Sunday, October 10, 2010

Providence - Los Angeles

This post is about Providence, one of only a few L.A. restaurants to be awarded two Michelin stars. Its chef and proprietor, Michael Cimarusti, appeared on Top Chef Masters, and has been referred to as the West Coast's answer to Eric Ripert, and his restaurant, Le Bernadin.

The post that you are about to read, however, will be the least informative on this acclaimed five-year-old restaurant as you'll ever come across. This, I guarantee.

If you clicked on this post from your Google Reader thinking "Oh, he finally went to Providence!", chances are you already know more about it than I do. If you've read any of the billion other food blog odes, the 600 plus Yelp reviews, or the Jonathan Gold write-up of 2005, this post will sound like an addendum, a post-script, a foot-note.

You already know that Cimarusti is known for seafood. You already know that among the many wonderful things to eat, there is the three-tiered pricing on its tasting menu, and that it starts with a cocktail encased in a globular film accomplished through spherification. You might also already know that its 5-course option, previously $85, was recently brought down to $65--a bargain for cooking of this caliber.

If you know this, like I said, you knew more than I did. Because when my friends and I arrived at Providence--an imposing building looking not unlike a pirate ship had moored itself in front of a residential part of Melrose--we were anticipating to pay $85.

Upon discovering it was now only $65, we didn't do the logical thing and take them up on the discounted price. No, we went for the more expensive 9-course option. We said to each other, "Well, since we budgeted for $85, and we drove all this way, why not $110?"

Our atypical behavior can be explained: we didn't have a bite all day save for a 79 cent corn dog eaten earlier. Our growling and empty stomachs were making all the decisions. Famished and nearly delirious, we deluded ourselves into thinking we could do 9-courses. That Adam Richman ain't got nothing on us, we thought.

But as we found out: 9-courses is a LOT of food. Too much food.

This, my friends, is why I stopped taking notes, why this post will be uninformative, why I spent the sixth course worrying about whether I would be able to force the seventh, the eighth, and God forbid, the ninth course down my gullet without throwing up in front of all the nicely dressed people on dates and the impeccable service staff who doted on us.

Our evening of relentless eating began with freshly baked hot rolls of our choosing, eaten with butter. At this point, I was ravenous, so I chose the bacon brioche and slathered it in that butter despite the fact it already contained bacon. Then came four amuse bouches that, by the way, did not count against the 9 courses.

Yes, there were four amuse bouches; a frozen mojito as a slushy cube on a spoon; the aforementioned cocktail spherification that burst in our mouths like a grapefruit juice-filled water balloon; a cheesy puff pastry with the soul of a Cheez-It; and finally, a shot glass filled with fish eggs, flecks of gold, and bits of something that reminded me of Rice Krispies.

My friends, who heard the description (I was in the restroom at the time) said it also had cured trout. It was halfway down my gullet before I could confirm.

When the first course of kanpachi with creme fraiche, crispy rice crackers and flowering cilantro came, we ooh-and-ahh'd the firmness of the flesh, its chewy, agar-like density slipping playfully between our teeth. Soon this too was gone.

Then came uni served warm, mixed with raw quail egg inside a chicken's egg shell. There was again a crispy topping, this time crumbled brioche, or something like that (I get hazy on ingredients around here). But I do remember that the yolk and the ultra-rich uni became a cholesterol double threat and tasted like it. I also noted that it was the first time I've eaten sea urchin at a temperature other than frigid (save for when it is dissolved into uni spaghetti).

The third course was the first real protein: a seared scallop with a buttery foam, boiled napa cabbage laid down like carpet, and braised buckwheat that ate like pearl pasta infused with boullion (but much better than that). And of course, the scallop couldn't have been more precisely cooked.

Cured halibut with cranberry beans and a tomatoey froth arrived as the fourth course. This dish, as my friends and I agreed, had very little to contrast the fish against the rest of the components. It quickly became the least favorite of the night, especially when the salmon came around as the fifth course.

With its skin rendered to a salty crisp, its flesh cooked just to warm, the salmon was already a textbook example of how salmon should be prepared; but there was also the matsutake mushrooms, both raw and sauteed. And of course, all of it was united by a puddle of sauce with bright, acidic notes the last dish lacked.

