Sunday, January 4, 2009

Providence Dessert Redux

Thanks to a special invitation from Tony C of SinoSoul, I had an opportunity last month to meet up with plenty of dessert enthusiasts at Providence for Adrian Vasquez's eight course dessert tasting menu with wine pairing. There were some hits, some misses, but mostly plenty of ice cream.

Considering this was a desserts only meal, I headed to Thai Town in North Hollywood for some quick dinner first. I would tell you about the wonderful curries, sausages, and rice dishes I had, but Tony ordered everything. I had no idea what I ate, just that it was a bad idea to overindulge before eight courses of desserts.

After wavering back and forth for about a second, I decided to pay $30 more to get the wine pairing. I might never have a meal like this again; why not go for the full experience? The first course, served as an amuse bouche at my last visit was the spherical mojito raviolo, a soft bubble of liquid that bursts with an explosion of tart lime juice and rum. Although it was similar to the one from my last visit, this time it felt warm and not quite as refreshing. I would rather take my cocktails cold, in a glass or spherified.

The second course was the first course from my last visit: kalamansi gelee floating in a white chocole coconut soy milk pool and shaded by a litchi-shiso sorbet. Another familiar dish, but significantly less amazing the second time. Its pairing with a Choya NV Ume Blanc plum wine kept the Asian theme of this dish with hardly a hint of alcohol. The cute miniature goblet was also a visual treat. Light wines for light desserts; apparently the rules are similar for dessert pairing.

As you can tell by the raviolo, the chefs at Providence aren't afraid to make use of kitchen technology. The sous-vide Jonalicious apple with barley ice cream, pine nut puree, and North star dried cherries was prepared "in vacuum" at a precisely controlled temperature to seal in flavors while allowing for ultra long cooking times. The combination of ingredients evoked images of eating cereal on a farm. Overwhelming barley flavor plus ripe apples had an Autumn flair. The paired Velich 2001 Muscat-Beerenauslese was a fruity Austrian wine with grape and apricot aromas.

Ah, "deconstructed" is certainly a word like "fusion" that turns me off immediately. Unfortunately, this is exactly how the waiter described the pumpkin "pie" a la mode with curry ice cream and pecan streusel. Curry and pumpkin flavors go well together; it wasn't the first time I had seen some sort of squash curry before. Combined with the Husch 2006 late harvest Gewurztraminer, I managed to get over my prejudice towards industry buzz words. I suppose the streusel formed the "crust" for this "pie," but a pie is so much dependent on that balance of flaky and tender crust that this definitely should not have been called a pie at all. I suppose calling it an arrangement of "pie-like" ingredients wouldn't have been too appetizing.

Though the ingredients for the milk chocolate-whisky panna cotta include Bailey's ice cream, a coconut milk raviolo, and nothing with peanuts, I still got the overwhelming sensation of peanut butter. Though if it tasted like peanut butter, the texture was silky smooth, nothing like peanut butter. It paired best with the Castello di Meleto 2003 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, a Tuscan chianti that coats the mouth and had a curious tang of dried figs.

Though the sixth course is listed as one item, it was basically two different dishes. I began to feel as if Chef Vazquez would die if one of his dishes didn't come with ice cream. This ice cream certainly had the taste of burnt caramel, but without the oversweetness of pure sugar. The chocolate gingerbread and poached pears were the closest thing I had to a pastry, an issue I'll elaborate on later. Taylor Fladgate's 20 year old Tawny Port certainly had the aged oaky flavor of something 20 years old.

For the deeply rich course, I assume the equivalent of a main course, the waiter brought out chocolate ganache with peanut butter pretzels and Chambly Noir ice cream. The dense chocolate glistened mountain glistened and beckoned. Even the weird Sam Adams "Utopias" beer didn't deter from the chocolate. I've been looking forward to this Sam Adams liqueur ever since Joel Stein reviewed it in TIME. However, it tasted too odd to really pair with anything.

Finally, the dessert to the desserts was my favorite course of the evening. Normally, I'm not a fan of white chocolate, but these white chocolate crimson berry tea lollipops didn't have the cloying oiliness of white chocolate. In fact, the lollipops were refreshing opposites, a gusher of icy, fruity tea. Be careful to eat this in one bite, as our waiter advised us many times.

Though our dessert tasting lacked an amuse bouche, we still had mignardises of barley caramels, espresso truffles, and olive oil gelees. The espresso truffles and olive oil were exactly as I remembered before. The caramels had the annoying consistency of taffy as it got stuck between my teeth.

My impression of the night was a slight letdown. Though I don't think any visit to Providence can be a complete disappointment, I felt that the desserts didn't offer enough variety. To be fair, there was plenty of innovation, but the dishes were often too modern and lost the comfort appeal of dessert. Understandably, since it was so many courses, not one course could be really rich. But because of this restriction, the desserts failed to satisfy the primal cravings I get when I plunge into a cake or a pile of cookies.

5955 Melrose Ave
Mid-Wilshire/Hancock Park, 90038
(323) 460-4170
$30 3-courses/$45 wine; $40 5-courses/$60 wine; $50 8-courses/$80 wine



kevinEats said...

I'm glad you posted this, as I've always thought about doing Providence's dessert tasting. Doesn't look as good as I thought it would though.

I'm surprised they served Utopia, which is something I've been wanting to try for about five years now.

Aaron said...

Yes Kevin, not as spectacular or varied as I had hoped. I noticed you had a fruit course in one your visits. That would've made things a little more interesting. I would rather just include the dessert in the Grand Tasting Menu rather than go just for the desserts.

I was really excited when the sommelier pulled out that copper bottle of Utopia too. It's certainly interesting, just didn't pair well.

Frequent Traveler said...

Oh Aaron, you are so lucky to do something like that ! It might not have been awesome to you, but it sounded fabulous to me ! eight desserts - sigh :)
The lollipops - I want one...

Aaron said...

Annie: I wouldn't say that eight-courses of dessert isn't awesome; it just wasn't quite at the level I've come to expect from Providence. The lollipops were truly amazing. I believe they also do a dark chocolate one. Thinking about it now, it really wasn't too expensive for the entire experience

Anonymous said...

glad you wrote this up Aaron. I think your view was the common consensus. I had a great time tho.

It's really odd the hype Provi has this year vs.. say '06. I believe a couple of years back, let's use this post as referenceon OMG Food!, the level of innovation is simply higher.

I, myself, am completely done with Providence...

Aaron said...

Tony: It is kind of strange that Providence took these two years to hit its stride. I wonder if it was related to when they got some of their most positive reviews. Personally, even though the dessert course failed to meet all my expectations, I still love Prov D. However, there are too many good restaurants in LA to come back to Cimarusti any time soon.

Though looking at OMG Food's post two years ago, I feel even more gipped for my dessert tasting

H. C. said...

Finally read your post (I usually avoid reading others' report until I've posted mine) -- looks like we're in pretty good agreement about the tasting.

Maybe Adrian wasn't in the right mood, with a new kid and all.

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