Friday, September 15, 2006

Perfection at PROVIDENCE

I arrived in Los Angeles yesterday for three nights of what I hope will be fine dining and two afternoons of opera (how convenient to get two matinees in a row so I can dine out afterwards!). One of may favorite places in LA has always been PATINA. The longtime LA fave closed its doors several years ago and recently reopened in the new Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown (where I will head tomorrow for dinner). Its vacated premises on West Melrose has been taken over by the newly praised PROVIDENCE ( where Chef MICHAEL CIMARUSTI rules having left the Water Grill downtown after a 6-year tenure there as executive chef. Since opening the awards have been flowing and, and I can easily understand why. The food is innovative and heavenly, the staff is truly the best I have seen anywhere in a long time. The dining room has been redone and is a bit on the odd side with simple putty colors and high backed leather banquettes around the room. The walls have flowing shell-like decorations scattered around almost in blotches indicating that seafood is the forte here. The votive candles on the table even have dozens of red coral colored beads on wires giving a reef-like feel to this table decor. I also loved the way the coarse salt was served in a small white cellar with a small mini-trowel to scoop it out. If I had to complain about anything, it would be the fact that Angelinos adore their a/c. When I arrived at 630pm, the room was pretty empty and quite chilly; it did warm up by my departure FIVE HOURS LATER.

I could not resist ordering the "Market Menu" billed as a nine plus course tasting menu for $95, but also available for $75 in a reduced five-course version. There was one course of Pork Belly which I asked to substitute and my excellent captain immediately said no problem. Each area had a very attentive captain and at least three or four servers plus busboys under him; it all worked so smoothly. I opted to choose my own wines and the sommelier suggested two different half bottles of white which worked perfectly with each of the first several courses and many amuses. A PASCAL JOLIVET POUILLY FUME 2004 from the Loire was a dry crisp Sauvignon Blanc with only a slight hint of oak from the fume, an E. GUIGAL 2004 CONDRIEU was a wonderfully aromatic Viognier that was smooth and creamy on the palate.

The first amuse was a KUMAMOTO OYSTER MARGARITA or Shooter what was made with tequila, sake and a creamy cold lime foam on top. The explosion of lime reminded me so much of the chemical magic we experienced at the FAT DUCK last year in the UK. Chef Cimarusti did this every now and then, but overall, the chemical influence was only periodic, yet always fun and welcome. Amuse #2 was a SANTA BARBARA SPOT PRAWN TARTARE with an accompanying Shrimp Tail Tempura. The tempura was just one small bite (unless you like to eat the actual tail) and was intensely salty, but the tartare was sublime.

Amuse #3 was a dollop of DUNGENESS CRAB with a Rice Cracker with Chili Threads. Opposite was another chemical-type play in the form of a TOFU MARSHMALLOW with Crushed Wasabi Crust and a dab of Paprika Jelly. The marshmallow was fun and innovative and worked so well with the crab as well, but I chose NOT to combine them. I noticed that other folks not on the Market Menu received only ONE amuse which was a pairing of the marshmallow with a chilled melon soup shooter with the lime foam. I adored what I had, but look forward to returning again just to enjoy the amusing amuses!

My main meal started with BLUEFIN TUNA TARTARE from Nova Scotia with HEIRLOOM TOMATO, Fresh Yuzu, Matsutake Mushrooms, Tomato Tartare and Yellow Heirloom Tomato Sorbet. I think just these ingredients are enough to make anyone happy, and a truly wonderful start, especially on a hot evening (although it was a gorgeous 78 degrees in LA when I arrived at Providence). next came SANTA BARBARA SEA URHCIN with Champagne SABAYON served in an eggshell with Slivers of Summer Truffle and Brioche Croutons. It was an intensely rich and filling dish, so I was glad it was just about 5 small spoonfuls of urchin and the creamy sabayon.

NEW BEDFORD SEA SCALLOP with Applewood Smoked Bacon, Tomato Compote, Solera-Aged Sherry Vinegar and Burdock Root came next. I think this was my first experience with the crunchier than but akin to salsify root which was fun as well. The scallop was flawless.

CHATHAM (Mass) COD was a firm fish with an excellent crunchy skin served with CRANBERRY BEANS, CUTTLEFISH, CHORIZO & ARTICHOKE with Olives and a spicy PAPRIKA Jam. This dish worked amazingly well when combining all of the elements together. At this point I switched to a magnificent light, yet filling red from SLOVENIA. Yes, Slovenia--MOVIA 2001 Pinot Nero (their version of Pinot Noir) was a find that I doubt I will ever see again (unless I head to Eastern Europe), a perfect pairing with both of the intense fish dishes and the cheeses as well.

I switched back to the Condrieu though for my SWEETBREADS with Smoked CIPPOLLINI Onion with a COCOA NIB-PEDRO JIMENEZ REDUCTION and Watercress. The sherry and cocoa was wonderful with the crunchy sweetbread, but I had to send it back since the inside was completely raw. A complete remade replacement dish came out quite soon, making me quite happy and not upsetting me in the least. Indeed, at any hint of a problem anywhere in the room, the servers rectified it immediately and perfectly.

The only dish of the evening that did not impress me magnificently was the WILD TROLL-CAUGHT QUEEN CHARLOTTE ISALND (British Columbia) SALMON with Carrots, Chanterelles, Smoked Cipollini Onions and Cocoa. The salmon itself was excellent and tasty, just the combination of ingredients here was so much less exciting than everything that came before.

The cheese course was another revelation with three totally new cheeses for me:
JULIANA from Capriol Farms in Kentucky was a hard goat cheese with a rosemary crust
NEILS YARD BURKESWELL was a magnificent medium body sheep & QUERCY de LUNGO was a creamy rich French Goat that I have to find!
These were accompanied by excellent spiced walnuts, figs, guava jelly and fruit bread.

Another variation a la Fat Duck came in the CONCORD GRAPE SORBET and STREUSEL with PEANUT POWDER on Toast, the pre-dessert themed on Peanut Butter and Jelly that was another fun treat. The WARM PEACH GELEE is a nipple-shaped treat topped with BLACK CHERRY CHAMBORD (Liqueur) Foam and paired with YOGURT SORBERT, ALMOND & CINNAMON Curd with Saffron. It was a perfect end to a truly miraculous meal. Of course, the mignardises came in the form of LYCHEE Gelee, PEANUT BUTTER CUPS (move over Reeses) and FIVE SPICE TOFFEE.

I could not believe I was there for FIVE HOURS, but every minute was heaven. I must also thank my dear friend DANIEL who lives in LA and was supposed to join me, but got called away at the last minute, He arranged to have the entire meal as a belated 50th birthday present. WHAT A GREAT TREAT!