Providence is a lovely seafood restaurant in Los Angeles, the recipient of two Michelin stars in 2009 (no L.A. restaurant received three) before the Tire Man abandoned the city, claiming its residents didn’t care about food. The chef is Michael Cimarusti, who opened Providence in 2005 after a long stint at the Water Grill, also in L.A. The space is relaxing and quiet, the service cool and polished.
The prices would be right at home in New York for a restaurant of comparable quality, with appetizers in the $20s and entrées mostly in the $40s. Then again: New York hasn’t seen a new, non-Italian à la carte restaurant in this price range in quite a few years. If Providence could be transplanted to Manhattan, it would have the genre almost to itself.
For about the cost of three courses à la carte, you can have a five-course tasting menu, and so we did. There is also a nine-course tasting ($110) and a chef’s tasting ($160) that likely goes on for hours.
There was a quartet of amuses-bouches. I didn’t take note of the descriptions, but the two on spoons were wonderful solidified cocktails; then a gougère, and I believe a concoction of watermelon and wasabi (in the shot glass).
The chef has a bit of the mad scientist in him, mixing ingredients in unexpected combinations. Balance is everything: sweet and sour, crunchy and soft. Preparation was impeccable, but the menu became more conservative, and a tad less exciting, at the end.
The first two courses were the strongest: Japanese kanpachi (above left) with crispy rice crackers and soy crème fraîsche; Block Island sea scallop (above right) with buckwheat, napa cabbage, and dashi butter.
Long Island wild striped bass (above left) shared the plate with fresh cranberry beans, lemon, nori, and brown butter. Veal tenderloin (above right) was gorgeous, on a daikon radish pedastal, with chanterelles and a a black truffle fondue.
Dessert (above left) was a banana bread pudding with barley ice cream, followed by petits fours (above right).
The staff, as at many restaurants, had a bit of trouble grasping the notion that we wanted to enjoy our cocktails and settle on wine, before ordering food. (If you let them take your order too soon, you could be on your third course before the wine is uncorked.) It’s a delicate trade-off between inattentiveness and over-eagerness that very few restaurants get right. After that, the pace of the meal was exactly as it should be.
This isn’t the place for debating whether two Michelin stars in the U.S. measure up to the same rating in Europe. But certainly, Providence is comparable to the two-star restaurants in New York. Given that Michelin abandoned L.A., Providence might hold that honor for a very long time. Good for them. They deserve it.
Providence (5955 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles)