Providence: ALC or Tasting Menu
I am visiting my daughter who is attending college in LA, and planning to take her to Providence. The online menu looks great, and I am debating between ordering a la carte vs tasting menu.
• The tasting menu gives us a chance to try many different dishes. But I read from this board that it has too much food. Do you know if we can do 9-course for one, and 5-course for the other? Also can we substitute course? 1 meal dish is too many for me, although my daughter would welcome a taste of meat by that point.
• Another option is to go a la carte. Turbot for 2 is enticing. Last time I had Turbot was in Southern France many years ago. Anyone experience that at Providence? We can follow that with a dessert tasting.
Had a very good dinner at Providence last weekend - we did the tasting menu.
Pictures here: http://insert-food.blogspot.com/2011/...
Dishes we had are below:
Amuse 1 - Mojito, Screwdriver
Manipulated cocktails are a signature amuse at Providence, and seem to be catching on in other restaurants around the country as well (e.g.: the complex edible cocktails that have been served at Alinea in the past year or two). The Screwdriver was a spherification of a standard recipe - quite ordinary. The Mojito was markedly better - I had anticipated a room-temperature gelée, but instead it was frozen so that tiny ice crystals permeated the block, lending a nice crunch that heightened the tanginess of the lime and mint. Very refreshing.
Amuse 2 - Grilled New Zealand baby abalone
Amuse 3 - Squid and chorizo
Both skewers were grilled yakitori-style over binchotan charcoal. The abalone was intriguing because I'd never had such a small one. It had a much more delicate texture than its larger brethren, while proving to be equally sweet.
Amuse 4 - Hokkaido scallop tartare
To my delight, we were each served two of these. Deliciously sweet raw Hokkaido scallop, wrapped in peppery nasturtium leaf. The texture of the scallop was amazingly creamy. A minimalist preparation that allowed the ingredients to shine.
Amuse 5 - Serrano ham canapé with shaved black winter truffle
Another simply prepared item, but highly successful because of the quality of the ingredients. It was salty and earthy. A warm piece of house-baked focaccia served as a base for the toppings. The oil from the bread was very nice as it combined in my mouth with the truffles and the fat from the ham.
Soy milk panna cotta
Uni, caviar, gold flakes
One of the best things we ate all night - this was phenomenal. The panna cotta was incredibly luxurious, and its mild soy flavour worked sensationally well with the Santa Barbara uni and caviar. Tasting each component alone, in pairs, and all together really brought out each aspect of every ingredient - both of us appreciated how the dish managed to enhance the common notes and the contrasting flavours between the uni, caviar and panna cotta. A small dab of wasabi on each piece of uni prevented the bites from getting too rich. Crispy puffed rice and sliced micro-radish provided two different types of crunchiness to round off the soft textures. Chive flowers imparted a slight vegetal note to keep the palate alive. Gold flakes served to further accentuate the luxury of the plate. Beautiful, like a semi-Westernized take on Urasawa's chawan mushi.
Reblochon de savoie, truffled onion puree, chives, brioche
Another very delicious dish, perhaps Chef Cimarusti's haute interpretation of a tartiflette (a French dish incorporating potatoes, cream, Reblochon and onions). The rich, soft-cooked egg was a perfect substitute for the traditional cream in this context. The nuttiness of the Reblochon was compounded by the aroma from the truffled onion puree, and all the ingredients melted together in my spoon. For me, this recapitulated and actually improves on the original tartiflette. The brioche croutons were good, but actually quite unnecessary for the integrity of the dish. Visually, I also liked how the serving vessel was a reproduction of Providence's logo (see top of post).
Beets, fennel, blood orange
The dehydrated blood orange crisps were nicely acidic, countering the fat from the salmon belly. The crisp skin of the fish also contrasted well with the soft beets. I enjoyed the many ways fennel was utilized here - the raw fronds, fennel foam and fennel pollen dusted over the plate. These provided varying degrees of anise flavour (ranging from the mild foam to the potent pollen), bridging the tastes of the other elements. A very classic combination of ingredients executed well.
Roasted sweetbreads and parsnips
An excellent preparation of roasted sweetbreads. Parsnips were present in two forms - diced and roasted, and as a puree. Both were crucial backdrops for the peppery offal. The dots of reduced red wine sauce were tannic and acidic, and paired very well with the unctuous sweetbreads.
Cannellini beans, nori, celery, brown butter
Red cabbage, apples, whole-grain mustard, chanterelles
This dish was a good demonstration of the kitchen's technical proficiency. The skin from the pork belly had been removed, and a slab of fatty flesh completely wrapped in a single layer of phyllo pastry. This was then crisped to perfection - combined with the pork fat, it was an amazing imitation of the absent skin (better, in fact, since many times the pork skin can get hard instead of crunchy after cooking). Likewise, the red cabbage had been slow-braised in a red wine sauce, but the kitchen managed to preserve the vegetable's texture, preventing it from suffering the common fate of disintegrating into mush. The apples, mustard sauce and cabbage all served as delightful accompaniments to the crispy belly.
