A visit to Providence is an event in itself. Add Chef Cimarusti’s 15+ course Chef’s tasting menu and it becomes a truly special occasion. Throw in a few more black truffle dishes and the experience is damned near surreal – but that sort of thing really happens, and for me no less. Thanks once again to the extreme generosity of my main man Mooms, and a timely Birthday reservation for our LA broham, Tim. The three of us took part in such ballerdom last Saturday evening.
This post is a lengthy one, it was inevitable given the amount of courses. I did my best to be concise without leaving out the more memorable parts of the evening – which is damned near everything visiting such an acclaimed place.. So take it in bits, it’s a lot of food. If you’re getting too full, take a break, come back later. It will still be here.
We sat down at 6 and were greeted by our main server for the evening, Eeyore. That wasn’t his real name of course, it was just fitting given his likeness to that well-known ass. Homeboy smiled once during the entire entire evening, and I think it came after the bill was paid. Eeyore was truly an outlier though, the remainder of the staff that took care of us were as pleasant and professional as could be. Don’t worry, we weren’t going to let anyone’s mood dampen ours. So with my piece on service noted, let’s move on to the food.
Providence is known for their bacon brioche and rightfully so, but the nori foccacia was the winning selection. A somewhat aggressive salinity from the sea salt and nori contained in a dense buttery base. Had it not been for the onslaught of courses to come, we probably would have told them to skip making rounds just leave a basket.
Next a quad of well known amuses were presented in rapid succession. I actually wish we were provided a bit more time between these 4 courses than the lengthier waits between mains.
Cocktail amuse’s are a signature at Providence. They served their purpose of awakening the palate with either drinks strong flavors, presented as an almost fizzy gelee and bursting liquid sphere.
Squid and Chorizo was the table favorite of the skewered starters. Taken together, both squid and chorizo gave similar biting textures, but the difference in flavors -spicy chorizo and milder squid made this the one quite memorable.
Most tastings at Providence include some preparation of Kanpachi. Here the red shiso pearls added the perfect amount of piquancy to stand up to the weight of the oily fish, without taking away from the milder flavor.
The last time I had a scallop this fresh, it was still moving. Nasturtium leaves, and whole grain mustard brought a mild peppery zest to the mollusk. I ate the egg salad mostly on its own, though it was delicately sweet enough to pair.
Probably Chef Cimarusti’s most famous dish, the egg was as decadent as expected. To anyone visiting, make sure to mix so that the richer egg/uni mixture and buttery brioche pieces meddle the salty caviar hit. Or if you have money to blow, take it as a shot – and order rounds.
I generally don’t get excited about anything shrimp, but I would eat rusty nails and glass with this preparation. The bitter herb crumb topping won me over. I didn’t get bitter, rather a garlicky and sweet flavor, with a crunchy crumb texture that added to the already snappy shrimp.
I generally do get excited about anything offal. The veal sweetbreads signaled the start of our heavy hitters. Enjoyable, but it didn’t prove to be as memorable as I had hoped. The truffle was largely overshadowed, and the sweetbread exterior could have been a bit crisper for the gamy goo inside.
Next we were presented with our supplemental truffle courses. The smell hit right away as an entire truffle was shaved over the 3 dishes. All of the courses would have been great on their own – a cheesy risotto, giant ravioli, and creamy pot of scrambled eggs with buttered toast. However the the otherwise mild black truffle brough additional nutty, earthy quality when provided in such an amount.
Already a fatty fish, the eel was made even richer when paired with the marrow. The crisp skin, and toasted sesame provided texture, while the unagi sauce kept the dish from tasting too heavy.
The crispy skin on the salmon was even better than that of the eel. There was actually an audible crackle when the fish was cut, which our party to blurt out a few excited expletives (only within earshot of each other..we get kind of excited about food). The corn came both grilled and as a puree. A standout.
The sole miss of the evening came at the conclusion of the savory courses. The flavor and texture of the outer sear was pleasant but the interior meat was surprisingly tough, even sinewy. I thought it was just my piece but Mooms mentioned having trouble cutting through the gristle as well. Hopefully Tim’s fared better.
The cheese course was next. Because none of us are particularly knowledgeable about cheese beyond knowing that we like it, we left the selection to our server. An array of goat, sheep, cow, and buffalo – served with raisin walnut bread, white figs, candied walnuts, apple jam and apricot riesling chutney. Like a make your own cheese/dessert bar. We were told Sous Chef Sam Baxter makes the candied walnuts, he deserves a high-five for those.
This ingredient combination always sounds like Bath & Body Works to me, and thanks to this palate cleanser such soaps and lotions will always make me hungry. Refreshing can’t even begin to describe it, the cantaloupe was fully flavored, and the cucumber frozen yogurt knocked Tutti-Frutti and the like down several notches.
My favorite of the the formal desserts was the Miso Cheesecake. The cake had a consistency similar to panna cotta, enhanced by the black sesame crumb topping. There was a noticeable savory flavor from the miso, but plumb sorbet and blueberries brought out the saccharine qualities of the black sesame – keeping the dish sweet overall.
Next came the chocolate offering. The richly flavored ganache had a denser fudge like layer underneath. The ginger ice cream and toasted marshmallow completed the dish. This is how S’mores are made with Adrian Vasquez and 2 Michelin stars.
Blueberry macaroons, lemon caramels, and spicy chocolate marshmallows signaled our evening was coming to an end. After paying the bill we were told we would be able to see the kitchen, but that’s not exactly what happened. I planned to seek out Sam Baxter in kitchen to give him that deserving high five. Instead, I settled on a hand shake from Chef Cimarusti himself in the front of the house. The chef came out visibly tired from a busy Saturday evening, but still cordial and humble as could be.
5 hours and 18 courses later, I was still excited about what had just transpired. No critique should be confused with a lack of appreciation. I wouldn’t trade the experience or the company (sans Eeyore) for most anything. The majority of the courses were phenomenal. Small misses were indeed small, only magnified on account of the expectations that come with 2 Michelin stars, and Providence’s talented culinary team.
I would encourage anyone to visit, and do feel a tasting menu is the way to make the most of the experience. It doesn’t have to be as extravagant as the one above, but if you’ve got friends like mine – go for it.