Providence is a restaurant that has fairly little in common with other establishments of its kind in LA. The only other comparable restaurant would be Melisse, although the food at the latter is far more classical and less complicated than here. That being said, Providence serves one of the most eclectic and interesting cuisines in town.
As with Melisse, Providence is located in a fairly unassuming building. The place would never let you imagine what awaits you inside, for once you step into the dining room you enter a completely different world. The two rooms are beautifully decorated, modern and sobre in style, whilst helping to create a warm atmosphere. The service is mostly very good, with a brigade that knows the cuisine of chef Michael Cimarusti well and is efficient and friendly. Were it not for a grumpy sommelier, this would be service of the same level as at Melisse.
On the food side of things, Providence is a little more compelling however. It is a restaurant that cooks in a resolutely different style, and manages to produce a menu of more consistently high quality dishes. What characterises Cimarusti’s food are on the one hand products of remarkable quality, and coherent (if often complex) dishes. One of the most interesting and captivating creations of his is a combination of “Santa Barbara’s Finest”, i.e. sea urchin and spot prawns. For good measure, Cimarusti throws in a bit of caviar and places all these elements on a savoury set-custard, not unlike what the Japanese call chawan mushi. The dish is incredible, as it has both freshness and remarkably intense flavours of the sea. The sweetness of the sea urchin, paired with the crunchy raw spot prawns and the rich custard is a combination that is not far away from perfection. It is a dish that encapsulates the flavours of the sea, and is exciting up to the very last bite you take. This is food of a level that is unsurpassed in LA’s fine dining restaurants.
Of a very different register is a pasta dish with tomatoes, lobster, spot prawns and all sorts of other delicious creatures from the sea. This is nearly as good as the lobster Bolognese at Melisse, but perhaps not quite as decadent. Here, the flavours are a little less rich, with each elements giving a little something to the dish. Thus, the chef creates a pasta dish that makes beautiful use of these addictive spot prawns, which can only be found in this region. As an interesting note, one should add that apart from those served at Saison, Aubergine or Manresa, Providence had the most impressive quality of crustaceans we encountered in California.
Equally good and simple is a dry-aged strip steak. Simply grilled and served with potatoes and mushrooms, this is a far more classical dish in composition and appearance. What makes it special is the quality of the meat, which is both meltingly tender, but has bite to it at the same time. Bursting with flavour, it pairs beautifully with the mushrooms. Sometimes, it are such classics, done well that just make your day.
Cimarusti’s capability of serving both relatively complex and daring dishes as well as more sturdy, classical ones is what makes him such a fascinating chef. This is a restaurant that is clearly at the top of the game in LA, and can compare to some of the best in the Bay Area when it comes to the quality of produce used, and the level of the cooking displayed here.