Birthdays. For everybody, it marks the anniversary that we were brought into this world, after 9 or so months of leeching off of whatever our mothers ate in utero. For some individuals, they take every year as an excuse to throw a big and elaborate celebration, inviting all of their friends to join in the festivities. For others, their birthday is just like any other day, only occasionally mildly celebrating by having a small handful of friends and/or family over to their place or a casual dinner out.
For me personally, I fall into the latter category. I do not elaborately celebrate my birthday annually, only trying to make a larger deal out of the “milestone” birthdays. I don’t remember what I did for my 18th birthday, but I’m sure I went out with my family somewhere. For my 21st birthday, I probably would have spent it going out to legally drink for the first time, if it weren’t for the fact that my birthday fell on the same week as winter quarter finals in college. For my 25th birthday, my friends in Irvine took me out to dinner and drinks in which I had so many drinks that evening that I did not remember half of the evening.
For my 30th birthday, I knew I wanted to go big. For a lot of people, 30 is a big deal. The 20s were spent finishing college and grad school, and figuring out what you want to do with your life. By the time you hit 30, you more or less have an idea of what you’re doing or at least where you want to head over the next couple of years. I wanted to have a big celebration with my friends from church and invite a food truck to cater, but that ended up be super expensive. Plan B was getting Ricky’s Fish Tacos, which would have still been a little expensive but more doable, but I never heard back from him after initially going back and forth briefly. But I digress.
I knew that as my present to myself, I wanted to go out to one of Los Angeles’ top restaurants, where I knew I would get finely crafted food, outstanding service, and a meal worthy of the restaurants reputation. This is where Providence comes in. Providence, if you don’t know, is Chef/Co-Owner Michael Cimarusti’s pride and joy here in Los Angeles. The restaurants received an incredible 2 star Michelin rating, only 1 of 4 restaurants in Los Angeles with such rating (Melisse, Spago, Urasawa). Chef Cimarusti has been on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and is highly regarded as one of both Los Angeles’ and the countries’ best chefs.
I do not recall exactly when or how my burning desire to dine at Providence arose, but I do know that Felicia and I have been talking about coming here for at least the past year and a half. After a failed attempt to go for our birthdays (2 weeks apart) last year in 2010, I nearly immediately decided I would reserve the Chef’s table at Providence for my 30th birthday the following year. I almost never imagined that for the past year, I actually kept to that “promise” and so when it finally came to make the reservation back in February, I was thinking to myself, “I almost can’t believe this is really going to happen” and that is when the excitement really started to kick in. I was told over the phone that the Chef’s table is recommended that they participate in the 14 course Chef’s tasting menu for $175, which I did not have a problem with. I made the reservation for 4, in which they require 4-6.
I spent the month asking around, already knowing that a good friend of mine would want to go, trying to fill 2 seats. If Felicia wasn’t over in New York, I would have only had to fill one seat. But that’s neither her fault or mine. Well, if anything, it would partially be her fault. It wasn’t until the final couple of days did I actually find people to secure my reservation. Seriously, some of you people on Twitter and Facebook know how much I was stressing out. There was no way in God’s green earth was I going to surrender the Chef’s table because I couldn’t secure people for my reservation.
Being in the Mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles, the restaurant actually sits in a rather non-descript and more residential heavy neighborhood of Melrose Ave. I kind of like that though; it makes the locale a little more “hidden”.
Upon walking in, the restaurant exudes elegance and sophistication. The beauty of it all was breath-taking.
We were lead straight back to the chef’s table, which in itself is its own dining room, mere separated by a glass door looking straight into the kitchen, almost like they were fish in a fishtank. But these fish weren’t just something ordinary like a goldfish, but in fact were something more interesting like a Japanese fighting fish. I mean, I myself am a chef and to me this is not new scenery by any means, but to be able to watch the operation and flow of a 2 star Michelin restaurant kitchen throughout your meal is probably what Julius Caesar felt like as he feasted on the finest meats in the Roman Empire while watching the best gladiators in all of Rome battle it out. Too extreme of an analogy?
One of our servers confirmed with us that we would be partaking in the 14 course chef’s tasting menu, and it wasn’t long before we decided to begin. I mean, I’ve had 5 course meals last 3-4 hours, how long do you think a 14 course meal is going to last? Exactly…
We began with the amuse bouche. A textural interpretation of 2 classic cocktails: a mojito and a screwdriver. However, instead of liquid, the “mojito” was a block of granite, and the screwdriver was encapsulated, resting on a soup spoon, and when it first came out, I mistook it for an egg yolk. Very nice play and technique used on both.
Next was a skewered grilled abalini. Simple, clean, and fresh.
Another skewered item soon followed. Squid and chorizo. We were instructed to eat both items in one bite, so we did. The combination of the salty and earthy chorizo was a nice balance to the fresh squid.
The last of the “one biters” was what they called a “little smokey’s”. A smoked bay scallop with scallop jus, finished with some scallions. This was cooked nicely and downed the sauce like it was a shot of liquor.
Moving on from the one bite courses, the first plated offering was a live scallop tartare, wrapped in nasturtium leaf. Nasturtium, simply put, is apparently a type of watercress. I wasn’t aware of that. With a quenelle of egg and vinaigrette, the scallop was fresh and the nasturtium leaf was subtle, but when you have fresh scallop, which is pretty mild in flavor itself, you don’t want or need anything to overpower it.