This was the point where we started to feel the weight of our decision. After close to two hours of eating, the food we had consumed began to settle. Compounding this, the bread basket had made its second visit and none of us said no.

My friend's face seemed to whiten at the sight of the two sous-vide medallions of veal tenderloin, thick steaks easily worth a third of a pound. It wasn't that he didn't love it (he did), it was the realization that this obscenely tender, thoroughly pristine, and absent-of-sinew cut of meat was just course number six. There was still three more to go.

We sighed with relief when our server came out pushing a cheese cart to our table signaling that from now on, starting with this seventh course, it would be dessert. But after he cut four generous wedges off of different wheels, the man paused for a moment and said "Normally, it's only four cheese to a tasting plate, but I'm going to give you five".

I shot a worried look across the table, but it was too late. As the last and fifth wedge, he had picked out a runny specimen that he was particularly proud of, a naturally coagulated cow's milk cheese that owed its existence to nothing but an open window. He said it would taste of grass and the barnyard, and he was right. He continued by suggesting that we eat the pungent, wasabi-strength blue cheese with apples and the candied walnut, and on this, he was also right.

Finally, we came to the eighth course, and wasn't surprised that it was called a pre-dessert. No really. A pre-dessert: A sweet amuse of melon soup, akin to a slushie, served in a shot glass with a dollop of ice cream meant to ease our palates into the real dessert course.

We barely managed to crawl across the finish line, scraping up the last of our compressed banana, bread pudding, and a barley ice cream dessert, when what should appear but the petit fours. The salted caramels went straight into our pockets while the macarons and the chocolate marshmallows we crammed into our unwilling mouths. They were good, but at that point we couldn't be bothered about how it tasted.

After we left, we asked each other what we thought of the meal, and it was unanimous: though we agreed that Providence was everything we expected to be, and that it was worth every penny of our $110, five courses would've been plenty. It was after the fifth course that our enjoyment turned into dread. It was also at that moment when we realized our eyes are bigger than our stomachs. And that Adam Richman? Freak of nature.

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3623
(323) 460-4170

THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
The Pint House - Fullerton

19 Comments:

At 5:43 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Talk about decadent and I'm here sitting and having my oatmeal. This sucks...

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger mpken said...

Oh yeah and boo hoo. We had a similar feeling of dread during a tasting at Spago. All good, but way too much.

 
At 10:51 AM, Blogger digkv said...

Your posts are never footnotes and it's so great that you finally tried providence, i'm seething with jealousy. It's great when you try more fine-dining type places, sure I'll always look to you as more of a mom-and-pop seeking blogger but it's awesome that you got to try such a highly michelen rated restaurant. I've only tried a few one-star places where one was great (Bouchon-yountville) and the other was not (Daniel Boulud Brasserie-Vegas). I wonder if any OC restaurants would get a star if michelen ever decided to come, I can see Marche getting at least 1.

 
At 11:07 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

Wow. Fancy Smanshy!

Your review was great and INFORMATIVE despite what you say. Your writing has come a long way. I so appreciate that you continue on with this blog and the food focused attitude you take when writing on this blog and your other pieces. Even OC Weekly! I guess I really appreciate that you are a really nice guy with a passion for food.

 
At 2:17 PM, Blogger mpken said...

secondly, that is one spectacular looking cheese service. i feel that the cheese course is so under appreciated since it usually arrives when the diner is already full.

Great post nonetheless.

 
At 2:53 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

You had me at "uni".

I couldn't eat even a small fraction of that food, though. I felt full just reading about it.

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger TWO FOODIES – ONE JOURNEY said...

We go quite regular to Providence for the chefs tasting menu (13-16 course) and never felt that there is too much food, especially compared to some other tasting menus. The most important thing for a relaxed and enjoyable tasting menu is take your time and don't rush. A good tasting menu should last 4-5 hours and that will also help you to enjoy every course.

 
At 4:53 PM, Blogger craig said...

