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Providence...very good, but disappointing

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.

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          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...

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            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.

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              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.

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          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!

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              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).