Nebraska wagyu and puntarelle
Romanesco, potato gratin, truffle fondue
Puntarelle is an Italian variety of chicory, commonly eaten in the region around Rome during the winter months. Tonight was our first encounter with this vegetable - it is crunchy with a slight bitter flavour with hints of arugula, fennel and endives. The one on our plate was grown right here in California (specifically, Salinas). All parts of the plant were used in this dish - leaves, stalks and shoots. The distinct flavours in each plant part went well with the surprisingly beefy taste of the wagyu, which was seared perfectly. The truffle fondue was rather gratuitous, but neither of us had any complaints about it. A very solid dish except for the large potatoes - I've never been a fan of any take on "steak and potatoes", and here again I didn't find the chunks of starch necessary (although, don't get me wrong, I love potatoes in the right situation).
Passable, but nothing compared to the quality at the grand French restaurants. The accoutrements were actually fairly weak, but two outstanding cheeses redeemed this plate. First was a perennial favourite, Époisses de Bourgogne (in the spoon), a smear-ripened cow's milk cheese served here in top condition. The second cheese was new to us - Oregon's Rogue River Blue Cheese (foreground left), a raw cow's milk cheese wrapped in grape leaves macerated in pear brandy. This is one of the best creamy blues I've ever had - nutty and earthy like mushrooms, but with aspects of pear (presumably imparted by the wrapping) and sweet fresh fruit. A superb American cheese, and one we will be keeping an eye out for.
Lychee-shiso sorbet, coconut soy milk soup, passionfruit-mango gelée
Another really high point during the meal - this dessert was genius in a bowl. We were curious about what the pastry kitchen would put out in the absence of Adrian Vasquez (who hasn't yet been replaced), but it seems that his crew fully absorbed his style and continues his vision. The inclusion of shiso in the sorbet was unexpected, yet completely appropriate - the balance between fruity and herbaceous was captivating. The tapioca in the coconut soup had the right amount of "pop", and the soup itself was complementary to the sorbet. The coconut shavings yielded a second dimension of coconut flavour, above and beyond the taste of the soup. My only complaint was the size of the gelée - there was a substantial amount of it (too much considering how tart it was) and it was quite overpowering, so I ended up pushing a lot of it aside. Putting this minor quibble aside, I haven't had a dessert so enjoyable since visiting Commis in November. I'm saddened that I never got to fully experience Vasquez's brilliance, but I'm very curious about who they'll hire to take over his position, and what direction the pastry kitchen will take going forward.
Vanilla rice panna cotta
Blood orange, caramelized puffed rice
Dark chocolate-rooibos ice-cream
Brandied cherries, creme brulee
Both very strong dishes in their own right, but they faded in comparison to the first dessert. Execution-wise, the panna cotta was perfect, with highly pronounced vanilla tones balanced by the acidity from the blood orange sorbet and foam. The crispy rice kept things alive texturally. I was impressed by the richness of both the eggless creme brulee and the ice-cream in the final dessert, but I thought that there was too much dark chocolate and rooibos powder on the plate - it was hard to sweep it aside, and it coated the other components and dried out my mouth.
Mignardises - Banana macarons, five-spice caramel, aleppo marshmallows
The evening ended with a selection of petits fours. I was particularly enamored by the combination of caramel and marshmallows eaten in succession - the five-spice and creamy "tooth-sticking" sweetness of the former gave way to a fluffy texture and the mild heat from the aleppo peppers in the latter.
We left feeling satisfied, but not bursting at the seams - a perfect amount of food. We had high expectations, and were not disappointed. Providence is solidly in 2-star territory (although I think some FOH inconsistencies prevent them from reaching 3-star level) and is much more than the seafood restaurant it is commonly billed as. Based on this experience, we're comfortable with the capabilities of the kitchen and will gladly leave ourselves in their hands on future visits.
FOH - as in the service in general, or the managment up front?
I think I would have said that a few years ago. Maybe even a year ago. But I was there recently and thought the service was quite good - and had improved. Many one little, minor faux pas (few restaurants get 100 point on my personal scale), but nothing worthy of bringing up in a public forum. I look forward to many returns.
I have to say, having had recent visits to L20 and Alinea - the bar for service was raised - I've never had such great service at any other 3 star or 2 star restaurant.
Service in general. Perhaps there was a new server or something, but this server didn't seem very confident and gave us wrong information about one dish. This person also somehow managed to completely talk over us at one point and ignore a question (I put it down to the server trying really hard to recite the dish to us - more funny than annoying, really). Also would have liked a new napkin after heading to the restroom. Small things like that, but there were enough of them that night to ding them for it.
