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Providence...very good, but disappointing

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Saturday night we took a very special guest to Providence to celebrate her birthday. Although our meal was very good, it was overall disappointing, and not what I would expect from a Michelin 2 star restaurant with the reputation and high prices that mark this restaurant.

We arrived at 6:15pm for our 6:30 reservation. Our party of 3 was seated in the main dining room at a table that was wedged between the wall and a larger table of ~8 guests. The dining room was very packed, somewhat noisy with servers rapidly moving to and fro and certainly not the setting for a special dinner. Indeed, when I needed to leave the table mid-dinner, it was pretty much impossible to extricate myself without nudging diners at the adjacent table.

We ordered cocktails shortly after being seated. About 10 or 15 minutes later our server apologized for the delay in serving them, saying that they would be "up" within a few minutes because the bar was "backed up". When the drinks were served, one of us wanted a side of ice for his martini. This was served rather promptly, but without an accompanying spoon or tongs. This might be fine for a lesser restaurant, but it is not what I think should be the norm at a place such as Providence.

Being that our guest wanted to order a la carte, we all needed to do so. Because beautiful white truffles were in season, we decided to start shared portions of pasta with truffles. This was delicious, as it should be at $130 per full portion. But...it wasn't perfect. The noodles were dressed with a very rich cream sauce over which generous shavings of truffle were placed. Although really quite special, the rich cream sauce was in our opinion superfluous. The noodles moistened with a beautiful olive oil and with truffles on top would have been far better. Sometimes simpler is better.

Our starters were very good...crab and fois gras.

Although others enjoyed their main courses, I ordered the sea bass which although very good was still disappointing. It was served lukewarm, and was barely cooked. I love sushi, but somehow warm and very undercooked fish seemed unappealing. After dinner, I questioned our excellent server about the preparation of the fish and he explained that the restaurant served most of their fish lukewarm, rather than hot. My fish in particular had been "cooked" in a warm 120 degree oven for about 20 minutes. This was the "normal" cooking for sea bass at Providence. I wished that I had been told about this in advance because although I'll eat pretty much anything...lukewarm, very undercooked, almost raw, fish was not that appealing to me. Another guest at the table ordered their John Dory "cooked through" and was very happy.

Having eaten our fill of food and excellent bread, we all chose different sorbets and ice cream for dessert. Each was remarkable...the best we've ever had.

Overall (aside from cocktails) our service was excellent...very professional yet very warm and gracious. The wine service was likewise excellent.

Everything was indeed very very good...but neither the dining room ambiance nor some of the food were as special as we had expected.

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  1. You should ask next time for a different table when you are seated. We never had problems at Providence to get another table if we didn;t like our first one even on very busy nights like Saturdays.

    1. also people seem to enjoy the tasting menu a lot more. both in food and service.

      4 Replies
      1. re: samtron608

        I absolutely agree that the way to dine at Providence is to have the tasting menu. See here for our last meal at Providence.

        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/811666

        1. re: lizziee

          The Providence Tasting Menu is the best meal I've ever had in Los Angeles.

          -----
          Providence
          5955 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038

          1. re: wienermobile

            Have had 5 course tasting menus, chef's menu, and a la carte at Providence. All have been very good. It depends what I'm in the mood for. Service has been excellent every time. Substitutions and additions were always graciously accomodated. Fish always medium rare. In fact, I'd be pissed if it were "cooked through" but that's me.

            Josephnl. I'm thinking your Providence, Mozza, and Cut experiences may be expectation related? I can't imagine you being thrilled about Water Grill and Fig and Olive but find so much fault with the first 3...

            -----
            Water Grill
            544 South Grand, Los Angeles, CA 90071

            1. re: Porthos

              I too like cooked fish prepared medium rare. This was way less cooked than that...as I said I was told that it was placed in a special high moisture 120 degree oven for 20 minutes. The fish was barely lukewarm and showed minimal evidence of cooking...truly more like a warm piece of raw fish. It was still very good, but I would have preferred it to be hot and medium rare. Had I been told about this before ordering, I would likely have been adventurous enough to try it, but then would have totally accepted the blame for it not being exactly as I would like it.

