Providence restaurant on Melrose Avenue, headed by Executive Chef Michael Cimarusti, needs little introduction.  Cimarusti opened this restaurant after mastering the art of seafood cuisine at the Water Grill in downtown LA.  With 2 Michelin stars under its belt and a good fight by Chef Cimarusti on Top Chef Masters, this restaurant is already a legend in the US.  Specializing in seafood and consistently ranked one of the best restaurants in Los Angeles for food and service, my recent dinner experience here at Providence did not disappoint.  The white porcelain barnacles that decorate the walls of the dimly lit dining room climb all the way up to the high ceilings, giving diners the illusion of being small fish submerged in the depths of the Pacific Ocean.

As I sipped on my excellent Dorian Gray cocktail with campari and rosemary, I looked around the dining room and immediately noticed how the heirarchy and craft of each staff was reflected in their uniform. The last time I saw this type of formal distinction was at Le Meurice in Paris.  I don’t know what it is, but dining in a restaurant where there is such formality and tradition makes me feel safe and secure.  It gives me the comfort of knowing that everything will be perfect and that I am in good hands.

Looking through their market menu, I was ecstatic to find my cousin’s wine.  It’s quite rare to find it in wine stores in LA let alone restaurants.  Even though I was drinking the same bottle for free just a few months ago when I visited my cousin in Burgundy, I didn’t hesitate to dish out the big bucks to order this wine for my tasting menu dinner.  The Simon Bize Bourgogne Blanc 2007 ‘Les Perrières’ was an excellent pairing with our special seafood dinner.

The amuse bouche was a playful tribute to 3 classic cocktails in molecular gastronomy style.  The greyhound, one of my all time favorite cocktails, was a vodka and pink grapefruit sphere with a soft gelatinous membrane that burst splendidly inside my mouth.  The gin and tonic jelly, with a fresh twist of lime juice, was refreshing and amazing.  With a crunchy sugar layer on top and a soft gelatinous texture inside, this made for a really fun amuse.  The mojito sphere was my favorite, having a silky and smooth consistency.  Que rico!

Our next plate had a lot going on.  The house cured Tasmanian sea trout with shimeji mushrooms, ginger crème fraîche and crispy rice crackers was an absolutely divine play of wonderful textures and flavors, and one of my favorite dishes.  The sea trout was smoked to perfection and and the crème fraîche had the perfect amount of subtle ginger zing to bring out the fatty and sweet flavors of the fish.  The hint of toasted rice aroma that infused my nasal passages when I crunched down on the rice crackers added another level of enjoyment to this bite.  The soy marshmallow cube with wasabi pea crust had a soft, almost liquidy texture that was amazing.  The mini grujere, a type of French cheese bread, was delightful.  Warm, soft, airy and succulent…being served only 1 of these tiny grujeres was the ultimate tease.  The carrot soup with crème fraîche was smooth and creamy, and had a nice subtle vadouvan kick.

The Santa Barbara sea urchin with toasted sesame seeds, avocado, rice chip, crème fraîche and caviar was insane (everything here at Providence was so good that I’m running out of adjectives already). Fresh buttery sea urchin with caviar is a combination that is almost fail proof, but Chef Cimarusti took that to a whole new level.  The avocado added more buttery texture, the crème fraîche added more creaminess, and the rice crisp imparted a light and pleasant texture to the dish.  The only complaint I had about this amazing dish was that the toasted sesame seeds overwhelmed the pure essence of the uni, and should be taken out.

Kanpachi with shaved white truffles and deep fried soba/buckwheat was excellent.  The crispy texture of the soba was fantastic with the tender cuts of fresh kanpachi sashimi, all bound together with a nice creamy viniagrette.  I was sad that the white truffles shavings were weak in aroma and flavor.  White truffles normally make my heart dance and flutter, but these were severely lacking in potency.

