Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Providence - Los Angeles, CA
For those of you who don't know me in real life, my exasperated companions can tell you that I sometimes fall privy to a gripping obsession of cities. It's quite rational, really: I like new experiences, and exploring / living in new places is what I consider to be one of the greatest joys of life. Well, here is the seemingly irrational part: I have recently have become obsessed with Los Angeles - in many regards, the antithesis of NY. You drive everywhere, the traffic is merciless, and everyone and their mothers are trying to "make it"; but, the weather is beautiful, the scene is a lot of fun, and sometimes getting away from the grind is a treat in and of itself. Wash.

And since I'm in my phase, I will take a small detour from my Spain recaps. I spent a weekend in LA about a month ago for work, and was excited to try Providence, a two-star seafood focused restaurant headed by Michael Cimarusti of Top Chef Masters fame. B and I secured a Saturday night reservation and though we arrived much later around 10 (sorry B, my bad), the staff was super accommodating about my request for a tasting menu (I think tasting menu last call is around 9). I opted for the 5-course tasting menu (the only one time allowed for) and added an extra course for good measure.

From left: gin and tonic gelee, mojito, and cardamom carrot soup

Providence likes to get the party started with some form-altered aperitifs. Everything tasted true to its alcoholic forebearer; and as an added bonus, the mojito was a minty throwback to the exploding orbs a la Arzak.

Japanese kanpachi - rice cracker, crème fraiche

Similar concept to the tuna/hamachi tartare with toasted rice at Redd. The crackers turned out to be a little overpowering for the undressed kanpachi, which I preferred to eat by itself.

Santa Barbara sea urchin - served in a farm fresh egg, champagne beurre blanc, fines herbes. Added as a supplement to my 5 courses

It is difficult to discern the slow-cooked yolk, uni, Champagne butter sauce, brioche croutons, and fines herbes individually, and brought together in this melting pot of an eggshell, this was sinfully rich and buttery. While it was very good, I actually would have preferred a lighter variation with a bigger emphasis on the uni, which was overwhelmed by all the other heavy ingredients.

Hokkaido sea scallops (Japan) - chanterelles, haricot vert, applewood smoked bacon, jurançon sec

Perfectly seared and delightfully massive.

Wild striped bass - burdock, shiso, lemon

Tenderloin of veal - crushed butterball potatoes, spring onions, hazelnuts, spring garlic confit

The veal, prepared sous-vide, was really tender but not too flavorful. This made way for the real treats: springtime trappings in the middle of Winter, which, lest I forget, doesn't exist in LA.

Chocolate bread pudding with avocado puree and corn tortilla ice cream

Providence is known as much for the seafood as for its creative dessert tasting menus, and Adrian Vasquez is known to be a complete pastry whiz. Combining some unlikely flavors which actually work really well, Vasquez's techniques reminded me a lot of Sam Mason, who was still at wd-50 when I went a few years ago.

Chocolate canelé, coffee ice cream, and hazelnuts

Overall, the meal was very good. The latter half was a little underwhelming, as Cimarusti's more creative side was really allowed to shine earlier in the amuses and appetizers. Since our late arrival only allowed for a limited tasting menu, I'm excited to come back to try the chef's menu, which I think would feature some of Cimarusti's more adventurous concoctions. Service was absolutely stellar. Our servers were knowledgeable, witty, and kept it real.

An aside about the Escort Scene
Like many high end, much-talked-about establishments in LA, Providence has a vibrant escort scene. The age disparity is not the ultimate giveaway. It's the forced civility of the awkward first date encounter, with disproportionately a lot more talking (i.e. didacticism) from the paying party and mere nodding and smiling from the other. And why wouldn't you choose Providence? It's sophisticated, the food is great, and waxing poetic about the Hokkaido scallop can sound really suave. It is a similar scene at San Francisco's own RN74. M and I learned this the hard way.

$85 - 5 courses
$110 - full tasting
$160 - chef's menu

5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170

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