(Yes, I know that i haven't written anything in awhile and that this post is taking place nearly two months after Christmas. I've been busy, so if you have a problem with that, go home. If not, read on...)
That is, until this year.
Because when asked by my husband what I wanted for Christmas this year, I responded not with a material object to be opened at a rather anti-climactic gift exchange, but rather with "I want to do the tasting menu at Providence." Still pretty anti-climactic since I knew in advance what I was getting, but so much better than Isaac hunting around for a pair of True Religion Bobby's in Rigid Whiskey Creek in a size 27 and then me squealing Oh Baby, thank you!!! I totally wanted these!!! *smooooooooch* as I finish unwrapping the gift that I asked for in the first place. I can buy the jeans myself, thank you. But dinner at one of L.A.'s most highly acclaimed restaurants? Now that's not as easy to pick up at the mall on a Saturday afternoon, is it?
I got to "open" my gift on a Saturday night at 6:30 pm. It was located on Melrose in the old Patina space and wrapped up in shades of off-white, khaki, and dark brown, all tied together with orangey-red accents. I looked up as we were lead to our table that was located along a wall lined with one long off-white leather banquette; small white disks that either were or resembled shells seemed to dance up the corner of the wall and up the ceiling toward the graceful curves of softly glowing light fixtures. Beaded candleholders in the likeness of sea anemones gave each table some elegant mood lighting in shades of red, orange and gold. The restaurant's decor projects a calm coastal vibe, reminding one of chef Michael Cimarusti's seafood creations, without trying too hard either. Based on what we've experienced with other restaurants around town, we expected the service to be more on the pretentious, fake-accent side, but were pleasantly surprised that everyone at our service that night--from the maitre'd to our server to the sommelier--were attentive and knowledgeable, yet laid-back at the same time.
Then one by one, my Christmas gifts arrived:
An amuse-bouche consisting of a miniature glass mug of a cool and foamy fennel soup and a gelatinous saffron petit-four the size of a sugar cube helped to awaken our palates prior to our feast.
Course No. 1: Japanese Kanpachi with celery, satsuma tangerine, and American caviar. The cool and refreshing properties of the slightly foamy cucumber broth and satsuma wedges actually enhanced the ultra-tender fleshy texture of the thinly sliced kanpachi. Little black pearls of American caviar gave each bite a tiny burst of briny flavor.
Course No. 2: Jumbo Blue Lump Crab with Truffle, Fresh Egg Sabayon, and Aromatics and Course No. 3: Parsnip Soup with Sweetbreads, Maine Lobster, and Truffle Fondue. These two courses were probably my favorite courses of the evening. And it wasn't because of the meat factor, although I must say, the lump blue crab and lobster & sweetbreads were excellent. Rather, the stars of the show in these two courses were the liquids, one being an egg sabayon with wonderfully earthy black truffle undertones and the other being a naughty little parmesan and parsnip soup. As each liquid swished lightly between my upper palate and tongue, they evoked feelings of sensuality, of happiness and of comfort, their aromas making me glad that our senses of smell and taste are intertwined.
Course No. 4: Japanese Freshwater Eel with Crushed Potato Pancake, Truffle and Quail Egg. Because of too many bad, overly sauced sushi preparations, I'm not usually a big fan of the eel, but when prepared right, I absolutely love it. In this particular preparation, a small chunk of Japanese freshwater eel sat atop a potato pancake whose crispiness, along with the frilliness of a piece of frisee and the velvety goodness of a quail egg, complimented the striated flesh of the eel perfectly.
Course No. 5: Dorade Royale with Bacon, Lamb's Quarter, Cinnamon, and Sauce Vin Rouge. I'd never heard of the fish in Course #5, which with the word "Royale" attached to it, sounded either very regal or like a French translation of McDonald's Quarter Pounder (a la Pulp Fiction). Whatever the case, this ultra fresh white-fleshed sea bream was cooked to form a perfectly seared outer crust. As for its accoutrements, the lamb's quarter tasted like spinach to me, and the carrots, cauliflower and bacon chunks seemed more obligatory than necessary although the cinnamon foam which garnished the plate did provide an interesting spicy/sweet element to the dish.
Course No. 6: New Zealand King Salmon with Morroccan Squash, Duck Confit, Baby Red Kale and Chantarelle Mushrooms. I have to admit that as much as I was loving this dinner, that I was in need of a little substance at this point, which is why I was so grateful for this course and Course #5. The New Zealand King Salmon was as fresh as could be and the duck confit and chantarelles added a hearty touch. But the star of this show was the "wall" of paper thin salmon skin that stood tall behind the two pieces of salmon. It was crisp. It was salty. It was good. Someone should fry some more of those bad boys up and package it as a product just like potato chips. I'd buy it for sure.
Course No. 7: Market Cheeses. One reason we opted for the nine-course tasting menu instead of the five is because the five-course menu does not include the cheese course and I just had to have the cheese course. Now I can't remember the names of the cheeses for the life of me, nor can I remember which countries they came from; all I can tell you is that there was one goat's milk cheese, one sheep's milk cheese and one cow's milk cheese and as my friend Sam put it once, "I died and went to cheese heaven." Good gawd, I mean, the goat's milk cheese alone was so fucking good that made me wanna go out and do bad stuff, like not bad-bad stuff but good-bad stuff and that says alot about one cheese, right?
Course No. 8: Mojito Sorbet with Avocado-Banana Puree. The ultra-refreshing mojito sorbet sitting atop a very calm, cool, and collected avocado-banana puree, in just four words, was The Perfect Palate Cleanser.
Course No. 9: Chocolate Cremeaux with Blood Orange Curd and Basil Meringue. Hmm, chocolate, basil, and orange--whodathunkit? Apparently, these guys did, and the combination of the silky-smooth rich chocolate cream canelle, a slightly spicy basil meringue and a tart blood orange curd really worked.
And as if nine courses plus an amuse-bouche of pure degustation was not enough, the kind people at Providence gave us a bonus treat of homemade candies to feast our senses on: red, sugar coated cubes of some sort of fruit jelly, peanut butter cups with sea salt (move over Reese's) and the softest, most luscious caramels I'd ever tasted.
With two glasses each of a fruity white Bourgogne from Maison Lerox and a '98 Chambolle-Musigny from Regnard, my gift came out to a little over three Benjamins after tax and tip. OK, maybe a little more than any pair of designer jeans I would have asked for, but a better Christmas gift in more ways than anyone could ever imagine.