The other star player of the evening was the Santa Barbara spot prawn dish in salt crust and rosemary, prepared and served tableside.  As soon as they wheeled the cart into the main dining room, the wonderful aroma of prawns filled the air and everybody looked over in awe. With the speed and calmness of a Shaolin master and the precision of a neurosurgeon, our veteraned server prepared these prawns so quickly that his hands and forks look like squiggly lines in my photo.  The whole process was a demonstration of supreme craft and skill, and I had front row VIP tickets to this amazing show.  The prawns were dressed with cold pressed Arnaud olive oil and ready for eating within minutes.  The succulent sweet flesh paired with the intense flavor of the prawn eggs and innards was simply astonishing.  This was my favorite and most memorable dish of the evening- and how ironic, given that it was only prepared with salt, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.  Simple IS best when using fresh ingredients.

The next dish of eel and foie gras with bermuda onion, soba, frisée and thin white truffle slices with vinegar sauce and parsley dots was confusing.  I had an eel and foie gras dish at Bistro LQ not too long ago that left me equally puzzled.  I love eel and boy do I love foie gras.  But I feel like these 2 proteins compete against each other rather than complement each other, and I’m still finding it difficult to accept this combination.  Otherwise, the sauces and other components of this dish were flawless.

Salmon belly with matsutake mushrooms was quite sensational.  This dish showcased 3 ways to enjoy this highly prized fungus- raw thin slices, large braised chunks, and an intensely rich and flavorful sauce.  I was surprised to see matsutake prepared with salmon- matsutake is a delicate fungus that is normally paired with a lighter white fish that doesn’t dominate its presence.  Salmon has such a distinct flavor, presence and fattiness that would normally overshadow matsutake, but Cimarusti knew exactly what he was doing.  I could tell that he really understood ‘his Holiness the Matsutake’- by preparing it 3 ways, he pulled out its aroma and essence to a maximum to make it all about the matsutake.  The wonderfully tender and fresh salmon was just there to make sure that the mushroom really shined on stage.

French turbot with tomatoes, cauliflower (chunks and purée) and panisse with basil sauce was Chef Cimarusti’s final bow to the seafood portion of the tasting menu.  The fish was tender, buttery and remarkable.  Whenever I dine at a restaurant, I always get a meat dish- not only because I love a good cut of red meat, but also because I’ve never been excited with cooked fish dishes.  It’s very rare for me to be impressed and happy with cooked fish, as I often find it either overcooked or boring.  Not so here at Providence, where almost every dish was a sensation and an absolute joy.  Dining at Providence almost made me wonder why one would ever eat meat at all- okay, that’s taking it a bit too far now.  Bravo to Chef Cimarusti, who obviously loves and understands the precious creatures of the ocean.

And what’s a meal without a cheese cart?  Providence offered a really fine selection of cheeses, from my favorite stinky Epoisse to the robust Robluchon, an aromatic truffled cheese to a soft ashed goat cheese.

Apples, figs, candied walnuts and a wonderful apricot, black pepper and Riesling jam accompanied our superb cheese dish.  Sommelier Drew Langley chose 2 divine ports for us to enjoy with our cheeses that transported me to heaven.  The 1998 Graham’s vintage port Quinta dos Malvedos, was full of sultry richness and smooth texture.  What really hit the spot for me was the 30 year Taylor Fladgate Tawny Port.  Smooth and sweet like honey with a sophisticated boldness, this was one of the best ports that I’ve ever tasted.

And now it was time to enjoy pastry chef Adrian Vasquez’s sweet delights.  Melon soup with mint granité, blackberry gelée, vanilla ice cream and fresh blackberries was a cool and refreshing way to start the dessert course.  The soup tasted like sweet exquisite Japanese melon from Senbikiya, and was without a doubt the winning dessert of the evening.

The deconstructed banana cream pie with graham crackers was interesting.  Although it wasn’t my favorite dessert dish, I appreciated the playfulness of this dish.

Pineapple mousse on a pineapple sheet with horchata gelato, goat’s milk caramel dulce de leche, guava pate de fruits and a rice cracker was a sensational play of varying textures and sweetness.

