Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Izayoi (Los Angeles, CA)

132 S Central Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
213.613.9554 (FoodDigger, restaurant has no web site)
Wed 08/26/2009, 07:50p-10:50p

Izayoi's story begins with its owner and head chef, Junichi Shiode, who previously helmed Sushi Ryo, a well-regarded, but not particularly bustling place in Hollywood. Though a favorite of those in-the-know, Shiode-san shuttered Sushi Ryo and reincarnated the place as Izayoi in June of 2005. Izayoi is considered an izakaya, basically a Japanese restaurant primarily focusing on small plates, or "tapas"-style food meant to be eaten while drinking (alcohol). It's a relatively uncommon concept here in the States, but has been catching on in recent years.

Izayoi Exterior
Located in the heart of Little Tokyo, Izayoi is situated along a row of modern-looking storefronts, right next to a Quizno's. Catty-corner is infamous yakitori-ya Kokekokko, which just happens to be one of Shiode-san's favorite restaurants. Parking is free in the nearby Office Depot lot. Note the "B" rating, par for the course for Chinese joints, but rare among Japanese eateries.

Inside, the room is split between a large, open kitchen-cum-sushi bar and table seating. It's a fairly austere, but comfortable, environment.

Harushika Junmai Daiginjo Sake
To drink, we started with the Harushika Junmai Daiginjo sake, which was brought by Dason, a reader of mine whom I'd met the previous night at Providence. Harushika means "spring deer," and is a 50% seimaibuai sake from Nara Prefecture. It was soft, smooth, and easy-drinking, with a light fruitiness over a backbone of sweet rice--quite delicious. I'd had Harushika's namazake previously at Urasawa, and their junmai at R23; both were positive experiences.

1: Mozuku
This was my first experience with mozuku, a type of seaweed primarily from Okinawa. It had a very fine, very stringy consistency with a bit of crispness to boot, and was served here in a transparent, slimy, gelatinous mass. Flavor-wise, the mozuku was sweet and briny, with a delightful finish of ginger. A nice start to the meal.

Mixed Green Salad
2: Mixed Green Salad
We moved on to a light, refreshing salad. I appreciated its slightly bracing tang and crunchy texture, along with its simultaneously sweet and savory flavor. The most interesting part of the dish, though, was the use of slivers of you tiao, or Chinese-style fried breakfast doughnuts, which added a palpable weight to the salad.

3: Idako
This was fried baby octopus from Japan. Initially, I tasted the crisp, rich, savory, oily crust, but this then gave way to the chewy, subtly sweet flesh of the octopus, which was immensely satisfying. Superb.

Beef Tataki
4: Beef Tataki
A presentation of seared beef filet sashimi, accompanied by onion and daikon oroshi. The meat itself was actually quite mild, so the key was to experience the contrast between the tangy onion and sweet daikon over the canvas of beef.

Sazae Tsuboyaki Sazae Tsuboyaki
5: Sazae Tsuboyaki
This was a first for me: sazae, or turban shell, a type of sea snail. Here, it was done tsuboyaki-style, grilled in its own shell with kombu. I'll admit that it was a rather intimidating-looking dish when it was brought out, and note the large calcareous operculum "door" to the shell, removed in the second photo. The sazae's flesh was snappy, sweet, and slightly briny, with a bit of savory char flavor as well. I also had the snail's innards, which were mildly bitter; the entrails' strong taste was tempered by the use of kombu, which lent a great, vegetal tang to the entire dish.

Ebi-Jalapeno Spring Roll
6: Ebi-Jalapeno Spring Roll
Taken by itself, the shrimp was sweet, soft, and nicely contrasted by the roll's crunchy wrapper. However, the key here was the jalapeno and the hot dipping sauce, both of which accented the shrimp's sweetness beautifully with a distinct spiciness. One of the best egg rolls I've had.

