Friday, October 24, 2008

Cimarusti's Divine Seafood in LA



(For my desserts experience)

Since I started blogging and getting deep into the world of LA dining, I’ve been constantly reminded that I seemed to be the only blogger in town without an entry on Providence. It had been on my list for some time. Last weekend I managed to cross it off the list, along with “best meal yet.”

More after the jump...

Amuse Bouche - gin and tonic, mojito, saffron and fennel

The meal started with an amuse bouche bar sampler. Gin and tonic was molded into a slushy cube, with texture similar to a melting snow cone. At the center was a spherical mojito drop with a thin skin that exploded with liquid. The third was a saffron and fennel drink, intensely saffron flavored. I like to think that the three bites signified a descent into the water since the textures gradually dissolve into liquid. As the dinner began, I imagined wading into the open ocean.

Japanese Kanpachi – red shiso granitée, compressed cucumber, lemon and virgin olive oil

I have always had a fascination with kanpachi. Since I’m a big yellowtail fan, I try to seek out kanpachi when I go out. At one point, I even contemplated buying a chunk of it online for myself. I don’t know if the first course was a crudo per se, but the fish was dressed lightly with a fruity virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Yet, I’d be hard-pressed to call this Italian considering it is a Japanese fish served with red shiso and cucumber. Cimarusti successfully combined the cultures to highlight the magnificence of truly fresh fish. The fish was rather lean, but it didn’t need the unctuous feeling of toro to be delicious. I enjoyed the firm texture, and the more I chewed, the more of the flavors came through.

Point Judith Calamari – Aligio, olio, peperoncino

Now while the last course’s origins may be unclear, this course was certainly Italian. The chef julienned the body of the squid resembling pasta, while the body was coated in semolina flour and deep-fried. Both pieces sat in a citrus marinara that put other tomato sauces to shame. While the dish didn’t seem too elaborate, the simple sautéed squid was at the exact doneness to really excel. My impression of the tentacles was that of tempura with substance.

Sea Scallop (Hokkaido, Japan) – Coleman Farms arugula, truffle vinaigrette, juliet tomatoes

Ever since my unforgettable scallop dish at La Terza’s 5x5 by Alain Giraud, I could not get enough of scallops. A simple sautéed scallop with butter can be amazing in itself. While the scallop at Providence was certainly at the caliber of the restaurant, it was not especially memorable. Stranger still, it smelled like Chinese honey prawns, which slightly turned me off to the whole thing.

Day-boat Halibut (British Columbia) – fried burdock, shiso, lemon

This dish was impossible to photograph without excellent white balance. One of the purest things I have ever seen on a plate, the white fish looked saintly. I was shocked when the waiter told me this was steamed halibut. I feel like the flavor of the fish would be lost in the steaming process; and as anyone who has been to Alaska knows, good halibut is unforgettable. However, the heavy sauce played contrast to the lightness of the color. There was so much umami in the sauce that I found myself scrapping the bowl and licking my lips.

Grilled Columbia River King Salmon – roasted musque de province pumpkin, port wine reduction, sherry vinegar, Neuskes bacon, dandelion greens

Having read many reviews of my blogging counterparts, I highly anticipated the salmon course. From what I’ve seen, Cimarusti seemed to redefine salmon in his dishes. However, this one failed to amaze me. It was certainly one of those dishes where you can’t try all the components at once, and so the whole thing seems disjointed. The salmon was at an awkward doneness, not raw enough to be enjoyed rare, nor cooked long enough to flake. I found myself picking reluctantly at the salmon while loving the bacon and pumpkin. Those two components stole the dish from the fish. Around the plate was a slight dusting of star anise; I was uncertain whether the aroma added anything to the salmon.

Tenderloin of Veal – chanterelles, Weiser Farms torpedo onion, celery root purée

Since the menu was dominated by aquatic creatures, I didn’t expect to encounter veal underwater. However, I appreciated the choice of veal for the main meat course; because of its light texture, it did not distract too heavily from the other courses. The sous vide style of preparation, sealing the veal to roast in its own juices, resulted in fork tender meat. While extremely flavorful, I felt that it may have been too salty. Considering the cooking method, I guess veal does belong in a seafood restaurant.

