Life Day in ecstasy at Providence-Report (LONG!)
Friday was Life Day (observed). Annually, I celebrate surviving my largest and final unintentional acrobatic motorcycle dismount with a huge blowout dinner. I save $20 every weekend (if I can) in the “Life Day Box” and then bring it out and go mad! For the past several years, I have taken my spoils to Providene to be spoiled. This year, I wavered. Should I try something new? Should I go somewhere else? I had managed to save more than ever before, and nagging niggling thoughts pushed me to perhaps try another place. A quick call to Donato several months before the day quelled the nigglers. He assured me that Providence could do something really special for me. As soon as he heard my name, Donato had accessed the Providence super mainframe. He knew. He told me they had been anticipating my call *blush* Let is be said that in past years, excitement usually means I confirm reservations more than humanly called for.
The wait was unbearable, and I swore to only confirm at the most, three times. Life took a turn. My husband lost his job. My car was broken into and all my electronics swiped. My sister discovered a suspicious lump in her back. I looked at my money, and asked my husband if we should perhaps cancel Life Day. “Not on your life!“ he answered, “we need it more than ever!“ And so the reservation stood.
Last Friday, we got dressed to the nines and headed out in my stereo less car. Without music, and with a little traffic, my anticipation rose in that car to the point that I think I was physically vibrating! Finally, we got there! Donato was waiting for us as we walked in spot on time for our 7:30 reservation. We were led right away to, yes, the Chef’s Table? For TWO?!?! On a FRIDAY!?!?! Already, I felt like a big Someone, which really made up for the past weeks of feeling like a nobody.
Donato paused as he went to drape the lovely white napkin on my lap. “You are wearing black. We have black napkins. Let me get you one.“ Oh, lordy, how I swoon over excellent customer service! Donato assured us the menu was very special. Michael apparently had been getting ready for a while, including a few trips for special pairings. We were offered an aperitif, but Donato cautioned that it would be a long night with excellent pairings, so we turned it down. A bit into the evening, Donato delivered a card. I opened it to see a wonderful note form Michael. It turns out he could not be there, but had been shopping like a madman for me right up to that morning.:
I’m sorry I could not be with you tonight as you celebrate Life Day. I am in Palm Springs cooking for an event scheduled a year ago. I wanted to tell you I was at the LA fish market this AM, picking out fish for your dinner and yesterday bought beer to accompany the menu I have been planning for you for some time now. I created your menu in celebration of life! So I put a lot of my favorite things on it….You are in very good hands tonight with my Chef du Cuisine, Yu Min Lin. Here’s to may more Life Days!
Michael Cimarusti, Providence”
OK, THAT blew me away!
And in good hands we were. The entire staff was a powerhouse of service, and we all had fun. Drew brought us amazing wine and beer for our pairings (the beer was purchased at Galco, by the way) I do not have the pairings, I have to say that memory eludes me on the excellent wine for the very good reason that I drank it!
And so, with a view of the efficient, madhouse of a somehow always utterly clean kitchen, our feast began!
Here is the menu. Forgive me if in this long report, I don‘t comment on everything:
Greyhound and Mojito-these were little “egg yolks” of cocktails, molecular gastronomy at its tastiest.
Trout/mint/yuzu kosho, bubu arare
Goat Cheese/hearts of Palm-now is where one sees a little “blip” Donato is perfectly aware that I am allergic to nuts, but the goat cheese lollipop came out with a dusting of pistachio. I felt my eyes widen. We told our server, who whisked it away immediately. A minute later, he was in the kitchen, reminding the chefs, runners and anyone within earshot what could and couldn’t hit the table. A new Lollipop came out for me, sans nuts. AMAZING flavor! There were no further issues.
Gin and Tonic
Fennel and Saffron shooter- the gin and tonic was a little rectangle, the shooter came in what looked to be the world’s smallest beer stein. In fact, with the golden saffron infusion and the fennel foam, it looked exactly like beer. My beer geek husband was tickled. The flavor was NOT like beer,intense, fresh, it was such a small thing, but it seemed to wash over my whole soul.
Maine lobster, chorizo geleé lime, cilantro-amazing. All I can say.
Nancy’s down east scallop sashimi (Deer Isle, Maine) American Caviar, compressed cucumber- these scallops are not going to be around for long. They were sublime, creamy. I’ve never had scallops like them.
Spot prawn tartare osetra cavia “seaweed bread”
Tete croustillante-I have had the spot prawn salt crust grill, this was better! The seaweed bread was also amazing. I am a breadatarian,, and wanted more! The menu listed American Caviar, but our server told us it was osetra!! The little croustillantes were brought out by Yu Min Lin with a wonderful smile. The shells of the prawn had been pounded, and combined with what tasted like romano cheese and baked into fabulous little crackers. An innovation on the old “prawn cracker” The Porsche of Prawn Crackers!