I really enjoy the service at Alinea, and find it better than L2O, which comes off as more impersonal (although I visited L2O a month after they opened, so they could still have been working things out then).
Had another great meal at Providence recently, this time at their Chef's Table. I've skimped on notes this time, but the menu we had is below.
Pics here: http://insert-food.blogspot.com/2011/...
We enjoyed two great (nay, fantastic) wine steals over dinner - leading off with a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé from the wine list, and transitioning to a powerful 2008 Two Hands Bella's Garden Shiraz brought by our guests.
Amuse 1 - Mojito, Screwdriver
Amuse 2 - Beau soleil oyster, jalapeno, cilantro, lime
The oyster from New Brunswick was fresh and clean, brinier than many of its North American cousins. Its liquor was supplemented with juice from a sweet cherry tomato, and a lone cilantro blossom added a welcome vegetal note.
Amuse 3 - Binchotan-grilled miso-marinated abalone
Amuse 4 - Binchotan-grilled squid and chorizo
Amuse 5A - Consomme, caprese
Stunning. The tomato water consomme was topped with an herbal fennel foam - superbly balanced. On the side, a caprese bubble - tomato water encapsulating a cube of mozzarella, topped with a leaf of micro basil.
Amuse 5B - "Crackers"
Accompanying the liquids above were a selection of crunchy items. In the left box, salmon skin chips (top) and sesame/soy-seasoned rice crisps (bottom). In the right box, hollow pastry shells filled with egg salad and caviar (top), tomato and mozzarella (middle), and smoked sea trout with ikura (bottom).
Crispy buckwheat, tomato vinaigrette, finger lime, red onion, micro celery
Santa Barbara uni
Corn, cornbread, egg, truffle
Another iteration of Cimarusti's popular egg course. The shell was filled with a softly poached egg yolk at the bottom, followed by a generous dollop of uni. Atop this, sweet corn puree and a crunchy cornbread streusel. Finally, the concoction was crowned with shaved Australian winter truffles (unfortunately, rather lacking in aroma this night).
Santa Barbara spot prawn, charred lamb's leaf
Maldon salt, smoked shrimp head butter-lemon sauce, lemon
Provided as accoutrements to the beautiful spot prawn, the butter sauce was a real treat - smoky, briny, tangy.
Grilled scallop, truffle butter
Butterball potatoes, scallion oil, smoked butter, romesco
Very nice, especially the sharply-flavoured garlic flower perched atop the potatoes. The fish was one of the best preparations of cooked tai I've enjoyed, but I found the pasty romesco at odds with the other components.
Pickled apples, Tahitian squash, sunchoke puree, Pedro Ximenez
King salmon belly
Fig, smoked eggplant, fennel
American wagyu, butterball potatoes
Bone marrow bearnaise, chanterelles, cippolini onions
Again, steak and potatoes finds its way into the modern American tasting menu. This time, the duck fat-roasted potatoes were more charming than usual, and the fried tarragon added a nice emphasis to the delicious bearnaise.
What's not pictured is the whole box of Époisses that we had on the side, but the unanimous champion tonight was the fantastic raw cow's milk Rogue River Blue from Rogue creamery - complex character and at its peak this evening.
Cucumber-mint frozen yogurt, honeydew soup
Sesame streusel, plum sorbet, blueberries
Since my previous visit, Adrian Vasquez has returned to the Providence pastry kitchen in a part-time capacity. He spends a bit of each month in the city, developing and tweaking desserts. His famous miso cheesecake keeps its place on the menu, its flavour augmented here by a really strong toasted sesame sauce.
Ganache, raspberry, ginger meringue
Graham cracker ice cream and crumble
Mignardises - Chocolate macarons, chocolate-basil marshmallows, lemon basil gelee
The 5 course tasting menu isn't too much food, go with that. They will let you substitute courses, just ask. For instance, once I wanted to do the 5-course tasting menu followed by the dessert tasting menu, and they allowed me to sub a savory cheese course for the dessert that is supposed to be in the 5-course. So that's another idea if you want to do the dessert tasting menu as well. Although the desserts are all light, that really was quite a lot of food, though.
You must both order the same tasting menu, but they were very accomodating about substitutions for our dietary restrictions. I had a marvelous meal, without shellfish or land animals. My husband had no shellfish and no pork. The two others ate without restrictions. This was for the 14 course tasting menu.
Not sure, though, about, "I only want one meat course" since that implies picky eater more than restricted eater. But you could order one "regular" menu and one "no meat" menu.
The same type of tasting menu (either in 5 or 7 course iteration) must be ordered for the entire table. One person cannot have a 5-course and another a 7-course.
Do the Tasting Menu -- in either iteration, esp. if you have the time. A la carte is not the best way to experience Providence.