Providence (LA) – Serious Seafood

Despite being a large city, LA has a dearth of fine dining. There are minefields like Spago that have been known to perform to their reputations when you are a known quantity; otherwise, all bets are off. There are question marks like Sona, a restaurants whose menu piques more interest than their national reputation. And then there is Urasawa – one of the greatest restaurants in the country. If you’re in LA for the weekend, and you’ve got 2 dinners, Urasawa is usually an automatic choice. But I did things differently this time – I ventured out.

You don’t jump into the deep waters blindly; various online fora have begun talking about Providence. The Opinionated About review rated it an excellent meal. The chef, Michael Cimarusti, prides himself on pristine, wild seafood. Michel Bras’s Essential Cuisine is one of his favorite cookbooks (btw, if you’ve got a copy for $200 or less, I’ll take it.) These tidbits hardly add up to the stereotypical LA chef. I prepared myself for a good meal but I didn’t expect a great meal.

If it performs at this level on my second visit, I will happily add it to my list of Favorite Restaurants.

The maitre’d offered to let the chef cook – that’s always an easy answer – yes! Lights were too dim for the camera but the plates below were nicely presented.

1. Littleneck Clam, Lemon Gelee w/ Lime Foam

Perfectly acidic, a little more citrus than sea but the salty clam taste was absolutely there. A nice beginning. Very Good.

2. Big-eye Tuna, Black Truffle, & Tomato Compote w/ Parsnip Chip

Very good (not great) tuna where the tuna and compote blended (in both taste & texture) while the black truffle provided counterpoint in both dimensions. Very Good.

3. Octopus w/ Soy, Octopus, & Lemon Consumme

This could have been a Manresa or Urasawa dish – tender “not cooked, not raw” octopus with a very delicate consomme poured table-side. The consomme was quite complex – the soy was the primary flavor with subtle hints of lemon. Excellent.

4. Diver Scallop w/ Pickled Jus & Plum Reduction

The scallop was of high quality – exceedingly tender but it was the plum reduction that made the dish. The plum flavor, reduced but not overpowering, carried the sweetness of the scallop through a fairly long finish. Very Good.

5. Spot Prawns cooked in Rosemary Salt mound

These were presented table-side ala L’Arpege – a giant salt mound w/ spot prawns buried inside. The prawns were dug out, cut in half, and served w/ their roe and brains. These were sweet Santa Barbara spot prawns perfectly cooked with slight rosemary tones every once in awhile. The roe (and brains and even some of its exoskeleton) were all very good. Very Good.

6. Dungeness Crab Poached in Wine/Butter/Ginger

Small sweet piece of crab with a surprisingly crisp jus. Butter was the main ingredient but the ginger and white wine gave it a crispness that went perfectly with the sweetness of the crab. Very Good.

7. Tarragon Butter poached Lobster “Ravioli” w/ Beet Ravioli & American Caviar

Just a decadent butter poached lobster with a pronounced tarragon finish. Very Good.

8. Pork Belly w/ Salsify & Lemongrass Foam

The lemongrass foam came on very strong and immediately cut the fattiness of the pork. Although I would have loved more fish courses, the foam tricked the mind into thinking this was a lighter dish. Very Good.

9. John Dory w/ Carrot & Vandoven sauce

The fish was slightly overcooked (a nitpick considering the previous successes) but the carrot and vandoven go very well together. It was a slightly sweet blend with a subtle spice finish. Good (Very Good if fish correct.)

10. King Salmon Belly w/ Fried Salmon Skin & Rhubard Reduction

Silky fish with a quite crisp (and delicious) skin – I couldn’t ask for a better piece of cooked salmon. Excellent.

11. Colorado Spring Lamb w/ Last Black Truffles, Spinach, & Applewood Bacon

A good tasting lamb, but nothing extraordinary. There were copious amounts of truffle but they were flat tasting – we were told this was the last of their truffles. Good.

12. White Chocolate Lollipop filled w/ Blood Orange & Cardoman

A potent blend of orange and spice with surprisingly little sweetness. Good.

13. Raspberry Stuffed w/ Raspberry Puree, Balsamic Marshmellow, & Graham Cracker Ice Cream

A weird version of Smores? Nonetheless, everything was tasty – again, nothing overbearingly sweet. Good.

14. Pineapple Foam, Chocolate Chipolte, & Corn Tortilla Streudel w/ Avocado

A great finish to the proper dishes – the pineapple and avocado tempered the earthy, spicy chocolate in their respective ways. Good.

Watch out Urasawa – I might have a favorite new LA restaurant. I expected this meal to satisfy but I didn’t imagine it would triumph. It would easily make my Top 10 America right now. I only hope it can sustain that rating w/ repeat visits (there will be more after this meal.)

Yes, this particular meal was that good. When you read the descriptions, it sounds like the dishes might be pulled in every direction. But the meal reminded me of the simplicity of Manresa many times – more ingredients, yes, but the flavors generally blended together effortlessly and often induced small bits of sublimity. With Le Bernardin’s Eric Ripert and Manresa’s David Kinch (and Urasawa), I can’t imagine anyone else in America who cooks fish this well.

And who says I don’t enjoy the meals I eat? :) If you know of other great finds in LA, please list them in the comments; please include links to reviews whenever possible.

- chuck

Other Reviews:

  • Doug

    Jeez Chuck – that looks to be a week’s worth of food. Judging by OAD’s post the portion’s are very small.

  • H.Alexander Talbot

    Chuck, the book you linked to is usually available at Kitchen Arts and Letters

    Bras’s first book is a treat to find if you can.

  • H.Alexander Talbot

    the first book is La Livre de Michel Bras

  • sam grimes

    The fiirst book is a real joy and difficult to find even in France. As is the first O. Roellinger book.

  • H.C.

    Amazing! Providence definitely goes into my favorite “special occasion” dining too… haven’t hit Urasawa yet, but can’t wait to do the comparison ;)

    (Moderator edit: here’s a link to HC’s review of Providnce w/ pictures: )

  • stratis

    i have a bras book by the way so if you want it for 200$ i will sell it to you,,,,
    none of the reciepes works though….
    surprise surprise….

  • Jon

    You should go to the holy trinity of Red Medicine, Animal, and Son of a Gun, plus many others. Los Angeles has some really great, casual food to offer and I think you should give it some more chances! 

  • ChuckEats

    thanks Jon – this review was written 4 years ago :-)  animal is not my kind of place, son of a gun maybe, and red medicine is very good.