One of my most long-held food ambitions has been to try the dessert tasting menu at Providence. A couple years ago I had the regular nine course tasting menu which was fantastic, but I don’t even remember what we had for dessert. I believe that was before Adrian Vasquez became pastry chef. After I started hearing about his creations, I was intrigued. But every time I floated the dessert tasting menu option to friends – eyes rolled – at best. And worst were the guys, who seem chromosomally incapable admitting interest in lots of dessert. But every time I read about Vasquez’s desserts my interest was intensified.
nick_r mentioned here recently he had had a vegetarian tasting menu at providence I saw a flicker of a chance to fulfill my goal! I have friends who have been very interested in trying Providence but don’t eat fish (or other meat). The regular menu makes it seem unlikely that it would be a good place for high end vegetarian dining. How wrong we were. I knew this would be a good way to get my foot in the door again so to speak.
I believe when D made the reservation he mentioned that two people would be interested in a five course vegetarian tasting menu. I then called the restaurant to ask if while the others in our group were having their tasting menus (two veggie, one regular) if I alone could have the dessert tasting menu served at the same time. The man I spoke to was worried about the pacing but said he’d check and call me back - which he did a few minutes later saying it would be fine. So at 9pm last night we sat down to dine at Providence.
But first the obvious question, how do you prepare for five courses of dessert? I wasn’t able to track down reviews here on strategy. Perhaps others who have this option have eaten a couple dishes there first? Or elsewhere? I’m not sure. I decided to prepare by having a late lunch (a carnitas cemita from the smart & final truck) around 2pm and some peanuts later in the afternoon. So I wasn’t starving but hadn’t had anything substantial or sweet in a few hours.
Once we sat down our waiter came to confirm our plans and to check on drinks. J who would be having the regular tasting menu would also have the wine pairings. L, one of the vegetarians, decided on a glass of red to carry her through and D stuck with water. I asked to speak to the sommelier. My sweet tooth does not extend to wines and I was not interested in the pairings. When I told the sommelier that I’d like a dry white, she suggested a Craftsman Cserszegi Fuszeres from Hungary that was dry but subtly fruity (similar to a gewürztraminer?). It was a great suggestion and worked well with the desserts ($12.00/glass).
Even though none of us got drinks from the bar, we all began with cocktails as described by krez - http://www.chowhound.com/topics/448515
(thank goodness she visited the same night or this post would be even longer!):
First amuse: gin and tonic gelee (most of us agreed the fizz was faint but spot on taste)
Second amuse: mojito ravioli – very fun texture and taste
Third amuse: watermelon soup shooter – odd blend of flavors with that wasabi kick, maybe my least favorite of the amuses, but interesting nonetheless.
1st course –
Dessert: White chocolate lollipop with apricot & saffron filling. I’m no fan of white chocolate, but this worked as a nice foil for the luscious apricot on the inside. Good concept that worked well.
Vegetarian: Curry sorbet on a heart of palm base with cucumber, sesame and passion fruit. That curry sorbet was a huge hit.
Regular: Tuna tartare wrapped in heart of palm (krez’s first course too)
2nd course –
Dessert: Litchi-shiso sorbet on top of passion fruit gelee on top of a bed of basil seeds with a soy milk & coconut (& white chocolate?) soup poured around the gelee/sorbet. The basil seeds had been hydrated which created this seeded-gel-like quality – it reminded me of the chia seed lemonade you can get at La Casita. This was amazing with the layers of texture and flavor going on.
Vegetarian: Squash soup with porcini, cubes of squash and crème fraiche. I had a taste of the squash soup which was lovely – very squash like but far more delicious than any squash soup I’ve ever made. I’d love the recipe for this dish.
Regular: Seared scallop with matsutake mushroom, squash and gewürztraminer reduction. I hear the scallop was great. I had a piece of the matsutake which was less flavorful than I expected. Maybe I could get Roh Moo-Hyun to give me a tiny portion of the four tons he just got from Kim Jong Il so I could do some further taste testing!
3rd course –
Dessert: Anjou pear on almond cake with huckleberry sauce and miso ice-cream with micromint. As krez described, but I loved the miso ice-cream. I found the miso somehow warmed up the flavor in a way that complemented the pear in a superb way. Easily the least adventurous dessert of the evening, but satisfying.
Vegetarian: A combination of fava & cranberry beans, artichoke, a little grilled cheese sandwich, and chervil & microcilantro. I didn’t try this but it was a hit with those who ate it. We meant to follow up on what kind of cheese was used but forgot.
Regular: the Halibut that was krez’s fourth course.
Dessert: Two rounds of a Greek yogurt & honey timbale– one topped by cucumber foam and the other topped by a cucumber gelee with thin ribbons of cucumber accompanied by a cantaloupe sorbet with small balls of cantaloupe. This visually was one of the most complex desserts but all the flavors were very harmonious and complementary. I love the combination of melon and cucumber and wonder why they aren’t paired more. The best lunch I had over the summer was a cucumber/cantaloupe/honeydew & burrata salad at Literati II – this was like its delicate, sweet, sophisticated cousin.
Vegetarian: Turnips hollowed out and stuffed with fall vegetables in a smoked carrot sauce.
Regular: Veal with vegetables in a miso reduction – I laughed at krez’s “green stuff” which was kind of what we were thinking too, but I have spinach in my notes.
Dessert: Dark chocolate ganache square with a fig and cherry compote, port wine sauce AND salt and pepper ice cream. This was my absolute favorite ice cream – so excellent! I am a member of the salty/sweet club and this ice cream is amazing. The pepper adds a tiny hot kick to the salty, creamy goodness. I had read about this and dismissed it as gimmicky, but it was so great. So great.
Vegetarian & Regular: The Anjou pear & almond cake that I had for my 3rd course.
Little treats at the end:
Blackberry gelee, chocolate/hazelnut balls, & sesame caramels. All lovely but those sesame caramels kicked it.
I must seriously recommend the five course dessert tasting menu. It seems to me that Adrian Vasquez is really having some fun here. The desserts are filled with complex flavors and textures building a greater whole. They are interesting to puzzle out and delicious to eat. While I’m the first to roll my eyes at too many gelees and foams, these worked because the flavor was backing them up. I’ve never had a food experience quite like it. And it was only $40.00 (with wine, tax & tip it was $75.00).
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