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.