but our server somehow heard 'Spot Prawn' instead.  It turned out to be a happy accident, as the spot prawn was amazing - an experience not to be missed.  The prawns are served tableside - they wheel out a cart with a copper pan filled to the brim with salt and rosemary - which filled the room with their delicious scent - then, like hidden treasure, the prawns are 'extracted' from the giant mound of salt,
scraped clean, then split straight down the middle sideways.
I haven't really seen prawns served this way (love love love it!!!) outside of Cantonese seafood restaurants, where they are split and served with garlic! The great thing about cutting prawns up this way is that, like split lobster tails, it makes it easier to lift the juicy, sweet meat clean out of the shell.  AND, you get to have all the luscious prawn 'tomalley' and roe that's inside the head! Providence's preparation has the meat infused with the flavors of salt and rosemary, so that when served up it is free of distracting bits of seasoning - you taste it without having to feel it.  And of course, a wedge of meyer lemon is provided for those so inclined.

Course #2: Day Boat Sea Scallops with bergamot, pistachio, blood orange and fava beans.  How does Chef Cimarusti come up with such creative ingredient combinations that have such intriguing yet clean flavor profiles?  How does he present such original work without being 'showy' or 'fussy' with the food? This course was crazy good - perfectly seared scallop whose natural sweetness is elevated by citrus in the sauce, and whose tenderness is perfectly counterbalanced by the soft crunch of crushed pistachios and fava beans.  Loved this.
Course #3: Foie Gras Ravioli with Italian Summer Truffles, Aromatics, Parmesan. Another simple yet beautiful dish - a pasta classic made incredible with buttery foie gras filling and summer truffles (might have been even better with more fragrant black truffles for $30 extra, but we were on a budget here), and instead of drenching in the usual thick / creamy sauce, Providence's ravioli is lightly bathed in parmesan foam.  Another lovely dish.
Course #4: Dutch Valley Farms Veal Tenderloin (Holland, IL) with spring onion, roasted zuckerman farms jumbo asparagus, king oyster mushrooms.  Though I'm more of a seafood girl, not so much red meat - I loved this veal: it was cooked sous vide for two hours, and just melts away in your mouth.  On the side is an earthy, meaty 'filet' of king oyster mushrom that is grilled to perfection, with the asparagus and some ground up, crisped mushroom bits for contrasting crunch.  A solid course!
Course #5: Manjari 64% espresso, sweetened condensed milk, gianduia, ube.  This was the only course of the night that was utterly disappointing. It hurts to have anything bad to say about my favorite place in LA, but...this one was ugly, felt slapped together last minute, unsophisticated in flavor and had unpleasant textures. The 'block' was too sticky and overwhelmingly sweet, and the little pebble-like blobs were schizophrenic: they couldn't decide if they were crunchy or soft, and landed somewhere in between, while tasting completely bland - we thought it was tofu gone wild (by sticking to the side of chocolate).  I think we might have actually hated this, a first for anything we've ever put in our mouths at Providence.

While trying to eat as many bites of the dessert as we could, a futile exercise in hopeless optimism (maybe we'll 'get it' with the next bite...), we longingly eyed the beautiful cheese cart that was wheeled to the table next to ours, wishing we had received cuts of loveliness from that instead.
As with previous meals, to close out dinner Providence provides a plate of mignardises - bergamet gelee, eucalyptus macaron and chocolate caramel.  I've loved these in the past but for some reason (was the regular pastry chef out sick that night?!) these were also overly sweet with unrefined textures.
Dessert and mignardises aside, dinner at Providence was as incredible as ever - the few times that I could afford to experience it anyways.  The anniversary menu is definitely one that I most look forward to each year. 

So, to fine dining / seafood lovers / those who have always wanted to check out Providence - the $75 prix fixe meal goes through the end of June (dinner only).  Reservations with credit card only.  Bon appetit! (And, congrats, Providence on another successful year in the art of food!)

On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6.5 bites
Presentation - 6.5 bites
Originality - 6.5 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6.5 stars
Overall experience - 6.5 bites
Price - $$$$ (4 bite marks regular menu)
Probability of return visit - 100% 

[To find more awesome dining deals, check out my Daily Specials (dining deals for every night of the week) page, and follow me on Twitter for up to the minute finds!]


5955 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90038
Ph: 323.460.4170
Look for reservations (and points!):

Providence on Urbanspoon

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