Ever since I heard him sing the praises of Korean supermarkets at this Zocalo event, I've been a fan of Chef Michael Cimarusti. I'd never even eaten his food, but I was impressed that he beat Chef Masaharu Morimoto on Iron Chef and earned two Michelin stars for his restaurant, Providence.
Recently, Chef Cimarusti was a most gracious competitor on Top Chef Masters, handily winning the quickfire challenge and making the best of the seafood-less box of ingredients that meanie Chef Jonathan Waxman gave him. Despite Chef Waxman's cowardly move, Chef Cimarusti was a beacon of good cheer and sportsmanship. Chef Cimarusti even taught his competitors, including Chef Waxman, how to use a pressure cooker during the challenge.
Do you love this guy yet? You should. We do.
Providence is all about the sea, from the tablescape to the barnacles on the walls.
I started with a Martini Fresca ($14).
This pineapple-infused Appleton rum, limoncello, St. Germain, fresh-squeezed lemon, and mint danced in my mouth. Tart and refreshing.
The chef's menu ($160) was the perfect way to cap off our third anniversary celebration.
Greyhound, mojito, gin and tonic.
This is how fancy people do cocktails, my friends. Squeeze the lime onto the cube for the mojito. Pop the wobbly sacs into your mouth for the greyhound and gin and tonic -- neatest shots ever.
White soy/wasabi marshmallow, cured trout, gougeres, carrot soup/vadouvan.
Hokkaido scallop, nasturtium blossoms, fresh-grated wasabi, crispy rice cracker.
Not sure if I was supposed to eat this in one bite, but I did. It was a really big bite. Maybe I should've taken two bites. The cold slipperiness of the scallop, kick of wasabi, and crunch of the rice played well together.
Kanpachi sashimi, endive, summer truffle vinaigrette, soy crème fraîche.
This kanpachi was firmer than I'm used to, but it was so wonderfully fresh and lovely.
Santa Barbara sea urchin served in a farm fresh egg, champagne beurre blanc, fines herbes, and American Transmontanus caviar.
Santa Barbara spot prawns grilled over Japanese binchotan charcoal served simply with French olive oil and lemon.
So simple. So good. So mmm. That's really all that needs to be said about this.
Now here's where I get a little confused. According to the handy-dandy menu that was sent home with us in a sealed envelope, the next course was eel.
Well, it wasn't.
And, having been told that we'd get a menu at the end of the meal, I didn't bother taking notes. But I do know that the next dish was a scallop dish. I think those were chanterelles accompanying it, and I'm pretty sure that was fried burdock on top.
Perhaps a mistake in service, as we already had scallops? Maybe. A delicious mistake nonetheless. The scallop was perfectly seared. The sauce was beautiful and the burdock an excellent crunchy contrast.
I can't lie, though. When I saw we were supposed to have eel when I got home, I was a little sad. I love me some unagi.
Wild French turbot, matsusake, sake, rosemary.
Our server said, "tur-BOH." It's actually "TUR-butt." But who am I to correct someone who works at Providence, the L.A. seafood Mecca? And who cares when it tastes awesome? You could call this "ugly flatfish," and I'd still be thrilled. And how cute are those dots?!
Niman Ranch pork belly, carrot-orange purée, pickled ramps, mizuna, carrot-ginger butter.
I've never met a pork belly I didn't like. Why, hello there. Get in my belly, belly.
Klamath River wild king salmon, kumquat, peas, Jurançon.
Neither of us *loves* salmon, but we enjoyed this very much. The fish was beautifully tender, and the skin was super deliciously crispy. One of my favorite things about fine dining is having my mind changed. That's how powerful good cooking can be.
Loin of Colorado lamb, eggplant, artichoke, celebrity tomato.
Lamb! Like the damn lamb that Chef Waxman bestowed upon Chef Cimarusti on Top Chef Masters! Well, the lamb was tasty, but it's clear that sea creatures are the specialty here. I really liked the eggplant in this dish, maybe even more than the lamb.
Look at Mr. Monkey cut the cheese! Mr. Monkey is not a cheese fiend like I am, so I asked for my favorite genres -- soft and mild. You typically get a choice of three, but our cheese dude wanted us to compare and contrast an American goat cheese and a French goat cheese, so that's why there are two goat cheeses on the left. Both were delectable. The right was a cow's milk cheese that was very brie-like and our favorite. The center was a sheep's milk cheese that was a tad strong for Mr. Monkey, who said, "Eating this is like I'm right there in the petting corral."
Kalamansi gelée, white chocolate coconut soy milk soup, litchi-shiso sorbet.
Mr. Monkey and I were split on this. He loooooved it. All of it. He even raved about it at the table. He doesn't do that often. I, on the other hand, found the combination of the very tart kalamansi gelée and the sweetness and milkiness of the other components of the dish very jarring. I liked everything in the bowl. I just didn't love them together.
Blackberry gelée, melon soup, lime granita, vanilla ice cream, mint.
Harry's Strawberries, basil ice cream, balsamic marshmallows, pistachio.
Of course, I Googled who "Harry" was. I'm hoping that "Harry's Strawberries" refers to this dude and not to these dudes. They were damn good, Harry. Thank you.
Milk chocolate-whiskey panna cotta, Bailey's ice cream, coconut raviolo.
Yay! We made it through the meal and didn't burst! I clapped when this came out. Yes, I get that excited about food. The waitstaff seemed rather amused by my enthusiasm all night. I effing love those cute edible sacs and was delighted to end with another. It was a marvelous meal, and this was an amazing mellifluous conclusion.
I haven't been too impressed by mignardise anywhere for awhile. This was no exception. The truffles, gelées, and salt-and-pepper caramels were pleasant sweet treats, but nothing to write home about. In fact, I think I preferred Wan's bacon caramels over these.
At the end of our meal, our server took us to the kitchen for a peek.
As if that weren't thrilling enough, in addition to having spoken with us briefly in the dining room during our meal, Chef Cimarusti took a short break from cooking and plating to chat with us a bit more in the kitchen.
We even got this picture with him. [insert more clapping here]
Seriously nice guy. Seriously talented. Seriously go to Providence if you haven't already.