We also had 2 other dessert dishes that I unfortunately forgot to photograph.  As you can imagine, I was a bit distracted with the feast.  A coffee mousse with chicory caramel ice cream and roasted hazelnuts tasted like really good tiramisu.  A chocolate peanut butter ganache with Chambly Noire ice cream and chocolate covered pretzels wasn’t so successful.  The ice cream, made with a black Belgian ale, sounded better than it tasted.

As if the tasting menu wasn’t satisfying enough, we were gifted with a lovely box of chocolates all handmade by pastry chef Vasquez.  The beautiful chocolates came in a sleek black Providence box with a magnet flap closure that I plan to use as a jewelry box after I’ve devoured all of the delicious chocolates.

Is Providence worthy of 2 Michelin stars?  Absolutely.  Fresh quality seafood executed with innovative concepts and astounding flavors, coupled with impeccable service make for a high class establishment.  In this LA environment where a ‘celebrity chef’ or reality TV hotshot seems to be opening up a new restaurant every month,  it’s comforting to know that I can get unpretentious service in this classic longstanding restaurant.  There is absolutely no attitude here- only warm hospitality and excellent food.  Come to Providence to experience true fine dining in its purest form.


5955 Melrose Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90038

(323) 460- 4170

Random trivia: Did you know that turbot, along with flounder, halibut and sole, is a type of flatfish that has both eyes on the same side of their head?  They are all born looking like normal fish, but after a few weeks one eye migrates to the other side, one side of their body turns white and the other dark, and their body flattens out.  Turbot is a ‘left-eyed’ flatfish whereas halibut, sole and flounder are ‘right-eyed’.


Michael Mina XIV

Have you driven by the Sunset strip recently and wondered what that huge neatly trimmed XIV plant is for?  It’s Michelin star and James Beard award-winning chef Michael Mina‘s newest restaurant, aptly named for his 14th restaurant.  And yes, it’s another Philippe Starck design collaboration, beautifully done like an old french chateau.  Once you step inside, you are transported to a different world with dramatic chandeliers, regal wooden bookcases, perfectly upholstered leather seats, candelabras and fireplaces.


A romantic fireplace, dining by candlelight, and low light, so low in fact that it was impossible to take photos of the meal.


Juxtaposed against this old world style interior is the modern open kitchen behind sharp stainless steel racks.  The kitchen was buzzing with excitement under the leadership of executive chef Steven Fretz.


XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

XIV kitchen, Chef Fretz in the middle

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

Behind the scenes: the kitchen

XIV’s menu is constructed around a small plates dining concept.  There are numerous choices under appetizers, entrees, cheese and desserts, and one is free to order a la carte or from 3 types of tasting menus.  XIV offers the opportunity to sample many different flavors and aromas through the 8 plate ‘Light Meal’ menu, 11 plate ‘Something More’ menu, or the 14 plate ‘Fourteen from XIV’ menu which is ordered for the table.  In these tasting menus, you also have the choice to have the chef select the dishes, or to choose them yourself.  We of course ordered the 14 dish tasting menu and chose the following dishes which I unfortunately could not photograph:

1) Ice Cold Shellfish trio: kushi oysters with champagne foam and tarragon powder, horseradish panna cotta with sweet shrimp, king crab with dijon mustard sauce.  The fresh kushi oyster had a wonderful brine that was accentuated, not overpowered, by the tarragon and champagne flavors.

2) Spring Garlic Soup with preserved Meyer lemon, parsley and country bread.  The creamy spring garlic soup had a garlicky kick that was green, young and fresh.

3) Tataki of American Wagyu skirt steak with moroccan spiced vegetables.  The beef tataki was not a true seared rare tataki, but rather a slice of cold medium steak albeit very tender and flavorful.  The vegetables were seasoned with a very earthy strong moroccan spice that didn’t  go well with the tataki.  The meat and the vegetables were each doing their own thing, and it was not a successful pairing.

4) Heirloom beets with burrata, wild arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and new olive oil.  Golden yellow, orange and red beets perfectly cooked and simply executed with the simple good flavors of balsamic and olive oil.

