Providence is LA’s two Michelin star restaurant that has been a success for the last decade. Chef Michael Cimarusti focussing principally on his passion for seafood. I’m really looking forward to this.
We decided it was close enough to walk and wanted to see a bit of LA so we headed off with what we thought was loads of time. We wandered down sunset boulevard, past the house of Blues, a rusty old building that had been a classic Blues venue for many years, only closed down in 2015. I have to say it looked very out of place – like it should have been out in a desert somewhere.
We head away from the Strip and walk through residential streets, enjoying the variety of architectural styles and the amazing array of plants growing vigorously. It’s so easy to get lost in day-dreamily taking in a new place. For me it feels so exciting, mesmerising and surreal. After what seemed like quite a long walk we checked google maps and realised we were still miles away. Oh well looks like we will be working up an appetite.
Finally we spot the brown, timber clad exterior of Providence. The walk was invigorating and got the blood moving and appetite ready after a long travel day.
The interior of Providence is stunning. Gorgeous warm gold tones and colour tastefully introduced with a fascinatingly beautiful strip of wallpaper; blues, greens oranges in an exquisite design. Vast high walls and ceilings are accentuated with installations of unique sculptural artworks.
The ceiling draped with sparkling sails or nets, made up of hundreds of individual white, softly backlit pieces. Tiny white things that look like barnacles seem to be growing and climbing up walls and around windows. A very pretty effect.
We are seated at a corner table at the back of the first dining room. Perfect ! We get to sit next to each other and have a brilliant vantage point for enjoying the gorgeous room. Our waiter explains the tasting menu options and we go with the chef’s menu, a dozen little tastes of the chef’s best.
Chef Michael Cimarusti has a deep appreciation for seafood and along with a reputation for his highly skilled and creative preparation of it. He is a huge advocate of sustainable fishing practices. He has worked and trained in some incredible establishments both in America and internationally including Allain Passards 3 Michelin star restaurant Arpege in Paris. We are very passionate about French food and know that the fundamentals of French technique are a brilliant foundation for any cook, including us at home.
The French influence is immediately apparent here. We are informed that our menus will begin with several “amuse bouches”….almost back in Paris but with the accent just a little different!
The service is so very friendly and each dish comes with great big warm smiles. While we wait for our menu to begin, our Sommelier David takes us through the wine options. The wine list includes some really good French wine which of course has us initially excited but we are in California which has a very good reputation. So my love chats with David about the local stuff. He recommends several options including a very local natural wine which sounds wonderful.
Several Little tasty treats arrive one after the other to get out palate going. Gorgeous little “tacos” scallop sashimi sitting beautifully in a delicately peppery nasturtium leaf, Mojito shots and my first ever cigar….a cigar box that opens to reveal a little wagyu beef roll, delicious.
Our first dish is clam cocktail – a spoon of gorgeously refreshing cucumber granita topped with dear little sweet clams and a most exciting ingredient that I have never tried before, oyster leaf. Oyster leaf grows wild along some northern hemisphere coastlines such as northern Canada, Greenland and Scotland. What an amazing ingredient, the leaves have a distinctly oyster like flavor, that I could not believe could have come from a plant. They brought a lovely depth and saltiness to the dish. What a discovery!
Barely cooked spot prawn is such a pretty plate. Again a cold dish a perfect way to start a meal. Discs of translucent prawn meat accompanied by delicately flavoured plants and flowers.
Our next plate was an exquisite slice of wild Japanese saba. The rich flavour and firm smooth texture of the mackerel is perfectly balanced with peppery arugula puree. Pine nut and fennel somehow round the whole thing out. Just beautiful.
I am really enjoying the atmosphere here, it is in lots of ways it it such a contrast to any other restaurant experience. It’s hard to pinpoint but I think it’s that the vibe is bigger, bolder, louder, stronger ……hey didn’t Kanye sing something like that? Mmmm i need you to hurry up now cause I can’t wait much longer….
Yes, I’m enjoying the highly animated energetic staff. Our waiter is gorgeous engaging and enthusiastic. I’m fascinated that I can, not only enjoy the conversation at our table, but also most other tables around us. I know the two girls across the way are keen to smash their dinner as quickly as possible cause they “got places to be and only allowed an hour for this shit!
We are having an absolute ball.
Our next plate arrives, it looks simple but rich. A white parcel with a pile of black pearls of caviar on top. Elegant simple. Slicing through we find the deep orange centre of sea urchin. The flavour is incredible, delicate sweet crab, that creamy salty urchin flavor that so clearly speaks of the ocean and little pops of salt as the caviar melts, makes this a very special dish.
The little scallop dish that we now have placed in front of us is elegant and simple. Our waiter (who tells us his name is Martin Luther Junior) explains it is live New Bedford scallop with sunchoke and sunflower seed. I love scallops and for me a light touch always seems to work best. The combination of flavours here is just magic. Sunchoke is another name for Jeruselum Artichoke and its creamy nutty flavour sits so nicely with the scallop not overpowering it at all and the little crunch from the small punchy sunflower seeds is brilliant.
Black Bass, thick white flesh fish that breaks apart beautifully to reveal a perfectly cooked centre. The indonesian spices are a stroke of genius that works with the meaty buttery flavour of the bass. Its one of those dishes that reminds me that fish is such a broad and varied thing and that each different species can shine in it its own way when treated respectfully in a way that reflects its personality.
