Providence (LA) – Science and the Sea

Providence walks a fine, but assured, line between molecular gastronomy techniques and simple, tasteful preparations. Dishes range from a Pierre Gagnaire-ish trout belly with many textures to simply grilled prawns with flowers. The meal itself dashes in and out, from one form to the next, in search of the best preparation for the ingredient at hand. Ingredient quality matters and it is always allowed to shine through.

Rather than leave LA at 2pm to avoid the traffic; I thought why not avoid the traffic by catching a good meal first. It sounded crazy, driving back to SF during the middle of the night, but my friend Oren turned me on to an incredible route for the trip home. Instead of racing up I5 on a literal midnight run, I stayed outside of Ventura, and made the exciting trek home the next day. The Porsche was as happy as I was with this meal.

It’s hard to find a bad review of Providence. Does its city’s lack of serious restaraunts make it shine? Or is it really that good? I’ve had one excellent meal and one decent meal. No Choice at All recently wrote a glowing review of a meal they ate around the same time as mine. The Infinite Fress, one of my favorite new blogs, wrote a glowing review last year. LA Amuse Bouche, LA & OC Foodventures, and Delicious Weekends all have good things to say. And Opinionated About Dining and I shared a meal at Le Bernardin after our first Providence meals; we both agreed that Providence was the new standard-bearer for seafood-focused restaurants.

Below is the chef’s tasting menu for the day. Chef Michael Cimarusti knew I was eating on this night but the menus is always offered in addition to the normal tasting menu. Pictures are provided for dishes served while the lighting was good.

Greyhound & Mojito – These are the El Bulli olive-inspired spoons that begin each meal. They are nice explosions of flavor – strong and bright. The textures, before the pop, were slightly rubbery but that is nit-picking.


Gin & Tonic gelee – A nice continuation of the cocktail theme; again, the flavors here were bright and strong. The initial punch of these three amuses reminds one of any beginning at Ludo Lefebvre’s former Bastide.

Fennel Saffron Shooter – An excellent, saffron-forward hot shooter whose temperature played counterpoint to the previous bites. This was very big on the palette, the flavor expanded as it lingered.

House-cured Tasmanian Sea Trout, Mint, Caviar – A stunning bite with a medley of textures. The sea trout belly was pristine with a luscious oily mouth-feel. The caviar and mint broke up the fat, while the caviar and puffed rice popped with each bite. It’s on the busier side but it was a remarkable bite of balance, flavor, and texture.

Goat Cheese Hearts of Palm, Pistachio – The only mis-step of the amuses – the ratio of pickled hearts of plan to cheese was too low. More acidity was needed, in the form of the pickled hearts, to break up the cheese.

Island Creek Oyster, Chorizio Consomme, Lime, Jalapeno – A great briny, spicy, and acidic dish that absolutely hit all of the right notes. The gelatin/consomme was a great vehicle because its texture was similar to biting into the oyster. It would be interesting to see Cimarusti’s take on the Jean Georges uni with jalapeno.

Yellowfin Tuna Sashimi & Japanese Kanpachi Belly, Yuzu, Soy – The ribbon textures of the two fish played an interesting dance together – the tuna yielding more quickly than the kanpachi belly. This also had a spicy chorizio broth that gave the dish a perfect heat.

Japanese Aji (seared), Salted Cherry Blossom, Olive Oil, Cucumber – Quality fish but the whole dish felt slightly disjointed.

Santa Barbara Spot Prawn, Flowering Arugula – Gorgeous prawns, simply grilled, two with their roe! This is a case where the ingredients are simply allowed to shine. Santa Barbara prawns never fail to impress when given the opportunity.

Foie Gras Saute, Carrots, Green Onion, Black Peppercorn – Sauted foie gras is not my preference so I glossed over this preparation. The carrots are an interesting sweet foil to the richness of the foie gras, shades of L’Arpege’s carrot with chocolate.

Slow-cooked Black Grouper, Tiny Fava Beans, Verpa Bohemia – A very nice piece of fish, simply prepared; I don’t know if I’ve tasted grouper with this much flavor before.

Crispy Skinned Arctic Char, Salsify, Spring Onions, Peas, Truffles – An interesting dish but it fell victim to the same problems i had w/ Jean Georges crispy skinned arctic char – the middle was undercooked and the outside was overcooked. They weren’t egregious errors but they did detract from the overall enjoyment of what could have been.

And then there was a parade of desserts that I neglected to write down that ended with a complete tasting of chocolates from the pastry chef.

This was a very good meal that was certainly better than my last Le Bernardin meal. They are obviously different styles, Providence being more modern, but I think Providence is the best seafood-focused restaurant in the country (barring the high-end sushi places.) Despite only receiving one Michelin star, I think this meal, and restaurant, are deserving of two.

- chuck

  • http://www.soussurvivor.wordpress.com Patrick Miller

    you mentioned that the chef “knew you were eating there”, and you received a myriad of chocolate desserts… everyone is a VIP of course, but did you used to be a food writer, or someone of influence to restaurants? It seems you get ‘special treatment everywhere you go. lucky.

