Tried Providence (Michael Crimarusti's new place in the old Patina space at 5955 Melrose Ave., (323) 460-4170) for the first time on Saturday, and had one of the best meals I've had in some time. This restaurant is extraordinary!
Decor is peaceful, with a number of small to medium sized rooms, and an enclosed patio area. (Also, they have a chef's table overlooking the kitchen that looks absolutely amazing.) Had an 8 p.m. reservation, arrived on time, and were seated promptly. Service throughout the evening was friendly, polite, and professional.
We ordered the five course tasting menu, supplemented by a pork belly (bacon) appetizer that looked too good to pass up. (They have a seven course tasting menu as well, which we will try next time.) Didn't take notes (and even worse, didn't request a copy of the menu), and I'm sure I'll forget stuff, but here goes.
Don't remember the amuse. Something on cucumber slivers. Good, but ultimately, I guess, not that memorable. Pork belly came out next, and this is a dish I will definitely remember -- a delicious, rich chunk of pork belly with a sweet reduction sauce, toasted cashews, and a bit of sushi rice. Hard to describe, but really good, intense flavors. An excellent start.
Next, I think, was a prawn dish with the most intensely flavored, wonderful prawns. Salty, sweet, beautifully flavored, and not overwhelmed by unnecessary sauces. Just wonderful.
The prawns were followed by an amazing lobster dish that was one of my favorites of the evening. It was a perfectly cooked, tender lobster tail on a bed of fresh, crisp sweet corn with cream, fresh purple basil, and toasted macaona (sp?) almonds. Writing it out, I realize this sounds like an odd, awkward combination, but it was really, really good. Each of the ingredients was perfect, and the combination of flavors and textures was surprising and delicious.
Lobster was followed by my least favorite dish, which was monkfish with flower petals and some sort of a filé (sp?) spice. I like root beer, but am not otherwise much of a sassafras fan, and so I didn't enjoy the seasoning on this dish. Well executed, but the flavors were just not my cup of tea.
The final dish before dessert was duck three ways: seared breast, confit, and foie. This combination vied with the lobster for my favorite of the evening. The seared duck breast was meaty and succulent, and the confit and the seared foie were spectacular. This dish was rich and deeply satisfying.
Dessert was a chocolate terrine with tarragon ice cream. Tasted better than it sounds (at least to me), and I liked the chocolate terrine, but the whole fad of chocolate with herbs has left me cold from the very beginning. I love chocolate, which, in and of itself, has an amazing depth and variety of flavors. In my opinion, adding pepper, rosemary, tarragon, basil, and whatever other odd flavorings someone thinks up, distracts from rather than compliments the chocolate. Plus, it's tired already, so even the relatively insignificant benefit of surprise is now gone. Having said all that, the tarragon ice cream was okay, if not as good as a nice vanilla would have been. Finished with coffee and petit fours -- homemade marshmallows, chocolate rosemary truffles (see above) and tiny little almond cakes warm from the oven (which were my favorites).
I have only one (admittedly petty) complaint, which is that after finishing the final savory course, we've been sitting and eating and drinking wine for about two and a half hours. More to stretch my back than anything, I get up to use the men's room, after which, of course, I wash my hands. (Nice, individual linen hand towels, btw.) Unfortunately, the hand soap they've chosen for the men's room has a strong perfume, which I am forced to endure during dessert and coffee. Why does nobody pay attention to this? A big part of the enjoyment of eating a meal like this is the smell of the food, which is completely overwhelmed by the awful patchouli (or whatever) hand soap. Blech! Fine restaurants should use unscented (or at worst, mild almond scented) soap in their restrooms.
All in all, however, this was a spectacular meal. Interesting, inventive, and obviously prepared with tons of skill, thought, and affection. There were items I liked more or less than others, but nothing was bad, and some things (duck, lobster, pork belly) were transcendently good. I frankly can't wait to go back, or imagine anywhere else I'd rather go for this sort of food in LA right now. These guys definitely have it going on.
Food, wine, sparkling water, and tip for four came to about $500.