HERMANO SEGUNDO LOST IN LA LA LAND: DAY NINE (EVENING EDITION)
You meet some extraordinary people in the food business. None more so than my chum, Liz Haskell, perhaps the most uber of uber diners I have ever encountered.
Liz is the sort of person who knows all the great chefs of Europe and the USA on a first name basis and who has eaten at so restaurants with stars, along with her indefatigable husband, John, that they could create a firmament of their very own.
So, when they extended an invitation to Sybil and I to join them for supper during my time in L.A. I knew that it would be too good an invitation to turn down.
They had secured the small chef’s table at Providence on Melrose, where Michael Cimarusti’s food has taken the restaurant to critical and commercial heights. Not only that, when we arrived to find John and Liz sitting comfortably at the table with its prime view of the calm activities in the kitchen, we were presented with a list of the wines that they had brought along from their own remarkable cellar and heard the “plop” of a cork being removed from a bottle of 1985 Krug before our backsides had hit the leather banquette. That is rarely a bad start to an evening.
What followed were twelve courses bringing together a fusion of Japanese ingredients with classical French technique and a Californian lightness of touch. It was not all successful, but the few flaws were minor compared to the highlights.
An “cocktail” amuse saw a nod to El Bulli with Mojito, Gin & Lime and Vodka flavoured “bubbles” popping pleasingly in the mouth to cleans for the meal to come and the first course, a Shiro Ebi (sweet shrimp) came on a cauliflower mousse with slivers of white truffle and a scattering of crispy buckwheat on top. At this point, John had our glasses filled with a 1994 Corton Charlemagne, which worked not only perfectly with this dish but also with the next dish, a blob if Uni (sea urchin) suspended in a clear dashi and topped with crème fraiche and a mound of caviar.
The next dish presented was perhaps my favourite of the night. A “spot” prawn drawn live from a tank in front of us in the kitchen and served simply grilled with its plump orange roe, tarragon and a drizzle of orange oil. A simple ingredient not screwed around with.
I was less taken with the next course. For everyone else, a plump oyster, for me who finds oysters promote projectile vomiting, slices of Californian lobster, were delicious in their own right, but a dousing of oyster plant veloute detracted from the main ingredient so you could taste nothing but sauce.
We were right back on course with the next dish, a nod towards Nice with Iwashi, a type of sardine being served with an intense tomato reduction, saffron and olives. The fish cooked to perfection with crispy skin protecting the oily flesh and the sweetness of the tomato complimenting perfectly.
I had no idea that there was any abalone off the coast of California, but it should come as no surprise given that the climate from South to North is so varied that they seem to get just about everything here. In this dish, small, suitably chewy slices were served meuinere, with the classic accompaniments of lemon juice and parsley with only under seasoned and undercooked fava beans adding a duff note.
More fish to follow and perhaps the most simple of all, a with salmon cooked perfectly medium, breaking into perfect flakes to be eaten with a sauce of foamed sake and a sliver of crispy salmon skin.
Which brought us to our one meaty dish of the night. But, not any meat as we were presented with a certificate (with nose print and all) to assure us that our final main course would be true Kobe, drunk on beer and massaged by virgins etc etc, rather than domestic Wagyu. So often in upscale dining meat dishes disappoint, particularly when, as is the case in London so often, they are swamped in that fierce veal reduction that El Gordo’s places have promulgated. Here, with the small, fat rich slices of one of the world’s great ingredients served with a gentle “musque de Provence, slices of turnip with their greens and Summer truffle jus, it was as good as you are likely to find just about anywhere.
The same cannot be said about the cheese course, but then I expected no different even in a place of this quality. There is just no capacity for understanding cheese in the USA, not just in the making but in the storing, ageing and presenting of the stuff and here, although we were in the hands of a very inexperienced server, we should still have been able to get something at least interesting. We didn’t and soon pushed the plate away with a sigh of resignation.
Fortunately, the last two courses, served with a half bottle of Barsac, returned to form if not to identikit US dessert course formula. Two tubes of “pie” contained squash and curry ice cream both of which I thought worked better than the names suggested they ought to. Sybil didn’t agree and left most of hers untouched as she did a final cleanser and another nod towards Mr Adria with a lollipop, which burst releasing welcome lime flavours all over a tested palate.
It was a long time since I had eaten this many courses over an evening and I had forgotten that it can be a test of ones endurance. However, with such excellent company, equally memorable wines and a choice of dishes that was both light and intelligent, an evening that could have been a four and a half hour marathon turned into one of my more memorable meals for a very long time and we left already having made plans to meet again before I depart for home at the end of the week.
As a postscript, I found out yesterday that Providence has just been awarded 2* by Michelin in the latest L.A guide. Few things in life surprise me anymore, this certainly doesn't