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By the Grace of God and Michael Cimarusti: A Night at Providence
There is no better testament to Michael Cimarusti's attention to the smallest culinary details than the ignoble bread basket at Providence. Immediately upon being seated at this seafood sanctuary (the walls even look like they've been encrusted with delicate, papery barnacles), you are served with a piping-hot, freshly baked sourdough roll. A platter appears, holding a few thick rounds of sweet cream butter and a tiny dish of fleur de sel: you break into the crusty bread, slather on a wide ribbon of butter, and, using a tiny scoop provided for just such a task, sprinkle the salt over it all. Two or three such rolls, along with a bottle of one of the house's red wines, could conceivably be a meal in itself -- but luckily, it is only the first in a series of unforgettable dishes, paired with a dizzying array of wines, including a fine selection of clean whites and rosés fit for a hot summer night.
For those lucky diners who have chosen to indulge in one of four tasting menus (five-course, nine-course, dessert, and chef's menu), an amuse bouche arrives soon after being seated. Cimarusti indulges his whimsical side with a tiny chunk of fatty salmon, topped with a chip of toasted salmon skin and glazed with a citrus reduction, served alongside a watermelon-cucumber cold soup. The soup is served in a doll-sized beer mug, and brightens up the fatty/crunchy one-two punch of the salmon. Perhaps this is his spin on fish n' chips? Whatever it is, it tastes refreshing and sets up an anticipatory mood for the rest of the night.
The first course took some time to arrive: at least thirty minutes after being seated, but the sommelier apologized and refilled our glasses with a clean, crisp Italian white - and of course, the bread kept coming. Eventually the dish appeared: kampachi tartare, encircled by wafer-thin slices of heart of palm. The plate was dotted with tiny lozenges of radish, and more bread materialized - brioche this time - on which to spread the raw fish. While the kampachi was fantastic, the second course, seared diver scallops, really catapulted the meal into the stratosphere. The scallop was impeccably tender, but still nicely crusted; the flesh was sweet, meaty, and almost seemed to dissolve on the tongue. A cherry and chanterelle sauce balanced out the flavors -- you will be hard pressed not to pick up the plate and lick it up and down.
The filet of John Dory with crayfish, ramps, lemon espuma, and cubed potato that followed was a bit of a letdown -- merely tasty when compared to the transcendent scallops. The flavors didn't wow, although the starch of the potato was a nice contrast to the texture of the fish. The sommelier paired this dish with a tangy rosé: a nice fit, but we were ready for a good red. That wish was soon granted, and a big, tart California red accompanied the only meat course of the night: thick slices of veal, garnished with a stalk of asparagus and tomato compote. It's great to see Cimarusti and his chef de cuisine, Paul Shoemaker, using local, seasonal ingredients. At this point, diner's fatigue begins to set in, however, and you will long for some respite from this barrage of flavor.
Thankfully, the final course was a light dessert: pineapple confit with ice cream, sprinkled with caramel popcorn. Popcorn! Pineapple and popcorn! What a lovely surprise. The house provides a nice selection of coffee and teas, including a Japanese barley tea that was perfect with the nutty, sweet popcorn.
Despite the lag in serving time at the beginning of the meal, the waiters are personable, low-key, and knowledgeable. The sommelier offers just enough information to enlighten the diner - but will confess that he cannot quite pronounce the Hungarian winemaker's name (it's okay, dude - Hungarian's a tough language). The ambiance and decor is a perfect example of form following theme: you feel submerged in some pleasant marine grotto, surrounded by the soft murmurs of your fellow diners and enveloped in soft light flickering gently against the walls. Providence is not trendy -- don't look for any Ray-ban-wearing, cell-phone-wielding hipsters here; neighboring diners will most likely be discussing their son's chances at getting into the Harvard-Westlake School. Providence's patrons know well, though, that this is by far one of the most sublime dining experience Los Angeles has to offer.
Be prepared, of course, to spend major bucks for this major experience -- the five course tasting menu with wine pairings is about $110 per person - but despite what some Yelpers have to say (some of those posters must have ingested major quantities of Haterade before dining at the restaurant), it is absolutely, positively, thoroughly worth it.
5955 Melrose Ave (Melrose/Wilcox)
Los Angeles 90038
M-F 6-10p, Sat 5:30-10p, Sun 5:30-9p
Lunch: Fri 12-2:30p