  • http://zwampen.blogspot.com zwampen

    What a lovely meal !
    Have to put this on my “most-eat-map”

  • Paul

    The food there looks very very very attractive and like you said it looks like it deserves more than 1 Michelin star IMO, P.S how much did the meal cost you Chuck

  • ChuckEats

    Patrick – this blog is my first, and only, foray into food writing. I’m assuming that the quality of restaurants I cover has made it popular among the ‘right’ audience for such an endeavour as mine – including introductions from friends of the blog. Sometimes I am amazed by who reads this thing. I try to disclose when (I know) the chef knows who I am because someone will b**** about it at some point if I don’t; however, my focus is on documenting the meals I eat and the things I learn – not “proper” reviewing with anonymous visits nor VIP bragging (unlike other popular food blogs today.) I will learn a lot more, and (hopefully) experience the upper limits of a chef’s skill, as a guest of the house instead of as an anonymous diner.

    Paul – the chef’s tasting menu costs $150 and I added a few glasses of wine on top of that. There’s a tasting menu option for ~ $125 and one could also just order a la carte. I’ve had the chef’s tasting menu with all three visits.

  • Ray

    Hey Chuck,

    I am assuming that the talented pastry chef Adrian Vasquez didn’t ‘wow’ you with his desserts as you did not review any of them. I do like the comparison with Le-Bernardin. However, as you mentioned, it is more modern.

  • ck

    I thoroughly enjoy reading your blog. I am a cook, first and foremost and am cooking at the 3 star michelin level and enjoy the same restaurants as you do. But I have to disagree because I felt as if my meal at Providence was very inconsistent and overrated. I wanted to love this restaurant but I couldn’t find one thing that would bring me back for a second chance. I think when the waiter tried to convince me that the yellow fin tuna was kampachi, my hope was out the door. Later did we find out that they ran out of the fish and tried to pass the tuna off. Good eating!

  • ChuckEats

    Ray – dessert is an area I need to focus harder on this blog. There are a few reasons my dessert reviews are generally lacking:

    a) In the beginning, I was never very excited about dessert – most restaurants just served you chocolate something – and it never seemed to flow with the meal. However, it seems like restaurants are trying much harder to let desserts continue the story told by the chef.
    b) I’m usually a bit tired (and/or inebriated) by that point in the meal so note-taking suffer a noticeable drop-off in quality
    c) It gets darker in the restaurant and the photos don’t turn out; as such, I just write the whole thing off and stop taking notes too
    d) Restaurants will generally give you a menu but it often lacks the dessert portion. Without a menu, I sometimes don’t feel I can represent the dishes accurately.

    It’s definitely an area I need to work on b/c I’ve had some good desserts lately. The desserts at Providence were good to very good; but I’ve long since forgotten what I ate.

    ck – As you know, you win some, and you lose some. There are many more restaurants out there to try.

  • Justin

    Hi Chuck,

    I think you should go in for a tasting of the desserts at Patina, and while you are at it get the wine pairings and cheese! I read a review from Angelenic on the desserts at Patina, and I made my reservation for this weekend. They just look so good, and the pastry chef has been getting such great reviews.

    Btw I am new to your site and I love it!

    Justin

  • chuckeats

    Justin, let us know how the dessert tasting turns out and report back (or include a link to your blog if you have one.) Thanks for the compliments.

  • Justin

    Hey Chuck,

    I ended up going into Patina just for dessert this weekend. I must say the pastry chef does an outstanding job. His stuff is extremely unique in presentation, and everything I tasted on the plate was spectacular in it’s own way. We did a dessert wine pairing too and the sommelier was fantastic (I heard he was nominated for James Beard award a year ago too). Anyways, I highly recommend you going in to order a few of this guy’s desserts.

    Hope this helps!
    Justin

  • http://www.infinitefress.blogspot.com Steve

    The next time you’re in L.A., I’d encourage you to visit La Casita Mexicana (www.casitamex.com), in Bell, which is just south of East LA, about 15 minutes from downtown. It’s a small, friendly Mexican bistro with a focus on quality ingredients from East LA growers who focus on traditional Mexican produce. It is the antithesis of the stereotypical greasy Mexican spot, and guac and margaritas are not offered. They do have delicious moles, traditional chile rellenos, flans, soups, homemade lemonades and tortillas, and so on.

    Keep up your good blogging work.

    Steve

  • cirio

    “Despite only receiving one Michelin star, I think this meal, and restaurant, are deserving of two.”

    Nice prediction. I think when u say this is the best seafood place in the country, u may have hit the nail right on the head.

    I went to Providence last summer and I’ve been going about once a month religiously now.
    His artistic style of textural pairings along with flavors is profound. Whether is the gelee with oysters you described, or uni with cauliflower mousse, dover sole and roasted marrow, or king crab leg with persimmon flan, Chef Cimarusti really caters to the underlooked detailed features of each sea item he uses.

  • http://www.theactorsdiet.com actorsdiet

    this place is within walking distance from me but i’ve never been! i blame my vegetarian husband.

Share

when not eating ...
putting in the work ...