What: Seafood, Japanese/French/American fusion Where: Providence in Los Angeles
Must-Order: Wild Striped Bass (pictured below), Santa Barbara Sea Urchin, Japanese Kanpachi, Santa Barbara Spot Prawns
The Verdict: Providence in Los Angeles, near Hollywood, doesn't just offer remarkable dishes; it presents a culinary experience unlike any other. This is one of those "package deal" type places: The dining staff is welcome and eager to impart all the knowledge they have on Chef Michael Cimarusti's food. Best of all, the servers pace each course so that you're not barraged with dish after dish; they time it well and don't rush you. The ambiance is simple and elegant; the decor evokes the sense of being underwater... if a swanky bistro existed under the sea.
But just a warning: Providence ain't cheap. Save up or come here when you get a bonus at work or when you're celebrating a special occasion. The best way to maximize your experience here is to get a tasting menu; five courses is $95 (or $140 with wine pairing) and the chef's menu goes for $175 (or $270 with wine pairing). My friends and I enjoyed the in-between option, the full tasting nine course menu for $125. We opted not to get the wine pairing, which would have been $190.
Normally, I'd pick out a few stand-out dishes to write about but every single dish from Chef Cimarusti was perfection. Flavors were balanced perfectly, portions were small enough to keep you wanting more. So below, read on and take in the food porn of the nine dishes I enjoyed, including two extra small dishes I shared with my friends.
We kicked off the meal with an amuse bouche, which, by Providence tradition, always involves spherification, the process of shaping liquid into spheres. From left to right: Mojito Gilette, Greyhound Sphere, Gruyere cheese bread, ad a shot with a savory port at the bottom. My favorite was the Greyhound Sphere; it was like eating a bubble that popped to release the refreshing flavors of vodka, grapefruit and lime.
Here, the Japanese Kanpachi brings sushi to new heights. The raw, clean, oh-so-fresh fish was paired with crispy rice crackers, Australian finger lime, and perched atop a small pool of creme fraiche.
The presentation of Santa Barbara Sea Urchin is what entranced me first: The plate or base resembled a tree trunk and the wire basket served as a nest for the brown egg that held bits of sea urchin swimming in a bath of champagne beurre blanc and herbs.
I'm a sucker for scallops and it's disappointing when they're overcooked. They become rubbery and tastless -- ick! Of course, here, Nancy's Down East Sea Scallops are cooked just right; the outside has just a little bit char and the inside is soft and yielding. These were perfect with buckwheat, dashi and napa cabbage.
If I had to choose one favorite, it would be the Wild Striped Bass. Served with a brown butter, lemon and nori sauce, it also comes with braised cannellini beans. The bass is slightly smokey and firm, and the beans are surprisingly soft without being mushy and grainy.
Here, the Tasman Sea Trout marries fish with fruit and vegetables. It's served with with cooked beets radish and orange slices. A few springs of fennel add just a hint of licorice flavor.
If you're a veal virgin (as I was, up until last night) you might be uneasy as to what it should taste like. But this is a meat that's best served medium-rare; cooked any more than that and you end up with a gamey clump. The Marcho Farms Veal Tenderloin here is slow cooked at 140 degrees with a curry-daikon sauce. Daikon radish is braised, chanterelle mushrooms are slightly crispy and pearl onions are smooth and delicate. The black truffle fondue is icing on the cake.
These Santa Barbara Spot Prawns weren't part of our nine-course meal. They were just an extra goody we ordered. Salt seasoned with sprigs of rosemary is heated at 350 degrees and the prawns are cooked in them for just a few minutes. Served with just a touch of olive oil, they're salty and simple.
Some fine restaurants boast garnishes of truffle, a type of rare and expensive mushroom, but they shave about a teaspoon atop your food. Thankfully, Providence is generous with their portion of Black Winter Truffles, that's served with risotto, pasta alla chitarra, a little bit of soft scrambled eggs and raviolo all'uovo. This dish is vaguely Italian, vaguely French, and slightly garlicy -- it features hints of layers upon layers of earthy savory flavor.
No fine dining experience is complete without an assortment of cheeses. Various types of goat, sheep and chow milk are used and served with candied walnuts, dried figs, apple and apricot jam, and a pumpernickel baguette. My favorite was the Sotto Chenerre, cow cheese with truffle rind.
To cleanse the palette after that epic meal, we had lemongrass granita with sake jelly and ginger foam. It definitely reset our appetites to prepare for a memorable dessert.
And finally, our very last course: dessert. Banana Bread Pudding served with barley ice cream and drops of orange sauce evokes flavors of autumn and winter. The ice cream is somehow savory and sweet and the whole dish tastes like a holiday on a plate.