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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Providence: Fancy Seafood Using Asian Ingredients is a Winner But Save Up Before You Go

I had high expectations of Providence, a fancy shmancy place known for its seafood cooked using Asian ingredients and sauces. Oh, and its multiple dollar signs when listed indicating it's a pricey place. I'm normally a pretty demanding customer when it comes to restaurants that charge an arm and a leg. If I'm going to pay bank, I expect the ambiance to be wonderful, the service attentive, knowledgeable and unpretentious and the food stellar.
Shortly after my dinner companion and I arrived, we were told we needed to wait as our table "was not ready." As we sat there waiting for our third friend to show up, it dawned on me that they were just being lame and not seating us to wait for the entire party to be present. I have to vent a bit here. I don't understand why restaurants do this! It is the most frustrating, customer-UN friendly practice ever! Don't make your customers wait for the sake of your convenience. If there's a reasonable reason restaurants do this, I have yet to hear it. It's not like we had a 8-person party. So we were seated after I asked our hostess what the holdup was. Overall food was very good. Service was above average but short of my expectations for a restaurant of this caliber (and price tag).
One thing I do love about fancy restaurants is that at least they give you a few freebies like amuse bouche in the beginning of the meal to whet your appetite. Providence was no exception and I took diligent mental notes of what everything was but unfortunately, my brain has limited memory so I wasn't able to remember everything.
The first soupy one was a bright green concoction that was likely a cold cucumber soup with some foamy thing in the bottom, paired with a cheese puff. Presentation was gorgeous and it was nice having a cold starter in this scorching weather although the interior felt a bit over-air conditioned after a while.

The most effective "mouth-amuser," as it translates from French, was the salmon skin chips that came displayed on a marble-like plate with compartments, accompanied with a trout roe dip topped with chives. The chips were a revelation. 1) I'm not a huge salmon fan, much less a salmon skin fan, 2) it was as perfectly roasted/toasted/torched as you can imagine -- crispiest of crisp and 3) and how green of them to not throw anything away and transform them into these beauties.

I liked the butter and the bread selection was not bad, but again -- high standards alert -- I like my fancy bread warmed up so it almost tastes like it came fresh out of the oven. The selection included bacon bread, olive bread (both of which were bland and too salty, respectively) and a very interesting seaweed focaccia-type soft bread. Who knew seaweed had so many permutations like seaweed mashed potatoes and seaweed bread? Bonus points.

Of course there's always the more disciplined part of me telling me to stop filling my stomach with useless carbs and save myself for the really good stuff that's about to go down. The crab appetizer was, yes, pretty, and a mix of sweetness from the crab meat and juicy sweetness from the melon that lined the plate, which was drizzled with what tasted like balsamic vinegar to add some savory to the sweetness. It also had mango, which was a lot of sweetness on the plate that was tempered, or saved, rather, by the addition of this sriracha mayo that gave the dish the flavor and kick it needed. Another rant: I couldn't believe I bit into at least three shells. I most definitely don't think this should happen when I'm paying $$ for my food. This ain't the Crab Shack, y'all. Am I being too demanding here?

The scallop ceviche that came with "sea lettuce" that basically resembled a type of seaweed, was fresh and naturally sweet.

The main dish was spectacular in its presentation and flavors. French rouget, aka red mullet, pan fried whole and fileted with a green as grass pistou that was a mix of parsley and jalapeno.

Our server had cautioned that the fish is naturally fishier than your average fish a la Spanish Mackerel but the fish was perfectly cooked and seasoned -- and not fishy at all. The flesh was soft and tender. Obviously the quality of the ingredients was solid.


Another main dish, the sea bass, came with blocks of blood sausage, celery root, pickled celery that I didn't care for and shishito. The fish was equally well-cooked although I didn't love the celery.

The seared duck breast had a croquette-like fried ball with some deliciously smoked eggplant, chanterelle mushrooms, black figs and shiso leaves. There was a lot going on on the plate but the meat was well-cooked and the sides complemented the gaminess of the duck well.

We tried three desserts, including a trio of house-made sorbets and two extremely creative desserts -- a peach crumble over a bed of miso pot de creme and a combination of soft cakes, muscat grapes (my new favorite fruit of the summer), rice crispies and a muscat grape sorbet.

The sorbets were good but the best one was the muscat grape flavor. What did I tell you about my new obsession? They were all like biting into the original fruit transformed into icy scoops sitting daintily on avant garde glassware.

The peach crumble over the creamy miso creme was divine. I suspect both the chef and pastry chefs are masters of mixing sweet and savory that seemed to be a common thread throughout the entire meal. This dessert was very creative and it worked well.

The grape-rice crispies-sorbet dessert was also a nice mix of textures and temperatures but not as memorable as the miso peach crumble.

After stuffing ourselves silly with all this crab, mullet and miso peach crumble, the restaurant offered us a sweets sampler plate including macaroons, raspberry jellies and plum caramel. I can't believe I'm saying this because I'm not a big candy person but the plum caramel was incredibly good.

The macaroons were too sweet for me. I'm no big fan of jellies either but I still finished them because they were home-made, so to speak.

I brought a nicely chilled rose from a cool winery in Napa I recently visited for a hot summer evening so we could enjoy a whole bottle and not pay a hefty check. Corkage is $30.
Service was not as good as other high end restos like Bazaar or Mozza.

I will likely be returning although it is, after all, a special occasion restaurant.

It's located in a weird part of Melrose -- not quite WeHo nor Hollywood. A bit grungy for the type of restaurant, actually. But street parking is easy so that I like.

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