Los Angeles (last visit: October 2010).
Seafood / Asian Fusion.
Providence is one of the elite restaurants in Los Angeles, frequently listed in the top five.
It's hard to put a label on the food at Providence. The emphasis is on seafood, but things like pork belly and sweetbreads are also on the menu. Many of the dishes have an Asian spin, but some are more modern American than anything else.
In addition to a traditional three course meal, varying levels of tasting menus are available, including a dessert-only tasting menu.
The restaurant feels quiet, with its muted color scheme of browns and tans, high ceilings, and soft instrumental music well in the background. It seems to inhabit an area right in the middle between formal and informal; I like it. Service was friendly and efficient.
There are different levels of gluttony available at Providence. I went for the gold: the chef's menu, consisting of around 15 courses. In my defense, I could have followed up with a full dessert tasting menu; remembering The Exorcist all too well, I declined. Click here for a large image of the chef's menu. Here's what I thought:
Greyhound, margarita. According to my notes, that's not exactly what I got. I think I got a liquefied sphere of greyhound, and a frozen rectangle of mojito. An interesting amuse bouche.
Breads. It seems that top restaurants have joined the breads arms race. Some places offer more choices that one should consider eating in a month. Providence doesn't go that far, but does have some very good choices. My favorite was a superb bacon brioche roll: hot and savory. Heating the roll was a nice touch, but as the night wore on, the breads seemed to get cooler.
Squid and chorizo. Juicy and not too chewy squid, with slightly spicy chorizo. A nice nibble.
Kanpachi. An interesting combination of smoky and minty (from the shiso). Good but not remarkable.
Abalone and geoduck clam. Oddly, it was hard to distinguish the two; both were very tender.
Wagyu, tuna and tofu. This was a very intricate presentation. It included smoked sesame seeds, grape tomatoes, radish, and tiny flowers. The tuna was very good, with the sesame seeds serving as a good foil. The wagyu was, I believe, American (most likely a hybrid). In any case, it wasn't on a par with the better Japanese wagyu. Still, this was a very good dish overall.
Chawanmushi. This was a pretty luxurious version, served with cold sea urchin (very good) and American caviar (good, although a little too salty for the custard).
Unagi and foie gras. The name alone sold me on this dish - and I wasn't disappointed. The eel was crispy, fatty, tender and juicy. Foie gras, seared nicely, is hard not to like. Interestingly, this relatively simply course was the star of the meal.
Sweetbreads. Served with crisp nori rice, purslane and mission fig sauce. Small nuggets of sweetbreads were firm yet moist and crisp. This was one of the better dishes.
Pork belly. Served with marinated truffle, frisée, and a fried quail egg, on a bed of polenta. The ingredients didn't really complement each other; the truffle added nothing. Nonetheless, the pork belly was excellent.
Crispy salmon belly. Salmon belly is especially fatty; crisping it was a good idea. Simple but good.
Lamb saddle. Simple but good.
Cheese course. I'm a complete peasant when it comes to cheese, so I'll simply say that there were lots of choices, described with pride.
Passion fruit-mango gelée, white chocolate coconut soy milk soup, litchi-shiso sorbet. I couldn't figure out how to shorten the name of this one, or how to describe it better than its name. The flavors were interesting; my favorite dessert.
Panna cotta. This was a very dense version. Other than that, pretty standard.
Chocolate ice cream (good; not too sweet) with crème brulée squares (fair).
Petit fours. I was so full that I declined.
Based on reviews I had read, I was expecting to be blown away; I wasn't. The food was good - even very good - but few of the dishes stood out. This is a case where the menu should have had fewer courses, with more attention paid to each course. Since you've probably gotten to this review via my Las Vegas page, I'll compare it to a Las Vegas restaurant: the late, lamented Bar Charlie. Providence is Bar Charlie light: it suffers by comparison, with respect to ambition of the dishes, execution, and level of personal service. To be fair, Providence is also cheaper. I'd say it's a very good restaurant at a reasonable price point.
The meal was about $150, plus drinks, tax and tip.
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