              Please understand that despite some disappointment, I fully acknowledge that Providence is a wonderful restaurant and will return. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but there were indeed some objective shortcomings as outlined in my review above.

              I do like Water Grill a great deal, but it's not the special occasion restaurant like Providence. Fish there has always been served to me exactly as I like it...medium rare. Fig and Olive is IMHO a great spot for a casual dinner, but I would not consider it to be in the same league as Providence, Water Grill, Patina, Melisse...and on and on.

              -----
              Water Grill
              544 South Grand, Los Angeles, CA 90071

      2. My only question is "Why did you not inquire of your waiter how the fish was cooked?" I know you are a very experienced diner and a lot of that at higher end restaurants. Even I know that the current fashion is to cook fish very lightly at places like Providence. It seems like your guest specified his desired level of how "done" he wanted his fish. I don't think you can put that one on the restaurant completely. Maybe a 50-50 split for where things went awry with your main?

        7 Replies
        1. re: Servorg

          I of course recognize that Providence is a fine restaurant whose speciality is fish. Since I had every confidence in the restaurant's ability to prepare fish properly, and since I indeed do like fish somewhat underdone, I did not think it was necessary to question how the fish was prepared. Nevertheless, the fact that the fish was barely lukewarm (it had been cooked in a 120 degree oven for 20 minutes!) and essentially the consistency of sashimi, I was very surprised...and honestly didn't like it that much. I was also surprised that the server told me that essentially all of their fish is served lukewarm. I have eaten at some of the best fish restaurants around (Le Bernardin in NYC, Water Grill and Melisse in LA, etc.), and although the trend is clearly towards undercooking fish, I have never experienced fish as lukewarm and undercooked as that which I was served.

          With regard to others excusing some of what went wrong by saying that it was because we ordered a la carte, is not really fair. Sure, to truly experience what a chef/kitchen is capable of, one should order a tasting menu...but items ordered a la carte should still reflect the skill of those in the kitchen.

          Please don't get me wrong. I think that Providence is a very fine restaurant, and certainly I'll return. Nevertheless, some of what I experienced was disappointing.

          -----
          Water Grill
          544 South Grand, Los Angeles, CA 90071

          1. re: josephnl

            Perhaps they were off on that order and you felt the need to go to a pubic forum and announce that. Hopefully Providence will be reading this thread and act accordingly.

            Myself - I've had nothing but stellar experiences at Providence. It seems that everytime I go, it gets a little better.

            I did eat at Melisse recently andI noticed that yes, the fish was not piping hot (a strip of John Dory) but warm. And it was, however, insanely delicious.

            1. re: foodiemahoodie

              The trout I had last week at The Hungry Cat was served hot. It was delicious!

              -----
              The Hungry Cat
              100 W Channel Rd, Santa Monica, CA 90402

              1. re: foodiemahoodie

                I honestly don't think they were "off" on my order of sea bass. After discussing it with the server, I really think that their method of preparation was executed exactly as they wanted it. I'm pretty certain that as the server said, this fish goes into a special oven for 20 minutes...and comes out very much less than medium rare. I guess that I personally would have preferred it very warm and cooked to medium rare.

                1. re: foodiemahoodie

                  I'm not sure why you seem to think that my reporting about my very good, yet ultimately disappointing experience at Providence is inappropriate. Except for one or two comments in my fairly lengthy review, most of what I say is completely objective and generally positive. If I were reviewing for the Times, sure I would not base a review on one visit. But isn't reporting experiences and indeed personal opinions about dining what this forum is about?

                  1. re: josephnl

                    fwiw, I always appreciate honest reporting, both favorable and unfavorable.
                    thank you josephni

                    1. re: josephnl

                      thank you for reporting your experience....I'm sure that many appreciate it!