I glad you enjoyed it. Next time try Bazaar and skip the corndog earlier in day so you can go for the 15 courses I had there :-)

 
At 9:32 PM, Blogger ila said...

jeebus. that's the problem with full on menus, you're too stuffed to appreciate what happened towards the end.

 
At 9:58 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

WOW, that is an amazing meal! Your posts are always informative and amazing. I would have stopped at five, but that's not a bad deal for 9 courses either. Pelican Hill only gave three courses and that alone was 85 dollars.

 
At 11:39 PM, Blogger Chubbypanda said...

I'm about to eat my cat, you've got me so hungry.

 
At 8:43 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Bill,

Oatmeal sounds good right about now (I'm writing this three days after the meal). It's morning, and I'm hungry again!

mpken,

Yes, you are right about the cheese course. Providence does a marvelous cheese course that could be a meal onto itself. I didn't show it, but those five cheese was just a tip of the cheese iceberg. There was a whole cart with a dozen or more choices we could've tried!

digkv,

Thanks for reading, as always. I would also nominate Marche Moderne to Michelin, if they're taking nominations.

DD,

Thanks!

Juliet,

They had us at uni too!

Two foodies,

I don't think I'm cut out for 13-16 courses! At least not without proper training. Our total elapsed time for dinner was three hours and we thought we went at very slow, leisurely pace. My theory is that the food had time to travel down to the stomach and send signals to the brain that it's full. Maybe 13-16 courses spread out over 5 hours would allow the food to move further along and clear out some space? For sure, I'll skip the corndog breakfast should I ever attempt it.

craig,

Yes! Skip the corndog! Our last meal at Bazaar was a la carte. That was manageable. I'll need to start an interest bearing account to save my Bazaar money now, and perhaps do some stomach exercises or something to stretch it out in the meantime!

ila,

And that was such fine cheese! Also, the caramels, WOW! We discovered a day afterwards they are fabulous. Glad we saved them when we could appreciate it. They're sea-salt crusted: a great balance of the sweet and the salty!

EatTravelEat,

Really? Pelican hill was $85 for only three?! That makes me feel even better about this meal!

CP,

Don't eat your cat. You'll be too full to attempt this meal! ;)

 
At 10:02 PM, Anonymous Kelly von Hemert said...

You had me at Bacon Brioche.

 
At 12:54 PM, Anonymous logonhog said...

Had a similar experience with Guy Savoy's 9-course tasting menu in Las Vegas. Would have been fine after the 5th course, but the gourmand in me had to finish so as not to miss out on anything! :(=)

 
At 9:01 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kelly,

And so was I, as soon as the bread guy said "bacon"!

logonhog,

I'd be lying if I said this would be the last time I attempt a 9-course meal. Especially at Guy Savoy, should I ever end up there!

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Ravel said...

...first of all, I hate you.

Here I am, all proud and puffed up, smugly pleased that after stalking your blog all my college years and into my barely noticeable dent of a career life, I'd finally managed to start up my own food blog www.willtravelforboba.blogspot.com to let my brain (and my tongue) remember all those oh-so-delectable meals. Aha, elmomonster! You, with your gorgeous saliva-inducing photos and your succinct eloquence, I shall hop on over to your blog and have my 15-characters worth of F-list glory!

Instead you give me the Providence, which I had pleasantly been pretending it didn't exist. (My wallet required it continue not to exist). Now after reading, instead of thinking of some humble beg of blog reviewing, I only have this to say. I hate you.

Because now I have to let everyone know why their christmas presents are going to be just a tad smaller this year. Helllooooo tasting menu~ <3

 
At 2:31 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Ravel,

You may hate me (;-P), but I love your comment. Seriously had me smiling when I needed it! Thanks for sticking with me all these years and here's to your crack at Providence! I will be reading!

 
At 4:27 PM, Anonymous Marian the Foodie said...

Excellent post! Usually it takes me about 3-5 hours to go through a tasting menu. I have yet to go to Providence but am planning to soon.

The Bazaar is a must! I love that restaurant! One of my top faves =)

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Marian,

I'm curious about Ssam at the Bazaar now. I think I still like Providence just slightly better...just wish I had the stomach space.

 

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