5) Foie gras terrine with rhubarb mostarda, saba and flatbread.  My favorite dish of the evening, the most flavorful and rich foie gras with a delicious sweet rhubarb jelly on top.  Since these are all small plates, the foie gras terrine was very small, and it left me begging for more.  One of the best foie gras terrines I have ever had.

6) Jidori chicken with fava beans, La Ratte potatoes, pickled ramps and onion jus.  The chicken was very juicy and succulent, but the dish and the flavors seemed too plain and safe for me.  I expected more surprises and innovative creations from Michael Mina.

7) Liberty duck breast with seared foie gras, leg confit, pineapple, and star anise.  Duck and foie gras are always a fail-proof combination, and they usually go well with a sweet fruit pairing (fig, cherries).  But pineapple? I was excited to try it, but unfortunately they didn’t mesh well.

8 ) Berkshire pork loin with crispy pork belly, pea leaves and salted cashew.  Here’s the thing about using pork belly.  It has become increasingly popular among restaurants all over the world only recently, but the Japanese have been cooking and eating it for centuries.  I have been spoiled by perfectly cooked pork belly in Japanese cuisine, and have never been satisfied with its execution in other types of cuisine.  This dish also fell short, as it wasn’t cooked to melting fatty tenderness.

9) California lamb chop with merguez sausage skewer, chickpea and raita.  This was a delicious dish where all of the components of the dish blended well together.  The smokey spiced merguez sausage with the rich lamb skewers, the red pepper sauce and earthy chickpea puree, paired with the acidity and creaminess of the yogurt raita.  Beautiful.

lamb chop with merguez sausage
lamb chop with merguez sausage

10) Japanese A5 strip loin with potato shallot cake, pinot noir sauce and spinach.  The Japanese A5 is an extremely high grade beef cut, and this dish comes with an extra charge that is worth every dollar.  An incredibly tender, moist, juicy, flavorful and memorable cut of beef with beautiful marbling.  (see random trivia section below for explanation of A5)


11)Abbaye de Belloc cheese with quince, candied mustard seed and sorrel.

12) Selles-sur-Cher cheese with jackfruit, pistachio and mimosa flower.  I ordered this dishing hoping for fresh jackfruit, one of my favorite tropical fruits, but unfortunately it was candied, sweetened, and artificial.





13) Grapefruit sorbet with greek yogurt and kaffir lime meringue.  I was excited to try Pastry chef Jordan Kahn’s desserts, knowing that he has worked at the French Laundry and Per Se, but I was disappointed with both dessert plates.  The folded grapefruit sorbet was too sweet, and the lime meringue tasted artificially flavored.  The yogurt brought nothing better to the dish, and I was done after 2 bites.


14) Vanilla custard with mandarin sorbet, cream soda and nutmeg beignet.  The vanilla custard had an overwhelming fleur d’orange flavor that tasted like household cleaning solution.  The nutmeg beignet, however was warm and delicious.

IMG_454015) We ordered an extra 15th dish: Michael’s caviar parfait on a potato cake with citrus creme fraiche and smoked salmon.  We added this order after our 14 course meal, and were thankful for the decision.  It would have been a shame to end our meal with the 2 disastrous desserts.  The caviar parfait was absolutely wonderful, with all of the flavors of the salty caviar, light and creamy creme fraiche, and rich smoked salmon dancing harmoniously together in my mouth.


Another highlight of the evening was discovering my cousin’s wine in the extensive wine list.  Simon Bize et Fils, Les Fournaux, 1er cru, 2006 was fantastic.  It was a joyous moment to find this rare wine in the restaurant.

XIV had a few dishes that flopped, but the others dazzled and impressed.  Drinks at the beautiful swank marble bar, followed by dinner in the vine covered patio for a tasting menu that includes the A5 steak, foie gras terrine and caviar parfait paired with a bottle of Simon Bize will make for a special evening.