              2. Very good... But disappointing - you nailed it - for the most part summarizes my half dozen or so meals at providence to a T. We were never sure if it was just us or bad luck, but no matter how we ordered - full tasting/surprise menu, ala carte - result was always the same. It just doesnt quite hit and satisfy on all cylinders. Good but frustratingly not great. Also of note, the menu doesnt ever seem to really evolve or switch things up enough - which maybe would be okay if everything was fantastic. Unfortunately in LA our choices for this kind of dining are fairly limited.

                2 Replies
                1. re: Claudem

                  Much agree, high quality of service and food is executed well with great presentation but overall I felt somewhat disappointed considering its two star rating.

                  To be fair I've only been one for their 9 course tasting menu.

                  1. re: Claudem

                    I gotta say, I kind of agree. I've been twice for the tasting menu. Once with wine pairing. Loved that- but in all honestly both those times i did not walk away savoring any moment of those dinners... unlike other experiences where i'll dream about a certain bite of food for days afterwards-- this never happened to me at providence.

                  2. Seabass should NEVER be under cooked.
                    It just doesn't work with that species in my opinion.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Td61

                      +1

                      Too oily (and not fatty oily in a salmon kind of way).

                    2. Next time, ask for the "wine cellar" (to the right of the bar area), which is quiet and table spacing is much more comfortable. The space is much more intimate and cozy. I wouldn't even think of choosing the main dining room over the wine cellar. I too like my fish hotter than lukewarm, although I don't remember that ever being an issue for me at Providence. I like my fish either completely raw or on the medium side. Some fishes don't even work medium/medium rare (e.g., cod, trout).

                      1. I have had notihng but wonderful experiences at Providence. I find both their food and front of house service to be pretty stellar. While I have had a dish or two that didnt stand out, I find that every time I do one of the tasting menus, I walk away very impressed.

                        1. You're experience was better than mine. I had a good (not very good) meal there, which is always fine if you don't pay too much for it. My dinner for two with tax and tip was grossly over priced at about $450. I can't imagine ever going back unless it's to order only the poached egg and a glass of wine a la carte.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: thebigjelly

                            What are some of the places recommended by the "so called Chowhound experts" (I guess those would be people who come here and offer their opinions on what they both like and dislike) that you've found as less than good? I looked at your posts to date and the only one I found that qualified as a miss was Gilbert's El Indio on Pico for (as you called it) "greasy...bland" food.

                            -----
                            Gilbert's El Indio
                            2526 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 90405

                            1. re: Servorg

                              Panns, Blue Plate Oysterette, Berlin Currywurst, Fabs, Lazy Ox Canteen, Tampa Gardens, The Yard, Kiriko, Hostaria Del Piccolo, Street, to name a few.

                              -----
                              Kiriko
                              11301 W Olympic Blvd Ste 102, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                              Blue Plate
                              1415 Montana Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90403

                              Tampa Garden
                              8241 Tampa Ave, Reseda, CA 91335

                              Lazy Ox Canteen
                              241 S San Pedro St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

                              Berlin Currywurst
                              3827 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

                              1. re: thebigjelly

                                Pann's is one of my long time regular stops. I've always recommended their patty melt and their wings or half fried chicken dinner along with their biscuits and now their corned beef hash as well as their country breakfast. What did you have there that didn't hit your taste, and where would you recommend someone to get that same thing at a place you do like?

                                1. re: thebigjelly

                                  I completely understand your feelings towards Lazy Ox. Aside from the perfectly fried pig ears and beer selection, and a decent razor clams a la plancha over 1.5 years ago there isn't much remarkable at Lazy Ox.

                                  Kiriko on the other hand...it's hard to see how someone who appreciates sushi or Japanese food could be unimpressed with a place that does matsutake dobin mushi, serves live mantis prawn sushi, grilled ayu, and even offers cod sperm sac...

                                  -----
                                  Kiriko
                                  11301 W Olympic Blvd Ste 102, Los Angeles, CA 90064

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    I like these. Europane, Brents, Hungry Cat, Mozza, Lou, Rivera, Playa, Spice Table, Place Yuu, Phillipe the Original, Ramen Nippon, Gjelina, and quite a few more.