Market cheeses – served with apple jam, candied walnuts, olive marmalade, dried figs, fruit bread

I won’t claim to remember all the cheeses I by name or even by description. If I tried, it would sound something like “the hard, nutty one” or “the runny bleu.” I did enjoy the spectacle of having an entire cheese cart pushed out and explained. My suggestion, avoid the strongly flavored cheeses because that taste just won’t go away. Above all, stay away from the buffalo milk cheese. It tasted like ashes. I did enjoy the apple jam and candied walnuts with some of the hard cheeses though.

Raisin, pear, ras el hanout & hazelnut

To cleanse the cheese plate in preparation for dessert, we received a miniature mug with a sweet cracker on top. The liquid was a pear soup with heavy flavors of melon and other spices. From what I can tell, ras el hanout can be a combination of dozens of different spices. This was certainly refreshing, but I wouldn’t call it a proper course.

Kalamansi Gelée – white chocolate coconut soy milk soup, litchi-shiso sorbet

Filipino lime, tapioca, coconut milk, lychee, shiso? Did this dessert manage to hit every major cuisine in Asia? An intensely tart gelée floated in a creamy coconut soup with tapioca reminiscent of Chinese tapioca desserts. Amazingly, the lychee and shiso flavors both came through in the sorbet in perfect balance. Eating a spoonful of sorbet, gelée and a dash of coconut milk made this the one of the best, unconventional desserts I’ve had.

Pistachio macaron, espresso truffle, olive oil gelee

I also want to make special mention of the bread. Three kinds were served with dinner, including: chive brioche, nori foccacia, and bacon brioche. I don’t commonly see these flavors infused in breads, but they would make a meal in themselves. With the check came a plate of petite fours: espresso chocolate truffles, olive oil gelée, and pistachio macarons. The truffles were an after-thought; the olive oil, an intrigue; and macarons comfortingly familiar. Imagine fruity olive flavored gelatin dusted with sugar.

While the kanpachi, and halibut certainly stood out, none of the courses were sub-par. Each displayed the creativity and care of detail I would expect from a newly awarded two-Michelin-star restaurant. At La Terza, I had the honor of meeting Chef Cimarusti. From the brief conversation with him, I could tell that he takes his job very passionately. Both him and the co-owner Donato Poto show the professionalism and excellence that only true dedication can bring. What other maitre d’ would prepare live roasted Santa Barbara prawns tableside (a dish unfortunately off-menu)? While I couldn’t return too soon for fear of diluting the pleasant memories of this dinner, I would be honored to come back. If Providence is divine care, I’m in heaven at Cimarusti’s table.

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Mid-Wilshire/Hancock Park, 90038
(323) 460-4170
providencela.com
$90 5-courses; $120 9-courses; $160 chef's menu

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5 comments:

Yoko Sakao Ohama said...

You didn't like the scallop? I thought that was the one where you almost dropped your fork because it tasted so good. Personally, I really liked the scallop (though admittedly I wasn't sure what to do about the truffle flakes – they seemed to do nothing for me)

H. C. said...

I, too, wasn't particularly WOWed by the salmon. It was solid, but not as edgy as some of their other creations.

The gelee dessert is near identical to the one I had LA Mill (no big surprise, since Adrian Vasquez designs the sweets for both. I believe the tapioca like things are the basil seeds.

Food, she thought. said...

the calamari and veal looks orgiastic!!!!!!

Tangbro1 said...

Glad you finally made it out to Providence.

Aaron said...

@Yoko The scallops were good and I indeed dropped my fork, but I was expecting more.

@HC Basil seeds? That's interesting; I've never heard of them as an ingredients.

@Food, she thought Orgiastic? Like an orgy, or orgasmic? I can see the latter, but not so much the former. Maybe that there's just so much going on in the plate?

@Tangbro I got there right before its second star. Great timing!