Michael Mina XIV

8117 Sunset Blvd

Los Angeles, CA 90046

Random trivia:

So what the hell is an A5 beef?  It’s based on a grading system that grades beef on marbling, color and brightness, firmness and texture, color luster, and quality of fat.  It is reviewed by slicing the animal in between the 6th and 7th rib bone.  

The Beef Marbling score (BMS) is determined by how much intramuscular fat there is. This score can range from 1-12, and a score of 8-12 would get a grade 5 rating ‘Excellent’.

The Beef Color score (BCS) is determined by the comparing the meat flesh to the ‘Color Standards’. There are seven different shades of red with No. 1 being the lightest shade, and No.7 being the darkest. The flesh would have to be comparable to No.3-No.5  to get the top grade 5 rating.

Firmness and Texture are two different measurements within the same category, and in order to get the grade 5 rating, the flesh must be very firm and also have a very fine texture.

Color Luster and Quality of Fat are also different measurements within the same category. The fat is compared to the ‘Color Standards’ fat chart. There are seven different shades of fat, No.1 being pure white, and No. 7 being somewhat pink. Luster and Quality are visually appraised by the reviewer.

So if the Fat resembles No.1-No.4 and has excellent Luster and Quality, it will receive the grade 5 rating. To determine the overall grade of the beef, all the ratings in the aforementioned categories are  plugged into a chart, and the beef can receive 1 of 15 different final scores: A5 being the absolute best and C1 being the worst. Who knew beef was so complicated?

Thai New Years

This past weekend celebrated Thai New Years or ‘Songkran’, also known as the Water Festival.  The wonderful thing about living in Los Angeles is that we can experience so many different cultural festivities like this.  The festival took place on Sunday in Thai Town, which is in Hollywood.  They blocked off a good portion of Hollywood Boulevard and lined it up with food stalls, karaoke stages, business and market booths, a beauty pageant event and a Muay Thai kickboxing ring.  There weren’t as many food stalls as the previous festivals that I’ve been to, but it was still fun to soak up the festive energy.

Thai Town

Thai Town


Although this is a religious and sacred holiday, it has become known as the festival in which people throw or spray water at each other.  The throwing of water originated as a symbol for cleansing and renewal, but it has gained a reputation of becoming the biggest water fight party because it falls on the hottest month of the year in Thailand.  Not so in LA, though it was a bright and hot day on this particular Sunday.

People will usually go to a wat (Buddhist monastery) to pay their respects to monks.  I’ve been to Songkran at the large Wat Thai temple in North Hollywood before, and it’s a vibrant and lively festival.  On Hollywood Boulevard, there’s a different type of crowd representing Thai Town:

Festival entertainment

Festival entertainment

At Wat Thai, the temple grounds are usually teeming with hundreds of monks wearing their bright saffron orange and yellow garb.  In contrast, I only saw a few monks on Hollywood Boulevard, standing out against a background of dirty asphalt, iron fences and faded buildings.


The smell of chicken, pork and beef satay roasting on the charcoal barbecue grills emanated throughout the streets. I love that dense smokey aroma of barbecued meat and fat unique to charcoal grilling.  It makes me salivate.

chicken satay on the grill

chicken satay on the grill

We shared a chicken satay stick, sausage, and grilled pork salad.  The grilled pork salad was garnished with red onions, fresh cilantro, scallions and a tangy chili sauce that was so delicious.

Street food

Street food

After watching people get their asses kicked in Muay Thai kickboxing, we worked up an appetite for more Thai food.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai

We went to a restaurant called Ruen Pair on Hollywood Boulevard that boasts comfort Thai food.  It’s a quaint little restaurant in a mini mall that is always packed with local Thai residents. The young coconut juice with fresh coconut shavings and grass jelly drink were both sweet and refreshing.

coconut and grass jelly drinks

coconut and grass jelly drinks

We got the combination egg noodle soup, stir fried morning glory and stewed pork leg.

Combo egg noodle soup

Combo egg noodle soup

The egg noodle soup had char-siu BBQ pork, duck, fish cake and fish balls.  It was pretty average; the kind you can expect to get at most Chinese restaurants.