                                    -----
                                    Place Yuu
                                    2101 Sawtelle Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                    Ramen Nippon
                                    6900 Reseda Blvd, Reseda, CA 91335

                                    The Spice Table
                                    114 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA

                                    Gjelina
                                    1429 Abbot Kinney Blvd, Venice, CA 90291

                                    The Hungry Cat
                                    100 W Channel Rd, Santa Monica, CA 90402

                                  2. re: thebigjelly

                                    concur with thebigjelly are: panns and blue plate oysterette.

                                    maybe, having lived in conneticut for three years, the oysterette-type food stopped seeming "speial' to me: after a while it seemed like everyday fare. . .

                                    i've already posted my negative opinion about panns in other threads.

                                    kiriko was nice, but the fish, imho, is nicer at sushi-zo. actually, i find the fish at echigo superior, but the ambiance at echigo is not up to that of the other two.

                                    gotta disagree about Hosteria del Picolo/ love their starters, pastas, and desserts. havent never tried their pizzas nor entrees.

                                    1. re: westsidegal

                                      I was depressed by the quality of the seafood at Blue Plate Oysterette. I think you'd agree that the ceviche there is far inferior to that at Mariscos Chentes.

                                      1. re: sushigirlie

                                        completely concur with sushigirlie, especially given the price level.

                              2. Josephnl is certainly entitled to his opinion and my defense of Providence should not be taken as a criticism of his report.

                                From my reading, I see 2 main reasons why Josephnl found the food at Providence slightly "less special".
                                ==========================================================
                                Although really quite special, the rich cream sauce was in our opinion superfluous. The noodles moistened with a beautiful olive oil and with truffles on top would have been far better.
                                ==========================================================
                                Try as I may, I cannot recall olive oil being used as a vehicle for white truffles. The standard vehicles to carry the taste and aroma of freshly shaved truffles, black or white, is usually butter, cream, or egg yolk. Even the versions I had in Rome last fall, butter was used on fresh fettuccini. The reason I believe olive oil is not used is because good extra-virgin olive oil has a certain taste, acidity, and even a bite that may detract from the scent of truffles. Sure you could use subpar less flavorful olive oil so this doesn't happen but why would you do something like that? So in this case, I'm going to have to go with the chef's choice of fat vehicle. Though the diner may have preferred olive oil it does not mean the dish would have been better with it.

                                ==========================================================
                                I ordered the sea bass which although very good was still disappointing. It was served lukewarm, and was barely cooked
                                ==========================================================
                                In a high end seafood restaurant such as Providence, the chef's goal is to highlight the fish's taste and texture and perhaps prepare it in a way we are not accustomed to. Cooking a piece of fish over low temperature so that it is barely cooked through and probably uniform doneness throughout (why do you think it was 120 and not 140 or 160 degrees) sounds exactly like that. Again, OP would have preferred it cooked through, maybe even seared on the outside but you can get that anywhere. If I like my steak and burgers well done and a premium steakhouse serves me a medium rare steak or burger, would I be justified in saying that said steakhouse undercooks their steak and that it didn't live up to my expectations? The two are totally different things. A restaurant can totally not live up to one's expectations but that doesn't mean the restaurant misfired or is lacking.

                                11 Replies
                                1. re: Porthos

                                  Thanks for your very well stated critique of my review. Of course, taste is obviously subjective, and no one's opinion re what is delicious is more valid than another's. In another post (see http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/818387) I reported about one of my most memorable lunches in Orvieto in which I was served beautiful fresh pasta dressed simply with a beautiful olive oil, over which an entire walnut sized truffle (just dug up by the chef that morning) was shaved over all. It, accompanied by a glass or two of the local wine (Orvieto, of course), was to my palate at least, a lunch made in heaven. I must admit that I do not recall if it was a black or white truffle (which are the more commonly found in Orvieto???) but it was absolutly delicious. To my palate, the simple olive oil dressing the pasta was far more satisfying than a rich cream sauce such as was served at Providence.

