It’s freezing in Los Angeles tonight and I am hustling down Melrose to Providence to meet a professional chef friend for dinner. Earlier today I scoped out a new culinary arts facility under construction in Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) over in East LA with this friend; a proud moment visiting what will be a great school for a community that deserves it. She is one of the dedicated culinary instructors from the district who has put her heart and soul into this facility and we’re out to celebrate the progress being made. This isn’t our first time dining at Providence but it has been three years since the last visit. Back then planning was still underway and neither of us was sure that the center would be built. The lousy economy didn’t help things but she persevered along with others and funding was secured. Today the building is more than halfway complete.
At the time Providence had been open for a year and things were feeling new and fresh in what was a tired looking Patina. The food was great and Providence was settling into its own getting great reviews. Chef Michael Cimarusti had worked the kinks out of his seafood niche and was banging out plates of the highest order. It was a great meal then and tonight my expectations are high particularly since the restaurant was awarded two Michelin stars in 2009.
Upon entry I notice the bar area has been updated but the dining room looks very much the same with those strange white trumpet mushroom-looking decorations pasted along the walls. The bar to the right of the entry has been refreshed, looks great, and the vibe is positive and full of energy as I talk with the host prior to taking my table. The two of us take a two-top along the back wall and I take the outside seat facing the wall so my guest can have a view of the dining room.
We read through the menu, order some wine and place our orders. Anticipation is building as I consider what Cimarusti may have in store for us. He has an eccentric style and weaves modernist techniques into an otherwise well executed traditional approach to cooking. The balance in technique is often excellent although on occasion there are disconnects. Tonight we experience a great meal in general and enjoy celebrating the potential to make a difference in the lives of kids back in the MUSD.
Bacon Soft Roll, Wasabi Focaccia
The bacon roll is mild and could be stronger and crunchier but the Wasabi focaccia is spot on delicious
Parsnip Parmesan Soup with Sweet Port Reduction, Gruyere Gougère
The parsnip soup is excellent and the port reduction sits on the bottom of the shot glass like a delightful explosion of flavor waiting to happen. The Gougère is well done too and I make a mental note that this is the third time I have encountered a Gougère in a fine dining restaurant since January. Maybe a trend is developing.
Mojito Ice, Screwdriver Sphere
These two items were good but not exceptional. The Mojito ice was better than the screwdriver sphere.
Dungeness Crab, Winter Citrus Fruits, Pine Nuts, Flowering Cilantro
The first time I experienced a jelly sheet over a hot savory dish was at Alinea and Cimarusti’s take is a bit heavier but still excellent. I love the aromatic flowering cilantro.
Maine Lobster, Buckwheat Noodles, Japanese Turnips, Smoked Sesame
Other than the fact that the lobster endured more flying miles than the crab, this dish is excellent too. Cimarusti shines when it comes to seafood.
Foie Gras Ravioli, Black Winter Truffles, Aromatics
This is the highlight dish of the evening. Certain flavors are matched in heaven and this dish pushes the marriage between foie gras and truffles to new heights. The truffles are shaved onto the dish tableside adding a nice touch and the truffle portion is generous.
Wild Spanish Octopus, Blood Sausage, Sweet Peas, Potato, Paprika
This is the one dish that didn’t quite come together as it should. I love all the components but think additional refinement is required before this item will reach its full potential.
Dark Chocolate Rooibos Ice Cream, Brandied Cherries, Eggless Crème Brulee
Until this meal I had never had Rooibos before and loved the subtle flavor it imparted into the ice cream. Rooibos is grown in the Western Cape province of South Africa. Its needle like leaves are dried and used to make tea. The Rooibos marries well with the chocolate and cherries, the cherries being handled expertly.
Pumpkin Polenta with Candied Pecans
I am a sucker for rustic, home-style desserts and this one hits the mark. Pastry Chef Adrian Vasquez uses just enough flair paired with restraint to make this dish special. Delicious.
Chocolate Marshmallow, Whiskey Macaroons, Ginger Gelee
5955 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038