The morning glory, sautéed with fresh garlic and soybean sauce, was absolutely heavenly.  I just love when the simplest of dishes hits the spot and makes my taste buds happy.  Morning glory, also known as on choy, is a hollow leafy vegetable that maintains a crunchy texture at the root when cooked just right.

Morning glory

Morning glory

The best dish of the day that just blew me away was the stewed pork leg, or Khao Kha Moo.  These fatty pork legs are stewed for hours so that the meat falls off the bones and the skin turns into a soft gelatinous mass of rich collagen that melts in your mouth and makes your skin glow the next day.

Stewed fatty pork leg with pickled cabbage

Stewed fatty pork leg with pickled cabbage

The sharp citrus accents and sour vinegar kick from the pickled mustard greens went extremely well with the intensity of the pork leg.  It really amazes me when I get to eat foods that are paired so perfectly like this.  The rice was infused with pork essence, and every bite of this dish was an intense mingling of wonderful flavors.  Lucky me, I got to take home the leftovers and have round 2 for lunch the next day.  Stewed pork leg from Ruen Pair, are you the love of my life?  Even better news is that Ruen Pair is open until 4 am.  It’s the perfect digs for those late night post-clubbing cravings. 

Ruen Pair

5257 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
(323) 466-0153

Random trivia: Did you know that the meat from the left leg of a pig is supposed to be more tender than the right?  Most pigs are right-leg dominant and scratch themselves with their right leg, so the right leg meat is more muscular and tough.  That is, unless it’s a left legged southpaw pig…

Little Next Door


One of my favorite little cafes in LA is the Little Next Door which opened a few years ago.  I used to frequent this place when it first opened, when I was completely enamored with the cute Parisian/Moroccan decor, handsome friendly French waiters and delicious sandwiches and wines.  After a year’s absence, I went to have lunch with some friends, and it reminded of why I fell in love with this place to begin with.  The decor is still cute, with the striking cobalt blue walls, quaint front patio, and high ceilings; the wait staff are all wearing white long sleeved shirts with blue horizontal stripes, and the majority speak French- Sacre Bleu!! Am I in a Paris?  Oh, and did I mention that the waiters are cute, friendly and attentive?  Yeah, and the food is still great.

Little Next Door

Little Next Door

They have sandwiches, soups, salads, crepes, quiches, entrees (pasta dishes, steaks, grilled chicken, lamb shank), homemade pates and terrines, cheeses, wines, coffees/teas and desserts.  Anything to please your taste buds.  It’s very relaxing to sit on the patio while sipping cafe au lait and doing some people watching.


We opted for soups, deli salads and sandwiches since it was lunchtime.  I got the ‘Little Next Deal’, which includes a soup, half sandwich, 1 deli salad, and a macaroon for dessert.

French onion soup and chicken lentil soup

French onion soup and chicken lentil soup

The french onion soup was very traditional, packed with caramelized onions, soaked baguettes in veal/beef stock, and a heaping mound of gruyere.  I got the chicken and lentil soup, which to my surprise was packed with large tender chunks of savory vegetables.  I was expecting a somewhat bland and simple brown lentil soup with maybe some bits and pieces of chicken, but this was a very hearty and satisfying soup that made me want to cry out for my maman.

Sandwiches and salads

Sandwiches and salads

I got the smoked salmon sandwich, with tzatziki and arugula on a brioche bun, with a side of triple beet salad.  It was wonderful.  My friend got the smoked chicken sandwich, likewise on a brioche bun, with a side of celery root salad.  Very simple flavors, but delicate and delicious.



For dessert, pistachio and lavender macaroons.  They also had dulce de leche, rose and chocolate.

And what’s more, you can enjoy this brief escape to the streetcorners of Paris with the perks of LA food culture- I got my cafe au lait with soy milk.  What’s not to love about this place?  A tout a l’heure!

Random debate: So are macaroons cakes or biscuits?  Well, they are considered to be more like biscuits, since they don’t rise when baked, like cakes do.