                                  1. re: Porthos

                                    Personally, I find that the notion of cooking seabass at 120 degrees just screams "bland." The chef can aim for whatever he wants, but that doesn't mean we have to like it. More generally, I don't think that adoring the oh-so-precious food at Providence is a prerequisite for being a true foodie or Chowhound.

                                    1. re: sushigirlie

                                      Personally, I find that the notion of cooking seabass at 120 degrees just screams "bland."
                                      ====================
                                      So what temp screams flavor to you?

                                      True you don't have to like it, but to think that you know how to cook and execute fish cookery better than Providence is a bit bold to say the least.

                                      At no point did anyone say you had to know anything about pizza, kaiseki, or like Providence to be on CH. Those that do like Providence are simply defending their tastes. Just as valid as someone criticizing it.

                                      1. re: sushigirlie

                                        I personally cook fish quite often at home, most often sea bass, salmon and halibut filets. I like to sear one side (the skin side down, if there is skin) in a hot pan with a bit of butter and/or olive oil, then put it into a hot oven (~375-400 degrees) for 4-5 minutes. It comes out IMHO perfectly...it's quite hot, has a crispy skin or surface, and is perfectly medium rare. Any sauce that I may have prepared goes on afterwards. I personally like fish to be at least very warm, and thus the barely lukewarm sea bass as was served to me at Providence was not to my taste.

                                        1. re: sushigirlie

                                          I agree that nobody has to like a dish just because it was prepared by a well known chef. On the other site, isn't one of the main reasons to go to any restaurant, but especially high-end ones, to taste versions of food you wouldn't make at home (if you expect similar preparations/techniques as you are used to why even going to a restaurant). You might sometimes not like the version/technique at the restaurant but I wouldn't say it is the fault of the restaurant but more a "risk" of eating out at innovative restaurants.

                                          1. re: honkman

                                            Totally agree. That is why I did not question how the fish was cooked prior to my ordering it. Nevertheless, it wasn't to my taste, and I was interested in what other CH's would think about this somewhat unusual preparation of sea bass.

                                            1. re: josephnl

                                              The preparation of that sea bass would not have been to my liking. In fact, I would have sent it back for a bit more heat.

                                          2. re: sushigirlie

                                            <<Personally, I find that the notion of cooking seabass at 120 degrees just screams "bland.>>

                                            personally, to me, cooking sea bass at 120 degrees just screams "mushy' and "not enough textural integrity."

                                            this is not the kind if fish that i'd pick for 120degree cooking. . . .

                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                              Thanks! So why are so many people screaming at me because I said that I wasn't especially fond of the lukewarm barely cooked sea bass which is served at Providence? Indeed, although I love sushi and/or sashimi, both of which are raw fish sliced relatively thin and served chilled... I don't think that I personally would enjoy any fish served barely cooked and lukewarm. This is what 120 degrees for 20 minutes will yield. Perhaps it's a developed taste that some enjoy, but I'm not there yet.

                                              1. re: josephnl

                                                Salmon works well this way. It's very creamy and has a lot of inherent flavor.

                                                1. re: sushigirlie

                                                  i'd be a little wary of fresh salmon cooked like that. irrc, any fish that has spent even part of it's life in fresh water, should be cooked at higher temperatures than that. irrc, most of the salmon served raw at sushi bars has been frozen first in order to kill parasites.

                                        2. Um yeah, maybe Providence is not for you, then. And that's ok.
                                          So did the menu not specify cream sauce? Did you not ask how the pasta was prepared before you spent all that money on it? I know their waiters would have described it well if you had any question, especially with the white truffle dishes.
                                          Michael C is also a fisherman, he really does know his fish. I think he knows what he's doing. If you feel you can cook it better at home, that's cool.

                                          11 Replies
                                          1. re: pley

                                            Gimme a break, pley. No...nowhere did I say, or remotely imply that I can cook fish better than they can at Providence. I simply stated that I personally did not especially like the preparation of the specific fish that I ordered. I unfortunately did not inquire in advance how it would be prepared because I was so confident that this fine restaurant would prepare it perfectly..

