Sunday, February 18, 2007

LA's PROVIDENCE perseveres and is still perfection the 2nd time 'round

Last night was my final night here in LA and I decided to return to PROVIDENCE on Melrose (about halfway between downtown and Beverly Hills) where I fist was totally impressed last September. Now about 1-1/2 years old, Chef Michael Cimarusti has settled in and things always seem to run so smoothly at this truly wonderful gastronomic temple.

As I sat down, even my server remembered me from the last time (well, I was there for FIVE hours) and the general warmth and friendliness of the staff makes Providence a special place, not stuffy or elitist at all! I decided on a bottle of TABLAS CREEEK 2004 WHITE GRENACHE from Paso Robles, California simply because one does not see this Rhone varietal on its own very much and the sommelieuse was very positive about the wine and how it works so well with the many different seafoods on the menu (and seafood is the leaning at Providence). The tart acidic wine had some citrus notes reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc, but a completely different flavor in the mouth that was indeed so perfect with the intense fish flavors to come.

As I mentioned before the "Market Menu" is the way to go here with a choice of either five courses for $75, or nine for $95. I went for the whole deal, while my dinner guest chose the shorter version. Indeed, this worked out perfectly as the paced the courses ideally and when I had an extra course we often shared it it, or at least I was able to offer a taste. You won't fill up on the simple rolls here. They are nice, but nothing to write about. Save yourself, because soon the Amuses begin to arrive. Rather than three in a row like last time, we received two side by side last night: MEXICAN SHRIMP in WHITE SOY and LEMON GELEE and a SHOOTER of ENGLISH PEA SOUP with SMOKED MAPLE SYRUP FOAM It was hard to decide which was better--a tie for sure.

The main menu started with KANPACHI SASHIMI with White SOY GELEE Strip, Cucumber, Shiso Leaf & YUZU LIME Sauce. I asked the server exactly what "Kanpachi" was and she said it's another name for Yellowtail or confusing is that? But, it was superb and the gelee strip was a wonderful fun way to add some flavor to the tender fish.

Next came UN I SABAYON Custard with TRUFFLE, VERMOUTH, SANTA BARBARA SEA URCHIN served in an eggshell and clearly a signature dish NOT TO BE MISSED, reminiscent of the custard served for years at the french Laundry but heightened by the addition of several mouthfuls of the tasty sea urchin.

MAINE LOBSTER is served with YELLOW BEETS, AMERICAN CAVIAR and TARRAGON and was nice but probably the simplest of all the dishes. Far more inventive was the NANCY's HAND HARVESTED MAINE DIVER SCALLOPS over PUREE of BIG ISLAND (Hawaii) HEARTS of PALM, SPINACH, CRISPY BACON and PISTACHIOS with Balsamic Reduction. This dish was a huge hit for both of us, and got four thumbs up!

NEW ZEALAND JOHN DORY had a PUREE of FLOWERING BROCCOLI, CARROT/VADOUVAN (a French lemon, garlic curry) BUTTER and DARK SHERRY. The fish was perfect, slightly flaky, tender, tasty and moist. For the second fish course I had recalled not being crazy about the WILD TROLL CAUGHT KING SALMON last fall, which last night was served with BUTTERNUT SQUASH, SHIMEJI MUSHROOMS, ROMANESCO & BLACK TRUFFLE ESSENCE. My guest said the dish was perfect and amazing, and it had an adorable stand up salmon skin which was fried like a potato chip--a cool addition. For me, the server allowed me virtually any substitution so I quickly chose the MONKFISH with ARTICHOKES BRAISED in WHITE WINE with PEARL ONIONS, CORIANDER, BLACK OLIVE and Five Spices. It was a wonderful choice as nI had not had monkfish in ages, and forgot HOW MUCH I ADORE this firm, lobster-like fish that is so flavorful.

The cheese course is always a treat at Providence and mine was easily enough for both of us. Three large chunks were served with QUINCE JELLY, CANDIED WALNUTS, Bread and FIGS. The BERKSWELL SHEEP from the UK is a tart intense hard cheese that must be one of my new faves, the CARONE Goat from France also a nice lighter firm goat and finally the intense LADELLE de CLAIRON triple creme for those in need of more cream, cholesterol or just richness. All were delish!

KALAMANSI SODA is made from the Asian fruit I have never heard of and served with Vanilla & Mango in a small glass foaming like a root beer float, but tasting like a rich creamsicle; truly the most decadent of palate cleansers.

Finally, dessert was a CHOCOLATE CREMEAUX which is a rich chocolate mousse-like center with MARSHMALLOW on GRAHAM with LEMON CURD, which is their version of a s'more and truly impresses giving many different flavors in one dessert.

Before going home we always get those move over Reeses' PEANUT BUTTER CUPS which came along with an intense yummy BERRY GELEE and other tasty treats.

I don't have plans to return to LA soon, but I sure hope it's not too long before providence allows me to dine at PROVIDENCE again!