Archive for March, 2011

Providence Restaurant Los Angeles, CA

Posted 30 Mar 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

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


RN74 San Francisco: The Michael Mina Restaurant Empire

Posted 19 Mar 2011 — by S.E.
Category Fine Dining

In 2010 RN74 received a “Best New Restaurant” nomination from the James Beard foundation in 2010. I had an opportunity to join three friends at the restaurant for a dinner recently and we had a fantastic experience. The restaurant is hip with a dynamic and good looking clientele and I love the large railway station sign used to market wine and wine prices at the end of the large dining room.

Michael Mina’s RN74has received reviews that range from average to exceptional since opening in 2009. This year Gayot named Mina the 2011 best restaurateur in the USA. With 18 restaurants and a team of corporate chefs and executives, Mina is truly a restaurateur and entrepreneur and an emerging foodservice powerhouse. I predict that 2011 will be a year of growth and expansion of Mina and many in the foodservice industry are aware the he plans to leverage RN74 as a growth concept in major metropolitan markets in the US with the second unit opening in Seattle this month.

We dined at RN74 to investigate the food, service and wine ( a major attraction at RN74).  The food was outstanding with several items rising to the level of sublime. As the name indicates RN74 is a wine focused restaurant. RN74 refers to Route Nationale 74 (route des grand crus), the main roadway that runs through Burgundy France. The name carries a theme that fits the restaurant and its personnel well. Chef Jason Berthold is a wine lover, has studied wine making while working at the French Laundry in Yountville California and is the ideal chef for the concept. His food is thoughtful, well executed, simple and delicious.

#1 Foie Gras Pavee with Avocado, Huckelberry, Pickled Onion and Brioche

Berthold created a fantastic starter in this item. The Foie Gras mousse is absolutely perfect. It’s light, rich and clean in flavor. The mouth-feel is creamy smooth and full of great foie gras flavor. He tops the mousse with a delicious duck gelee that melts in your mouth and offers an explosion of savory flavor. I wouldn’t have thought of serving this with an avocado mousse since the foie gras is itself so rich and creamy but the addition of the avocado  (which is slightly acidic) is perfect. Add the pickled onions for deeper acidity and the huckleberry compote for sweetness and the whole dish comes together like a well written symphony. Berthold finishes the dish with a generous halved slice of toasted brioche. By the way, Berthold is serving some serious bread at RN74. The brioche was inspiring and the sourdough absolutely perfect.

#2 Sauteed Sea Scallop, Kumquats, Salted Almond, Winter Radish, Saffron Croquette, and Petit Lettuces

This entrée portion was a bit large as a second course but I am on a seafood kick and loved the presentation and always order scallops when they are offered. These sushi grade scallops were seared perfectly and rare in the middle. When Kumquats are served, I worry that they will overpower and ruin a dish but these were thinly sliced and offered a subtle, citrusy bitterness that enhanced and offset the sweetness of the scallops nicely.


 #3 Loup de Mer et Cochon , Pork Cheek Ragout, Glazed Pork Belly, Lentils DePuy, Melted Leeks and Madras Curry

I love the idea of serving sea bass with pork and this is a wonderful interpretation. The sea bass fillets are seared with the skin on and served on a bed of delicious savory lentils. A generous quenelle of melted leeks is served next to a gorgeous slab of pork belly topped with a browned tourne potato. The madras curry sauce (more of a pork glace scented with madras curry) is poured tableside.

#4 Bittersweet Chocolate Cream, Spiced Pears, Cocoa Nibs Streusel, Marzipan Ice Cream

After a wonderful first two courses washed with delicious Pinot Noir by Au Bon Climat “Le Bon Climat” Cuvee RN74, Santa Maria Valley 2008, a final tasting of something chocolate was in order. This dish was technical and executed well. The pears were juicy and tender. However, the best part of the dish was the cocoa nib streusel and the marzipan ice cream.

301 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94105
Tel: 415.543.7474