                                            With regard to the pasta with cream sauce and shaved white truffle...this was a special and not described on the menu. As stated in my op, this was still delicious, but I would have preferred a lighter preparation. I thought that the richness of the sauce detracted from the exquisite truffle.

                                            I think that Providence is a very good restaurant. I also was personally disappointed by some of what I experienced.

                                            1. re: josephnl

                                              You said you prefer how you cook the fish at home. And I said that's cool. So stick with what you prefer. Like I said, Providence may not be for you, and you should be fine with that.
                                              It's a restaurant, peopled by, you know, people. I've been there five times so far, and yeah things happen sometimes. But for me it's still the best restaurant in L.A.

                                              1. re: pley

                                                pely...please do not put words in my mouth. I did not say that i "prefer how I cook fish at home"...I simply was talking about not being a fan of the way one fish was cooked at Providence on one occasion.

                                                I in no way implied that "Providence may not be for me". Indeed I actually said "Please don't get me wrong. I think that Providence is a very fine restaurant, and certainly I'll return. Nevertheless, some of what I experienced was disappointing."

                                                1. re: josephnl

                                                  Always find critiques of restaurants loved by 'hounds' to be interesting. You gave your thoughts and opinions, neither silly or over critical and yet you are taken behind the woodshed and beaten. My experience at Providence was to have the wine and cheese course to be as good as it can get, pasta course fabulous, and another course l cannot remember. Thus l would have been considered more negative on this board and therefore just raved about the cheese course, which was unbelievable. When you mention something less than perfect in your mind about a much praised site, too often your motives are in question and l feel unfairly criticized about your criticism. In any event , if Escoffier brought me a luke warm piece of undercooked anything, l would not be happy either.

                                                  1. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                    I agree that critiques against CH darlings are usually met with unfair semi-hostile defenses.

                                                    For me though, it's my previous discussions with josephnl and him characterizing proper neapolitan style pizza as having a "raw" mushy center that makes me question how undercooked this seabass really was.

                                                    1. re: Porthos

                                                      I indeed have been served both good and poor Neapolitan pizza. The good has a fully cooked crust in the center which may be floppy because it is thin, and covered with moist ingredients. It should not be raw and mushy as I have had it served in at least one notable southern CA restaurant.

                                                      I wish that you had sampled the sea bass as it was served to me at Providence. Perhaps you would have liked it. I really tried to like it, it wasn't bad, but it was very different, and definitely not to my taste. Cooking sea bass in a high humidity 120degree oven results in a very moist piece of lukewarm fish whose consistency is barely, if at all, different from that of sashimi (which I love, but thinly sliced and chilled).

                                                      If you return to Providence Porthos, perhaps you should taste this fish and see what you think.

                                                      1. re: josephnl

                                                        Josephnl. Have been to Proidence 5-6 times in the past. I will eventually return but I've lost the taste for high end dining these days. LQ@SK style dining is more to my liking these days.

                                                        But I was just back at Ortica 2 nights ago and found it as good as ever, as good as Mozza and maybe even better in some regards. For the life of me, I can't see where you get raw and mushy from.

                                                        I've just come to the conclusion that our tastes and preferences are wildly different which is totally fine :)

                                                      2. re: Porthos

                                                        "unfair"? really?

                                                        1. re: linus

                                                          Doesn't need to be hostile or come across as such. I am guilty as charged even though my intent isn't to be mean spirited. Just a critique of a critique.

                                                          As you can see, I am firmly in the "I'm pretty sure Providence knows how to cook fish" camp.

                                                          Hard to say someone doesn't recommend sea bass cooked at 120 degrees when the type of sea bass in question isn't known. Suzuki and black bass may be better suited than Chilean...and I'm certain Providence doesn't serve Chilean sea bass.

                                                      3. re: Delucacheesemonger

                                                        <<When you mention something less than perfect in your mind about a much praised site, too often your motives are in question>>

                                                        absolutely perfect description.

                                                    2. re: pley

                                                      "" But for me it's still the best restaurant in L.A.""

                                                      entire thread thrust into perpective...