Japanese aji, cherry blossoms, yuzu- this was one of the ones paired with a beer
Unagi, tiny favas, meyer lemon purée - OK, bread and eel-a-tarian. I LOVE unagi, and my husband accused me of telling them so. I didn’t. This dish brought joy. The favas paired perfectly with the eel and the puree brought out the flavors of the beer
Slow cooked wild king salmon (Columbia river) morels, ramps- With the new ban on Chinook fishing, good salmon is going to be hard to find. This KING was cooked, probably sous vide, until it turned into some heavenly manna that melted in our mouths! My husband again accused me of telling them my favorites, I die for good morels. These were beyond “good”. They were perfect. The salmon had a little crispy skin puff wafer to add crunch to the creaminess.
Turbot, baby radishes, sauce vin rouge, cinnamon espuma- my mother heard later about this and was green with envy. She says she hasn’t had turbot in 30 years-it isn’t common as she would like. This easily topped the Turbot we had on Spago’s tasting menu. The small jewel or turbot had a little strip of it’s skin, not crisped like the salmon’s, but crisp with a little layer of fat that helped it melt.
Foie gras, glazed carrots, green onion Szechwan peppercorn, mizuna- OK, this was perhaps the stand out of the evening. First, getting foie gras in this town is getting tough. Getting it done WELL is even tougher. “Tough” comes nowhere near the gift we were given. I took one bite, and had to check to see whether the foie was actual existence, or just my imagination. Did flavor and texture such as this dare to wander into our realm? In one bite, we were taken to a new dimension. I heard my husband groan in ways I have yet the power to make him do! Unlike several of the dishes we were served, this one is not yet on the regular menu. After tasting it, after having the luscious creamy foie, I nearly cried. I dabble in cookery. I almost cried, knowing I could never, ever achieve this!
Tenderloin of lamb, purée of petit pois, pearl onions, adjuvant- my husband is perhaps lamb’s biggest fan. More so after this tender little morsel. This lamb had obviously been raised in the finest of luxuries, because one could tell from the flavor that it had never experienced an ounce of hardship. It was an ode to spring with the petit pois and onions perfectly balancing the savory meat.
Kobe beef (wagyu), spring onions, pomme fondant, bacon-parmesan risotto- Kobe, unlike foie gras, is not hard to find. IN fact, until the protestors decide that massaging and treating cows to beer is somehow torture (if it is, then torture me!), Kobe will replace Foie Gras as the “go to” fancy dish.. So this HAD to stand out. And it did. I believe that from now one, Kobe and bacon-parmesian risotto must always be served together. One would think the bacon would overpower the beef. It did not. It was a perfect harmony.
Market cheese selection. In came the cart. OK, we were greedy! We were not stuffed. This is due to the amazing ability Providence’s kitchen has of packing a platter’s worth of flavor into small bites. Thus, having room, we had some of every cheese on the cart. I’d say that was 13 to 14 cheeses. Sophia is a constant fave of mine, but we scampered our taste buds through cow, goat and sheeps cheeses that made me wish the cart had come back!
Miso glazed pineapple, yuzu curd, goma prailine, mango sorbet. - A nice follow up to cheese, the pineapple was golden and sweet, and started proper digestion.
Ruby grapefruit litchi pan sorbet coconut soup with Thai flavors- Can I say this was my favorite dessert? Thank you. And I’ll never be able to do it on my own. Damn you Adrian! Your perfections makes me see how imperfect a chef I am!
Milk chocolate-whiskey panna cotta, Bailey’s ice cream, coconut ravioli- My second favorite dessert, and perhaps the largest plate of the evening. Normally, chocolate would be my favorite. This was an amazing dish, to be sure, and I ended up finishing my husband’s, because he couldn’t eat another bite. He sadly looked on as I slowly savored each final bite. But I have to say, the grapefruit blew me away. I think it would have been better to swap the order of the two.
Chocolate lollipop- my husband found room for one more bite! This time, they were dark chocolate.
Adrian’s hand made artisinal chocolates-to take home. They didn’t make it home. Where can I get more? Each decadent chocolate shell was filled with a different infusion of flavor.
I will have to update with the pairings when I have them. I couldn’t bear to make anyone stay late to fill me in, so I’ll call Drew sometime this week for a firm list. My beer geek husband was thrilled when we were served La Chouffe, Pinkus Hefe, and a special really large pour of Utopias! The wines were all amazing and perfectly matched, and I swear if I can, I’ll get them to you!
We were there from 7:30 to sometime around 12:30. But we didn’t notice the passage of time. I think the food transported us beyond the boundaries of time! What I did notice was a very tired kitchen staff getting ready to leave. I heard from Donato that particular night, Providence was swamped, which made me even more thankful for the Chef’s Table on a Friday! He could of sat us at a two top and had room for larger, probably wealthier more important parties! I saw a few “VIP” types enter the kitchen to hug everyone and be important. I didn’t dare go in and disturb the creators of my heaven.
