My dinner at Providence almost never happened. I was on my way to Los Angeles for the weekend and I had three restaurants in mind for dinner, none of which happened to be named Providence. In fact in the first instance I turned down having dinner at the restaurant even though my big shot movie producer friend Carol Fenalon suggested that's where we have dinner. "They serve my favorite tasting menu in L.A. these days" she said. Despite the endorsement from a source I trusted I brushed her off. "I haven't heard good things" I told her. I'd rather we go to Il Grano and try their crudo. But you know how these things go. The Saturday before I was going to be in town my friend Liz Haskell had dinner at the restaurant and and she described her meal as "excellent". That did it. Two excellents from trustworthy sources and I willingly abandoned an evening revolving around raw fish prepared in the Italian style for cooked fish prepared in the haute cuisine tradition.
Providence is located in the building that used to house Joachim Splichel's Patina before they relocated to the Disney Center in downtown Los Angeles (which as an aside is a magnificent structure and worth a special trip downtown just to take a tour of the building.) I had visited Patina about a dozen years ago so it was deja vu all over again when I walked into Providence. Carol was already there pouring over the menu. But I quickly took control of the situation and asked to be introduced to Donato, who as promised by Liz turned out to be Maitre 'd extraordinaire. After chatting a bit he uttered the magic words, "the kitchen would like to cook for you this evening". Why yes and Carol please put that menu away. Don't you know that menus are for tourists.
The best way to describe the way the meal started was tentative and slow. First came a lovely and delicate serving of kampachi belly with matsutake mushrooms and yuzu. Good but a bit on the simple side. Then a mille feuille of scallop and summer truffle. Conceptually a good dish but I wasn't crazy about the summer truffle which I thought had a slight medicinal quality to it. But I made a note to check back with the restaurant in black truffle season to try this dish again. Then a spot prawn tartar that was a bit mushy for my taste. At this point I was beginining to form an impression of the restaurant that didn't exaactly jibe with what Liz and Carol had told me. But as these things go, that's when the meal took off like a rocket shot into space. A "ravioli" of salted and roasted yellow beets surrounding a tarragon inflected Maine lobster salad topped with a dab of osetra caviar was superb. A great dish and something the restaurant should keep as a permanent fixture in their tasting menu rotation.
The meal really kicked into a different gear at this point. Easily a good three or four notches from where we started. An egg shell filled with Santa Barbara sea urchin, egg sabayon and topped with julliened summer truffle was superb. Most chefs would incorporate the sea urchin into the sabayon until it was smooth. But Providence chef Michael Ciramusti takes a different approach by adding chucks of sea urchin to the sabayon which results in the contrast of a smooth and creamy sabayon, lightly tinged with the flavor of sea urchin, and the densely flavored and textured, although also smooth and creamy, sea urchin. It isn't a perfect dish as it needs a bit of tweaking to further balance the flavors (though not the textures). But it is truly a tour de force of how to intensify the flavor of sea urchin while coating it in a luxurious texture. Then Ayu, or needlefish as it is known in the U.S., served atop haricots vert with pistachio and aged balsamic vinegar. Chef Cimarusti told us that Ayu is a vegetarian fish that feeds mostly on algae and when they clean the fish the entire kitchen smells of cucumbers. Both unique as well as exceptionally delicious with an unusual herbal flavor to the fish. It was as if the fish had a certain terroir to it Then wild Chaham cod with blood Sausage, eggless saffron Aioli, chirozo powder and chorizo espuma. It's amazing how a little chorizo powder makes a dish so modern. That made three excellent dishes in a row.
Then a tronchet de turbot that was presented as if it was a veal chop ready to be carved tableside. I don't know about you but I'm a sucker for tableside presentations. In fact I would be happy if the entire meal was cooked tableside. It would be mesmerizing. Donato sliced the turbot into three portions and served it with onion, pee-wee potatoes, trompettes, chanterelles, bacon and truffle and it tasted as wonderful as it sounds. Finally we ended with meat. Wagyu New York strip with cauliflower mousseline, bone marrow and shallot confit. A good dish but the beef was just moderately flavorful as well as being a hair tough for Wagyu.
Even the desserts were good. A Concord grape sorbet with peanut butter powder was refreshing but a dish of McGrath Farms strawberries with ras-el-hanout ice cream and lemon curd was superb. And in addition to the excellent food we drank well having nice bottles of 19995 Raveneau Chablis Montee de Tonerre and 1990 Joseph Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny Amoreuses which I had brought with me from New York. The Raveneau is drinking superbly these days and the Drouhin was very good but could use 3-4 more years to be fully mature.
Overall it was an excellent meal and Chef Michael Ciramusti really knows his fish whish is something not so easy to come by in the United States. In fact even on a worldwide basis, I can count the number of restaurants that know how to handle fish well on one hand. My instinct is that Providence is on an upward curve in terms of improving and I expect that future meals will only get better. B+/A-
PS - The evening ended on an amusing note. After the savory course Chef Ciramusti came by to visit our table. Turns out he is a long time reader of this blog. In fact before I had the chance to make a proper introduction he turned to her and said "you must be Mrs. P" which had the combined effect of both amusing and annoying her (Mrs. P has a love/hate relationship with my using her as a foil in my writing). But funniest of all was Carol's reaction to all of this as she was sitting there with her jaw hanging open. When the chef left our table, Carol said, "I have been to this restaurant at least a dozen times, spent countless dollars here on various business dinners and birthday parties, and not once did the kitchen offer to cook for me." Well it just goes to show you. Some people are big shots on movie sets and some in dining rooms. But I am certain in the future if she asks them to, the kitchen at Providence will be happy to cook for Carol and her posse. But does that mean I can walk into Warner's and have them green light my next film? I think not but I guess that's how life goes and it all works out in the end of the day.