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.
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038-3623