I was certain the meal, with little extras even I can’t remember, would bust my budget. Before tip and valet, but with pairings $780 and some change for the two of us. This is way less than I expected! The meal, dare I bring such an experience down by calling it such, with unmatched service, amazing wines and just fun all around, was worth far more! I actually had a good deal left to save towards next year! But how can next year top this?
do it! It's so worth it! You don't have to go to Providence (although I say you should!)
If you give up, say, your daily Grande, venti, or something or other crappucino , and put that money in a special box, then a year later, you have a mind blowing dinner fun.
Everyone should do their own Life Day!
Nice report and Happy (belated) Life Day to you! :)
That sounds like a wonderful, custom Chef's Menu tailored just for you (which is really awesome).
Diana, thanks for sharing this special day with us. Reading Michael's note gave me the chills. You must have felt so special at that moment. I hope everything works out for you and hopefully, this meal is just the beginning of good things to come.
Great report. My wife and I feel like we dined with you. . . regrettably we didn't. Sounds like a remarkable evening.
Your post is literally making me cry. I, too, have had a rough time recently. I lost my mom to cancer late last year, my dad's in the hospital, I'm involved in a lawsuit, I've been in three accidents in the past 2 years (none life threatening, thankfully), and much, much more. I am just so happy for you that you and your husband were able to enjoy such an experience with everything you've been through lately. Not only did you have a fabulous meal, but you were treated like royalty with such wonderful TLC.
Thank you! Hang in there! Things will get better!
The ups go with the downs, and you deserve an up. Start your own Life Day savingsd box RIGHT NOW! Even if it's only $5 a week, you can save enough for a nice meal by this time next year. When the anniversary of this mess comes up, you can go out and be pampered, you deserve it!
Both are good.
At Spago, when I went, I was treated well, but I was put in a not so fabulous table in a crowded room. It was along a wall and tight with the people next to us. the waiter did very expertly find a reason to move us when a granny with absolutely killer amounts of bug-spray perfume was seated next to me. The Spago tasting menu was wonderful, and they were very good about not letting nuts near me or triggering my allergies. In some ways, this was a pain. Sherry Yard refused to make me a dessert, saying she was too scared of nuts (some soap and a hot rag and prep off in a "clean area". We were given fruit salad for dessert. For a tasting menu?!? it was good fruit salad, though.
Providence has been more creative in working around my allergies, and I find the space more relaxing. They have always made me something special, rather than deny me a dish for fear of my allergies. It just seemed a little lett "big corporate" a little more special.
I think it's because Puck now has an empire, whilst Donato, Michael and everyone at Providence keeps it an entity unto itself.
Sort of the difference between a good personal trainer and Bally's. Both are very good, but one offers a little more personal attention.
Nice, detailed post and looking forward to knowing what was paired (wine/beer) with your menu.
My wife and I went this past Feb. and had a similar menu. The amuse "cocktails" were fun and tasty; we had the gin and tonic along with a mojito plus a shooter of soup.
The lobster dish you had sounds killer; ours was disappointing. The lobster was overcooked and the accompanying flavors were off. We didn't get the prawn, aji or unagi, but had an amazing big eye tuna tartar and blue crab salad.
I wish we had the scallop sashimi. Again, our scallop dish (plus black truffles) didn't do much for me and the strong, raw root flavors from the squash overpowered the dish.
Other highlights we had were the grouper, the artic char which sounds just like the salmon you had. It's not cooked sous vide (I asked), but using (for lack of the correct term) a fast food warming tray that regulates a very low, but constant heat level similar to sous vide.
Veal tenderloin was magic and the cheese cart was pure gluttony.
The wine pairings I had were spot on for the most part and the sommelier was very amicable in putting up with me and my wine obsession.
Overall, our dinner started kind of slowly (which worried me considering the steep bill I knew was coming), but it picked up considerably and we walked away very satisfied.
Intersting about the fast food tray! I wonder if that is how they did the salmon?
vinosnob: I know this may sound like sacrilage, but have oyu ever thought of doing beer parings?
I have wanted to do a tasting menu with full on beer parings for some time, but just can't pull myself away from having at least some wine! but the thought still niggles.
I guess it would depend on the restaurant; if the menu was really focused toward beer pairings as opposed to wine, I would go with the beer.
I've done a combination of beer and wine parings at El Bizcocho (in SD) over the course of a tasting menu. It was a nice change up, but I'm with you, it's hard to pass up on wine!
thanks for the wonderful post. it certainly reminded me of the 2 times we have been there, both great. reading about your life day experience certainly made it very memorable. all the best to you and your husband. i've had a few fellow car enthusiasts gasp when i told them i'd dump my toys in a heartbeat to be able to enjoy great food all the time! as was mentioned, sure felt like we savored your wonderful meal together...