April 1, 2013
5955 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA | www.providencela.com
Asking around among friends and contacts about fine dining options in Los Angeles unanimously led me to Providence. Described to me by some as the “Le Bernardin of the west coast”, I was assured by all that within Providence I would find a tantalizing journey of seafood from the skillful palate of Chef Michael Cimarusti. Although Providence would be the last fine dining stop in my recent trip out west, it was undoubtedly the meal I was looking forward to most.
Sitting down at our table I prepared myself for what would be the second seafood-focused tasting menu I’ve experienced so far this year. Having dined at Le Bernardin just three weeks prior, I had come into Providence in hopes of seeing an entirely different perspective of the sea than I had enjoyed from Chef Eric Ripert.
Much like Le Bernardin, Providence’s menu is formatted along the prix fixe and tasting menu lines. Patrons such as myself who have an interest in the broadest sampling of Providence’s offerings will find great excitement in Chef Cimarusti’s 16-course full tasting menu. The opening salvo of courses in our tasting reached our table with swift and deliberately timed execution, resulting in a veritable parade of single-bite indulgences that would be just the start to our evening.
The first taste and the opening course was a curiously simple orb of vodka and grapefruit juice. Taken as one bite the sphere bursts forth and awakens the palate with an initial alcoholic acidity, followed by the sweet, bitter, and citrus notes of grapefruit.
The second bite of the evening features an umami-laden scallop tartare wrapped in a nasturtium leaf. The dense umami notes of the kombu-cured preparation of the tartare pairs expertly with the scallop’s natural sweetness. The bite is rounded off with slight peppery and tangy notes from the nasturtium leaf.
Two small bites pack surprisingly bold and explosive flavors. A roll of tender, meaty squid is paired with an intensely savory chorizo with a tempered peppery finish. The unassuming square of abalone carries tremendous flavor for such a small bite, delighting the taste buds with a semi-sweet and savory marriage alongside the slightest hint of smoky char.
Here the rich subtle flavor of truffle stands prominent against the creamy, sweet nature of Santa Barbara uni. Torched lardo adds an intriguing look as well as an almost deep fried quality to the canapé. The toast serves not only as a vessel of this delectable bite, but also to buffer the rich tastes within.
The final course in a succession of small bites showcases the quality and balance of Kumamoto oysters. The oysters bring first a wave of brine followed by a mellow sweetness. Caviar accentuates the savoriness of the oyster as the smoked butter comes in behind to provide a luxurious and very mildly bitter finish.
Beautifully presented mackerel is enveloped with the vinegar bite of pickled vegetables and herbaceous pops of coriander. The mackerel itself provides a clean, focused sense of the sea throughout the plate. The plate approaches perfection in both the balance of flavor and texture. This is most certainly the best preparation of saba I have had to date.
Marvelous spot prawns are finished table-side upon a searing hot stone, plated alongside the prawn roe and deep fried head. The sweet and buttery nature of the spot prawn is stellar all on its own, exemplifying the quality of the ingredient. The contents of the prawn head, almost buttery in their own right, compound the oceanic qualities of this dish.
An interesting variation of a seafood risotto was the single misstep in our entire tasting. The overall flavor profile bore strong tastes, but the execution of the risotto was a bit underwhelming and the scallops retained a few pockets of unpleasant grit. This would be our least favorite course of the evening, and the only one with any major flaws.
In the next course the oiliness of sardine is balanced smartly with the acidic bite of red wine braised artichokes. A mild heat and refreshing herb tone is felt throughout the plate from the pistou. Texture variation is also present in the crispy preparation of the sardine.
The use of mirin in the sauce for the next course is both delicious and thoughtful, its sweetness helping to reign in the richness throughout the rest of the plate. Oily, fatty, sumptuous unagi and quail egg blend together perfectly. The weight of the plate’s richness is curbed slightly by buckwheat and the light smokiness of the butter.
A clean, focused presentation of fish cheek provides not only pleasing subtle flavor, but also a welcomed respite within the richer arc of the meal. The sweet and mild oiliness of the fish cheeks are left predominately unadulterated, save for the sweetness of peas and the subtle earthiness of sliced truffle. The concentration of flavor from the fumet further solidifies the flavor of the fish in the bowl.
Although certainly a seafood-focused chef, Michael Cimarusti makes room in his tasting menu for one course of beef, and a tremendously impressive one at that. A small cut of true Japanese A5 grade Wagyu beef stands as the peak of buttery, fatty steak perfection. The beef is quite literally “melt-in-your-mouth”, with all the luxuriousness of the fat along with a deep beefy flavor. Mushrooms, carrots, and turnips cooked in the Wagyu beef fat share the same buttery quality, while balancing the plate with sweetness. The chicken consommé further magnifies the savoriness of the entire plate.
A varied selection of high quality cheeses paired with sweet jams, candied walnuts, and tart figs serves as a bridge from our last savory course into dessert. The selection within Providence’s cheese cart is impressive, with a few rare and unique options available such as the Blu di Buffalo, a blue cheese crafted from the milk of the water buffalo.
A flawlessly formed quenelle of tangerine sorbet conveys an intense citrus refreshment to the palate. The tartness and tang of the accompanying ingredients accentuate the sorbet nicely, further cleansing the palate of courses past and setting the stage for dessert.
Described to us as the Providence interpretation of a Mont Blanc, this all-white dessert is curious both in taste and presentation. The vanilla mousse threatens to be overly sweet, but becomes balanced as you discover the almond financier and chestnut jam within. Further balancing the sweetness of the mousse is the crème fraîche, which adds its own level of complexity and tang.
The final course of our grand journey through Chef Ciramusti’s tasting is a rich, decadent bowl of caramelia mousse. Bordering on being overly sweet, the richness of the mousse is evened out to some degree by the lightness of the milk ice cream. Cocoa nib introduces a bitter element to the mix, which helps to alleviate some of the richness in the mousse.
Throughout the entire meal I could sense the same deep understanding of seafood and all its wonderful flavors in Chef Cimarusti’s food that I had felt at Le Bernardin. However, Chef Cimarusti displays a profound push into modernism and a controlled daring in his interpretation of the sea and its bounty. Chef Cimarusti’s willingness to enter the fray with varying techniques and flavors rewarded us with not only a multitude of strong courses, but several stellar ones. The saba and Wagyu beef courses were remarkably delicious and memorable, undeniably the two best uses of the respective proteins I have yet to taste.
I had remarked last week that I had hoped to see more creativity and risk in Le Bernardin’s menu. As it turns out the meal I had experienced here at Providence is, in all honesty, the meal I wish I had had at Le Bernardin. The progression of courses, techniques, and flavor combinations experienced at Providence made for the more enjoyable experience between the two seafood-centric menus. Although the Michelin Guide no longer rates establishments in Los Angeles, it is without a doubt in my mind that Providence would be deserving of the same 3-star rating as Le Bernardin.
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
** 2 Michelin Stars (2009 Michelin Guide)
Tagged with: california • chef michael cimarusti • los angeles • providence