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’.