Monday, July 16, 2007


I had foolishly avoided Providence since it opened in 2005 despite its proximity to our Beverly-La Brea neighborhood and its intense focus on fish, which I always prefer to meat when dining at a fancier establishment. I had looked askance at it because the positive reviews commented on its high ambition and a few acquaintances who went found the food to be precious. Moreover, I distrusted its boxy building as too large to permit exceptional quality or intimacy, feared the prices and then lost interest. In short, I prejudged the place.

So on the occasion of the annual parental visit, my father, having read about Providence in pitiful Los Angeles, asked me to make a reservation. I demurred, offering up such local gems as Soot Bull Jeep, Chung King, and La Casita Mexicana, the likes of which cannot be found in the Midwest. (Needless to say, I lost the argument though on the following day we enjoyed the barbecued quail at Marouch and the southern Thai cuisine at Jitlada.)

At the risk of exaggeration, Michael Cimarusti’s Providence is as good a restaurant as I have been to in a long time. His ideas are as original as his execution is deft. His thoughtfulness goes well beyond the mere use of “new” ingredients or the unorthodox melding of various ingredients, although he does employ these tactics. Cimarusti, with great success, also applies traditional techniques in unorthodox ways to standard ingredients. But not once did I feel his dishes were somehow contrived or precious. It goes without saying that Cimarusti believes in fresh produce and fish. This is California after all.

I was nervous at first. The amuse was a shot of watermelon soup with lemon foam. The soup was fresh and flavorful, but the foam lumbered on top and could not be swallowed concurrently. It was also foam. I will say that Cimarusti’s attempt to pry the maligned substance from the Vigneronian bearhug was admirable if futile.

For an appetizer, I ordered the roasted spot prawn and Japanese sword squid with “provencal flavors,” a dish that immediately reminded me why I love the simplicity of southern French cooking. The kitchen placed two spot prawns at the center of the plate around which it interspersed tiny cuts of the squid. The Provençal flavors consisted of an intensely fresh tomato sauce darkened with capers and a minor chord of spiciness. The spot prawns could have been as succulent and tender as those miraculously good prawns served at L’Astrance, where only a dull spoon was really necessary to cut them. The sword squid was also very tender and delicious.

As a second appetizer, Big City and I split Providence’s foie gras parfait with gewürztraminer gelée, puréed red beet and freeze-dried cherry powder. My father chazered the powder so all I can report is that he really liked it with the foie. Cimarusti whipped the foie gras and served it vertically though not in a superficial west-of-Doheny kind of way. As a result, the texture of the foie gras “parfait,” which was served room temperature, resembled gelato (or the great ice cream at Milk). It was among the best foie gras I have ever eaten. I am sure the gewürztraminer gelée and beet puree were interesting and intelligent, but I was too focused in keeping the five other persons at my table from bogarting the foie.

For a main, I had a great roasted snapper served with roasted sweet peppers, chorizo that was served on a short bed of crushed potato with capers and olive oil. The snapper was thin and delicate though not flimsy, and had a fresh, rich flavor. Its skin was just as crispy and delicious as I would expect in a well-prepared duck dish. The snapper was so good that I paid little heed to the potato and chorizo until the fish was gone.

Marisa had the equally delicious striped bass with pistachios, porcini, carrot mousseline and wedges of mission figs. In an interesting twist, Cimarusti dusted the mission figs with salt, thereby amplifying their natural sweetness with the most basic complement.

For dessert, we liked the saffron rice pudding with Harry’s Berries strawberries and a few interesting gelati such as corn and salt & pepper. The décor was unobtrusive, as I had no clue that the following day's episode of Entourage was set at Providence until my mom called to tell me. The service was formal, even aloof.

5955 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles
(323) 460-4170

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