Monday, May 7, 2007


Friday was my six-month wedding anniversary, meaning that I've been married five and a half months longer than most celebrities. Edan and I had been preparing for the anniversary for a while now, and we'd decided that Providence would be the restaurant of choice for this particular celebration. We'd read rave reviews on Chowhound and the LA Times, reviews calling Providence "the most ambitious new restaurant to open in Hollywood in a long, long time," and we had to go. Luckily, we'd been saving. Since moving into our apartment we've been dropping any spare change we have into a mason jar. After about eight months, it was pretty full. $75 dollars full, it turned out. This was good, since our meal at Providence was not to be cheap. What it would be was an experience that I won't soon forget.

Providence sits on an unassuming block of Melrose Avenue, farther east than the more fashionable section where you can buy leather chaps and vintage T-shirts. I've passed it many times and never even knew it was a restaurant. Hard wood slats form a sort of exoskeleton around the building, and a small, very subtle sign announces that this is, in fact, Providence. Inside, the restaurant is divided into several small rooms, each one fitting a half dozen tables. The room they seated us in featured a view of the impressive wine cellar. The ceiling of the room had a series of flat glass lamps overlapping one another that I thought vaguely resembled the hull of a ship seen from beneath (not that I've ever seen the hull of a ship from beneath, but you know what I mean). This effect was enhanced by small paper "barnacles" that haphazardly covered the upper parts of the walls and ceiling. The subtle "under the sea" theme continued on the tabletop, as a candle nestled in a bed of "sea anemone," small orange and red beads on wire strands. It was a little elementary school art project-ish, but if you squinted, it was beautiful.

Once seated, the sommelier (a dead ringer for Ewan McGregor) came and helped us each choose a wine we would like. I got a glass of nebbiola from Paso Robles that he described as having subtle Coca Cola tones. Finally, somebody understands what I really want from a wine. Edan got a malbec that was very fruity (We tend to have different tastes in wine, but I sipped hers and like it as well).

The menu at Providence is divided into a tasting menu, a section of market specials, and then the the main menu, which has appetizers and main courses. While the tasting menu looked very tempting, we ended up choosing a main course each, and two appetizers. Before any of our food arrived, they brought us the amuse bouche, Mexican shrimp in creme fraiche with tiny cubes of mango gelatin accompanied by a tiny beer stein of blood orange yogurt and champagne foam. The blood orange yogurt was a little sweet for before dinner, but it was still a very good taste that pointed towards a good meal to come. Another good sign was the bread, which was warm and fresh and came with excellent butter and sea salt. Our first appetizer was the kampachi, which came centered on the plate surrounded by a soy gel lime espuma and tiny balls of avocado shaped like little peas. This is one meal I wish I'd taken photos of because the visual component of it was so important. Each dish as it came out looked like a work of art. It's nice to eat a meal like this and be reminded that food can be as appealing to the eye as it is to the tongue...which is the long way to saying, the kampachi tasted as good as it looked.

Next out was the chowda (sic), which came unassembled. The server placed a bowl before us, containing a handful of chunks of potato, clams, diced carrots, and slivers of bacon. She then produced a carafe of creamy clam broth and poured it over the veggies and clams, creating a steaming hot soup as we watched. At the risk of sounding like a total rube, it was frickin' cool. And the chowder was the best I've ever had. As Edan pointed out, the veggies and bacon were so much crispier than if they'd been stewing in the broth the whole time. I've never tasted anything quite like it.

For a main course, Edan got a Hawaiian tuna dish with purple haze carrots and vadouvan butter, while I had the Japanese tai snapper, cooked with sweet peppers, cipollini onions, and chorizo, with a chorizo espuma (that's chorizo foam, for those scoring at home). The snapper was seared, skin side down, creating a crispy crust that had the consistency of the hard sugar atop creme brulee. It cracked apart when I put my fork to it, revealing an incredibly tasty, buttery white fish. Edan's tuna had a consistency I've never seen in a piece of fish. It almost looked like a piece of beef. Cooked rare, it was perfectly smooth and beautiful in its simplicity. It was just a tad salty, and Edan felt the vadouvan butter was wasted (she called it a visual pun, a little green pile like the wasabi you'd get at a sushi place), but it was still an exceptional dish.

Originally, we'd thought we might skip dessert, since that's usually the easiest way to shave a few bucks off an expensive dinner tab, but we saw the menu anyway. You can probably guess that we couldn't resist getting something. I got a glass of calvados, and we split the milk chocolate-whiskey panna cotta, a cookie crumble topping, and coconut raviolo. Let's say I'm glad we did. In the end, unless there's nothing to your liking on the menu, it's always better to stay for dessert at a really nice restaurant. It completes the meal the way it was meant to be completed. When the server brought our check, it came with some petite fours, as well, which is a nice touch. Including tax and tip, we ended up spending $210, which ain't cheap. We each had a glass of wine. I had a drink after dinner, and we got dessert. Was it worth it? Absolutely. The visual artistry of the food at Providence was unlike anything I'd seen, and the flavors and textures were so complex, I swear I'm still tasting them now.

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