Posted on Friday, 23rd July 2010
I have to confess that I really wasn’t in the mood for going to Providence. Several days of cruising around Los Angeles like a madwoman, plus the 10 hours that I had spent at Universal Studios prior to arriving at the restaurant had left me exhausted. But I decided to persevere, and boy, was I glad that I did. The first two courses at this restaurant were so stunning, they left me gobsmacked.
But let’s start with the amuse bouches at this 2009 two star Michelin holder. (If you read my Spago blog post, you will know that the Michelin guide, in a cost cutting measure, stopped reviewing the city of Los Angeles in 2010. Therefore, while Providence had two stars in 2009, it technically doesn’t have any at the moment.) The amuse bouches, from left to right, consisted of gin and tonic jelly; a greyhound (grapefruit and vodka) raviolo; and Tasman sea trout tartare with lemon jelly, rice crackers, four spices and brook trout roe. With the citrus-y elements of each, all three had a nice zing to them.
We chose the five course tasting menu which costs a very reasonable $65 (three courses from the a la carte menu would set you back at least $72). The first course, one of the stunning dishes that I alluded to earlier, was Japanese kanpachi with crispy rice crackers, coriander, soy crème fraiche and compressed endives (julienned and then cooked sous vide). The kanpachi was so fresh that it tasted as if it had come straight from the sea. and with the fragrant coriander, the lusciousness of the sweet flesh lingered on your tongue. There was a slight tartness to the crème fraiche which cut the richness of the fish nicely. The rice crackers were a bit redundant to the dish, but nothing could detract from how sublime the fish was.
The next course was a demonstration in technical excellence and composition. A Bobby’s Block Island (Rhode Island) sea scallop, beautifully seasoned and perfectly cooked to a lovely opaque colour, was perched on a bed of creamy Japanese eggplant (aubergine) puree. Crowning the scallop was a salad of finely julienned daikon, carrot and an explosively aromatic mint. The dish was finished with a sauce made from vadouvan (the highly sought after French-Indian curry) and a reduction of Jurançon dessert wine. Also in the sauce were also some finely chopped rhubarb for a touch of acidity, piquillo peppers for a hint of spiciness, and cashews for crunchiness.
This was a highly complex dish. There were so many flavours that I lost count. Yet, no one taste overwhelmed another. Instead, each ingredient worked well together to create a harmonious balance of sweet, savoury, sour and spicy taste sensations, further rounded off by a multitude of textural contrasts. This was nothing less than perfection on a plate. Simply stunning.
Roasted wild day boat pacific Alaskan halibut was served on a bed of sweet tomato compote surrounded by a ring of olive tapenade. A spring garlic butter sauce with basil oil, finely chopped olives and summer squash worked wonderfully with the fish. On the side was a drizzling of basil crumbs made from a mixture of basil, breadcrumbs and olive oil. For acidity, the fish was topped with some lovely, sweet apricot. This was another very well executed dish, although the dish could have done with more sauce.
Marcho Farms (Pennsylvania) veal tenderloin, which had been slow cooked for two hours at 120F (about 49C), was moist and pink. Curiously, the meat tasted more like ham than veal, and to this end I almost preferred the more traditional flavour of veal. To the accompanying elements of this dish: there were some crunchy almonds which I loved for its added bite. There were also some maitake mushrooms and bacon which bounded with flavour. The dish was garnished with some wonderfully crispy purslane and finished off with some port drops and a beautifully reduced red wine jus. Again the dish could have done with more sauce.
Dessert was a tantalising yuzu curd which was a textural cross between a mousse and a cheesecake. Yuzu is a fantastic fruit, and this dessert burst forth with both a sharp zingyness and a lovely sweetness. The blackberry sauce and light, airy meringue provided a lovely contrast.
This was an awesome meal. The cooking was precise, elegant, and executed flawlessly. I was completely bowled over by the first two courses – a remarkable statistic considering some Michelin restaurants please, but don’t necessarily enthrall. There was a wonderful creativity in the composition of each of the courses – artistic, innovative, yet balanced at the same time. This is the kind of restaurant that I would happily go back to night after night so that I could try every dish on the menu.
The service was excellent. The waiting staff were very well informed. But there was a formality in the greyish décor that may appear stuffy to some.
But all this is inconsequential. Providence was one of the best meals I have had all year. Sadly this restaurant is not in London otherwise I would be there almost every night.