Following that was a konpachi sashimi, which unfortunately they inadvertently omitted from the menus we received at the end of the night and after 18 courses of food, I’m having a hard time remember its accompaniments and garnishes. All I know is is that the fish was very fresh and the entire dish was in balance on the palate and in the aroma.
What came out next was alive just minutes before hitting our table. I’ll let this video explain…
In case you can’t tell, that is a tank with live spot prawns. I actually didn’t notice the tank until AFTER the plates hit our table and a server was describing the dish. He said “alive at some point” to which I said “this morning probably” and he responded, “no, we have our own tank right here”. That was a fist pump worthy moment, but I restrained myself. The dish itself, served with American caviar and a braised white asparagus spear, with some asparagus sauce finished with chives. The caviar gave that nice salty touch to the prawn, and the white asparagus, which is milder than its green brother, rounded out with some vegetal flavor.
I loved this next dish. But then again, anytime a runny egg yolk is involved, I’m more than sold. A farm fresh egg with truffled onion puree, brioche cubes, and a fondue of reblochon de savoie. It was salty, earthy, mildly cheesy, and as I mentioned, the runny yolk was like icing on the cake. And the presentation is brilliant. Not too many places will serve an egg dish in the shell because it’s rather labor intensive and in most cases a delicate process, so I definitely appreciate seeing it when it’s done.
Finally moving onto the “entrees”, we saw a salmon dish. With sous vide beets, fennel, and crispy smoked salmon skin. The crispy salmon skin was actually a little bit of a surprise, so when I munched down on it, I exclaimed, “ooooo! Crispy salmon skin!”. Yes, it’s that awesome. Yet another well executed and presented dish.
Next dish was an ingredient that I absolutely love and was really stoked when the plates came out. Roasted veal sweetbreads with parsnip puree and black truffles. The sweetbreads were magnificent and the parsnip helped to cut the richness just ever so slightly. I guess I can be a little biased when it comes to sweetbreads. I don’t think there’s been one time out of the handful of times I’ve actually had them have I not liked it.
Following one animal organ was another: foie gras. I’m glad it is not 2012 yet, because I am going to miss this delicacy when the US government bans it next year. This was served with blood orange, black olives, and our friend from before, the nasturtium leaf. A perfect sear on the foie gras, with the middle being rich and like butter. Yet another delicious and well-balanced dish. Love, love, love.
This next dish, I saw and knew what it was a mile away. Before they even put the plates down, I was thinking “is that pork belly?” and once the plates were down and as soon as the server said “pork belly”, I triumphantly threw a fist up in the air in enthusiastic approval, to which he smiled and was pleased (and mildly shocked) by my reaction. Pork belly which was wrapped in a very thin sheet of dough to which I forgot the name of already and then fried in a pan, with red cabbage, apples, and whole grain mustard. Of course I’m biased to pork belly, and all of the accompaniments and garnishes are classic pairings with pork. I savored (yet devoured) every single piece of this dish.
Another treat: American Wagyu Beef from Mishima Ranch up in Northern California, with puntarella, smoked potato, and chanterelle mushrooms. Or at least, that’s what the menu said, however, the accompaniments were roasted carrots, what I believe was a baby onion, natural jus, and a carrot sauce. As for that discrepancy, I don’t know, but the beef was perfectly seasoned and cooked very well.
Next we were presented with the cheese cart. Had to of been about 20 different cheeses. Instead of describing each one, he asked what we liked and what was our preference, and he made a recommendation of what they had based off of that.
I’ve unfortunately already forgotten the names of the cheeses we had gotten. All I remember is the one I had picked had the texture similar to a brie, although he described it as being almost like a smoked gouda. Served with some chutneys, figs, bread, and pecans, a great interlude to dessert.
Next was the intermezzo. Paige Tangerines, Junmai sake, and lemongrass granite. A delicate and wonderful acidity to cleanse the palate. I love intermezzos because its more than just some grapefruit or something with just lime in it. Don’t get me wrong, I love grapefruit and lime, so I’m just saying.
The first of our desserts was a cremeaux of Fat Uncle Farms marzipan almond milk, with hazelnuts and crème fraiche. I absolutely love hazelnuts, and overall this dish offered wonderful balance of textures and flavors.
The 2nd and last of our desserts was a Valrhona Coeur de guanaja with calvados gelee, star anise, and a brown butter sorbet. I mean, chocolate… how can you go wrong with that? The thing was, this didn’t totally do it for me. It didn’t have the wow factor I was hoping for and expecting. I liked the previous dessert better.
We ended the meal with petit fours, that consisted of a kalamansi pate fuille, red beet marshmallow, and chocolate almond macaron. The red beet marshmallow was interesting and I liked the macaron. I thought the pate fuille was a little too sweet.
When all was said and done, we were all very satisfied and very pleased with our meal. We had a moment to briefly chat with Chef Cimarusti as well as take a photo with him. I am so happy that a restaurant in which I had such high(er) expectations to come through and deliver on all cylinders. I felt like a VIP being at the Chef’s table with everybody helping us that night providing the utmost of service. Now to think how I can top this with my 35th birthday and my 40th.
5955 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90038