One of the things I love about eating is the things I learn about cooking. I grew up with two very different kitchen teachers, both I guess cooked in a way that represented their era and their experience. My grandmother was an old fashioned cook. She taught me the basics of the kitchen and how to cook by feel. No recipe was measured, it was a handful of this and a splash of that. The most wonderful thing I learned from her was how to sense food, how it should feel, taste, smell. She was a natural and I think, had she had exposure to broader cuisine experiences and access to more ingredients she would have been amazing. Even today when I make pastry it is her gnarled fingers I see moving rhythmically through the flour rubbing cold butter in to make the crumb. Her voice saying tickle it quicker love, you don’t want the bloody butter to melt!. She was my foundation teacher.
My mum was the queen of the convenience kitchen. She could make anything from a can of soup and a jar of dried herbs. It’s her that I’m thinking of tonight – she tried to teach me with great wonder, that there are two ways to cook fish (any fish they’re all the same). Wrap it up in foil with a bit of lemon and put it in the oven or….. crumb it! And if you want to make the crumbed fish fancy, fry a canned pineapple ring and stick it on top! Even then as an inexperienced teenager trying to learn to cook I thought she had to be wrong. She, bless her, taught me how not to do it. I have kept the Rosella Soup cookbook though – for sentimental reasons – definately not for the canned lobster bisque pasta bake with cheddar cheese recipe.
And here I am tonight experiencing seafood, each species being honoured, treated in a way that has considered it’s personality and brought out its best. I wish both of them were still around, I would love to have had the opportunity to share something like this with them.
Next our waiter introduces wild New Zealand Dory feigning despair that we have come all the way from Australia and he is serving us Aussie Spanner Crab and Kiwi Dory. We have a great laugh and assure him we are excited to enjoy Chef Cimarusti’s take on it. I’m expecting my love to roll out his best Daryl from the Castle impersonation that I am frequently treated to “ yeah…. but it’s how you do it Darl!” But I guess he thinks that the Americans may not get it!
We have come to the end of our seafood courses and we are about to have our one and only meat course. And what an amazing treat, far from seeing meat as the second class citizen on his homage to the sea menu, Chef Cimarusti is serving us a5 Wagyu beef. This is the highest grade of wagyu beef, known as the world’s most expensive steak.
Served with salsify and grilled fava beans this slice of perfectly (barely) cooked beef is nothing less than extraordinary. The meat has a wonderful richness of flavour, a creamy smooth texture each bite melting into velvet heaven in my mouth. The fava beans and earthy salsify are a perfect balance to the richness of the beef. And what is wonderful, is how the beef slips inconspicuously onto the stage, somehow grounding the other players to bring the main event to a stunning crescendo.
There is a wonderful sense of satisfaction and accomplishment knowing that the menu is about to transition. We move to cheese, how very French! A stunning selection of cheeses arrives for us to nibble on as we contemplate the evening so far. Mmmmm cheese has to be one of the best inventions ever.
After enjoying our cheese what could possibly be better to cleanse the palate than a meyer lemon sorbet. Strangely another reminder of home, meyer being the most successful lemon variety to grow at home. We have a couple of little dwarf ones potted by the pool at home that we love. We particularly enjoy sharing the leaves with the orchard swallowtail butterfly whose caterpillars come to visit, to munch on our leaves and then hide under them in cocoons until they become beautiful big black and white butterflies.
Our next dessert dish is something that I think that Chef Cimarusti has created just for me. I haven’t got a big sweet tooth, so often the desserts are of less interest to me. This creation however is fascinating. It’s not super sweet, a quenelle of chamomile icecream sits on a gorgeous crunchy crumble of pistachio and honeycomb and the delicate hint of mustard for me just provides the perfect savory note to balance the dish. Divine!
And the final finishing touch, butterscotch cremeux with banana bavarian cream and pecan. Now this is sweeter and I am so pleased that is it is part of the menu. I’m not sure it is something I would order from an ala carte menu. It reminds me that one of the fabulous things about rolling with the chef’s menu and not getting caught up with preconceived imaginings of what you think you like, is the best ways to experience amazing new opportunities.
This is like banoffee pie refined to such an elegant simple place. I love how the layers of cremeux remind me of a David Austin Rose and the quenelle of bavarian cream is so smooth and shiney. This is a very delicate and satisfying dish and the perfect way to end our first magical evening in America.
A final sip of dessert wine to finish our evening and a moment of quiet reflection. I’m still mesmerised by the barnacled walls and the exquisite wallpaper. Our new friend Martin Luther Junior comes and chats with us a while. He has been at Providence from the beginning and is such a wonderful ambassador. He is big, big tall, big passionate, big gregarious. We have loved every moment tonight and I have to say Martin Luther……if that’s his real name has been a fantastic part of it.
As we head back to our hotel, the bright lights of LA flick flick flicking by I am thinking about what a wonderful and surprising evening we have had. Don’t judge a book by its cover is popping into my head. America has never been high on my dream travel list. I think I had visions of Fonzie, Ralph Malph, Potsie and Richie smashing burgers, fries and soda floaters. Tonight has unequivocally adjusted my clearly unfounded preconceptions of America.
Yes we will definitely find some Al’s diner scenarios on this trip, but tonight was simply fine cooking from a chef who clearly understands and respects seafood. I am so tired, a long flight from home, a very long walk to dinner and an everso layered journey aboard chef Cimarusti’s boat.