Read this blog from my earlier days and you would know that my first Michelin star experience was at Nobu (the London outlet, not the Melbourne one). Looking back, it was pretentious, the food was average and service was rather snobbish. Not to mention I had a ridiculous 10 dollar foie gras gyoza in one bite (without knowing).
Fast forward years, I guess it was time for another Michelin star experience. Now, technically speaking, the Michelin Guide has stopped reviewing Los Angeles since 2009. However back in 2009, Providence was one of the only four restaurants that held two Michelin stars, bearing in mind that no restaurants in LA had three stars as at 2009.
So yes it's been 3 years but surely, this still counts as a Michelin star experience?
This came recommended by the Wife's cousin and upon checking out their website, it looks like their executive chef, Michael Cimarusti was once upon a time on Top Chef Masters (the proper cooking show with world renowned chefs, not amateurs). It's nice to place a face to the man behind the restaurant. Google his name and one article (or blog entry) commented that he was "the West Coast Eric Ripert (chef of Le Bernadin, 3 Michelin Stars)".
The focus here is all about seafood, whether fish, crustacean, shells, you name it, they cook it.
Now opposed to n/naka, we actually started with a couple of complimentary amuse bouches.
Now, the amuse bouche will always change (excuse for not remembering what this was) but let's say it was a gazpacho of sorts, served alongside a cheese topped profiterole.
This made a deeper impression on me, salmon skin crackers (amazing how its been pressed flat and crisp like (duh, a cracker) with a dip of salmon roe cream and chives. Just look how fine the chives has been sliced. Delicious.
To complete the trio of amuse bouche, a palate cleanser, a pressed watermelon cube flavoured with some alcohol and a refreshing frozen grape.
At this point, bread and butter is served, although I was quite disappointed at their brioche roll (not as buttery as how I like it).
The Wife's cousin played gracious host and upon hearing that I haven't had caviar before decided that I should give it a go at her expense. For a small princely sum, you get 30 grams and a whole assortment of ingredients to eat it along with. Let's see, you have egg yolk, egg whites, chives, onions, sour cream, blinis and if you ask, brioche slices too.
So what can I say about caviar (sustainable by the way)? Its tastes like the sea with a briny aftertaste (a bit like a really good and fresh oyster minus the chewing) and in all honesty, a luxury (thankfully) I can live without but of course wouldn't mind indulging in once in a blue moon.
On to our courses. There's a bit of flexibility here with the menu, you can start with 3 courses and go all the way up to 9 courses. Since we had 9 courses at n/naka just the day before, we settled in with 3 courses.
For starters, there was a dungeness crab with melon, mango and black bean mayonnaise. I didn't get to try it but I did noted that there were a few cartilage bits that were left in the pieces of crab which seemed a little careless, you would think.
The Wife loves all things octopus so it was only logical she chose the warm grilled octopus salad. Note the plating, one of many dishes where you will see that the chef plates everything on one side / corner of the plate. She mentioned that this was good but not mind blowing.
From what I read, this is one of their signature dishes, the ugly bunch. For something called the ugly bunch, this was a beauty. Slivers of crunchy geo duck and abalone, juicy pieces of prawns, salmon roe and pretty herbs and leaves sits on top a bed of creme fraiche panna cotta. Though this looked perfect (the seafood was brilliant), the panna cotta was a little too generous and over powering.
For mains, the Wife had the duck breast and fig. There was no flaws in the cooking, pink and juicy duck and the familiar sweet and savoury combination using figs in the sauce and as a side. Unfortunately, it appeared to be an ok dish which didn't seem to evoke much comments from her.
For a 15 dollar supplement, I had the maine lobster and it was scrumptious, basted in juniper butter and mushrooms done two ways, pickled and cooked. The lobster flesh was sweet in the seafood way and had a meaty bite, one of the nicest lobster dishes I had.
"Plating on one corner"was on display again, this time with my dessert. Crème fraîche, sable breton, financier, chestnut jam, vanilla mousse was I think what it was called and in all honesty I expected an old fashion cake from what was being described to us. What appeared before me was like abstract art, thankfully unlike abstract art, I enjoyed it.
The Wife had another fail proof combination; ice cream and dark chocolate cake. Again, when questioned, she seemed to have given it a nod and a shrug which I assume meant good but not brilliant.
I am going to refrain from commenting as I have no clue what the Wife's cousin ordered and their online menu doesn't seem to have an item that resembles the picture.
Dinner is finished off with petit fours; a rather scrumptious macaron, a mini caramel tube and grape jelly (this was just genius). With that was the end of our dinner at a two michelin star worthy restaurant. Was it what I expected?
Food was good with a few flashes of brilliance, service was good although somewhat too formal at moments and ambience was pleasant with a whiff of formality (guys dressed in suits).
The price for a 3 course dinner is $85, closer to $110 after tips and taxes which is certainly very competitive (given the reputation of the chef and restaurant), compared to Melbourne dining.
With my observations, begs the question, if Melbourne was part of the Michelin guide, would similar restaurants that we have eaten at (in terms of food quality, satisfaction and prices) be picking up stars too?
Address and contact details:
Verdict: 4 stars out of 5 stars. Well cooked fresh seafood (especially my choices), playing to the strengths of the restaurant and the chef's expertise in seafood. Coupled with decent prices, this is worth recommending to my Australian dollar earning readers.