Hamada Shuzo Kakushigura Mugi Shochu
With our sake dispensed with, it was time to move on to the harder stuff: shochu, specifically the Kakushigura Mugi barley shochu from Hamada Shuzo brewery in Kagoshima [$42]. Aged in oak, which explains the drink's golden tinge, it had a woody, smoky, earthy aroma that was distinctive yet smooth, almost reminiscent of whiskey in fact. Here, we had it on the rocks, as well as mixed with oolong tea.

Cold Chawanmushi
7: Cold Chawanmushi
Just in time for summer was this refreshing chawanmushi, served cool, containing egg, chicken, shiitake, uni, kamaboko (fish cake), fresh wasabi, and nori. It was definitely one of the better chawanmushis I've had, with the chicken adding a superb textural play and gravity to the dish, while the wasabi provided an excellent counter to the creaminess and weight of the egg.

Spicy Tuna
8: Spicy Tuna
The following bite was spicy tuna tartare, topped with scallion, atop a crispy rice cracker. A seemingly pedestrian dish, it was nonetheless delicious. I first was able to experience and enjoy the mild creaminess of the tuna, with the heat coming in only later on the lingering finish. The rice cracker, meanwhile, proved a superb textural contrast.

9: Ankimo
Ankimo, or monkfish liver, accompanied by scallion, momiji oroshi, kombu, and cucumber. This "foie gras of the sea" was noticeably milder than most, with a slight brine that was countered by the cool, crisp cucumber.

Chilean Sea Bass
10: Chilean Sea Bass
Though I'm not a huge fan of Chilean sea bass, I did enjoy this preparation, marinated in miso. This gave the fish a slightly sweet flavor to go along with its unctuous, oily savoriness and supremely flavorful skin. At the same time, the tart pickles were key in balancing the weight of the soft, tender flesh. It actually reminded me a lot of Nobu's world-famous miso-marinated black cod.

Mussel, Croquette, Shrimp Head Mussel, Croquette, Shrimp Head
11: Mussel, Croquette, Shrimp Head
Our last course before the sushi gauntlet was this troika, served with two condiments: a tonkatsu sauce and a ketchup/mayo/honey sauce. I started with the mussel, baked in tomato sauce. The sauce added a significant gravity to the mollusc, tempering its brine with a marked sweetness. Next up was the shrimp croquette, my favorite of the trio: creamy, sweet, soft, with lovely chunks of shrimp interspersed within. Finally, we had shrimp heads, briny and sweet, with the body to be served next.

12: Amaebi
We had the head, now we have the body. This was basically your archetypical amaebi--snappy translucent flesh, lightly salty, subtly sweet, heightened by a finish of wasabi. Quite good.

13: Sazae
Remember the sazae above? Before, we ate the body of the snail, now we'll consume the rather funky-looking foot. It was exceedingly crunchy, almost rubbery in fact, and had a very briny, ocean-y flavor that was fortunately countered by wasabi.

14: Sanma
A.k.a. pike mackerel, this is something I'd only had before at Urasawa. However, while Hiro-san "grills" the fish with a hot, long rod, the sanma here was served completely raw. It was delicious, with a prominent, yet delicate fishiness.

15: Toro
This looked quite dark for toro, so I was pleasantly surprised when I found that it was super soft, melt-in-my-mouth almost, and quite unctuous, though it wasn't as rich or as oily as the best toros I've had. Still, it was rather tasty.

16: Awabi
Though the awabi here looked like that from Go's Mart, it didn't have Go's divine texture, being quite a bit crunchier. Nevertheless, it did have a brackishly sweet flavor to it, and went superbly with the rice.

17: Engawa
Engawa is a relatively rare item, one that I've only had before at Sasabune and Sushi Zo. It's basically halibut fin muscle, normally a tougher cut of the fish. This preparation, however, was surprisingly tender, with a great sour/salty tang thanks to the yuzu kosho. Impressive.

18: Kanpachi
Up next: kanpachi, or amberjack. In terms of taste, it was fairly typical, with a clean, mild flavor accented by the fire of wasabi. It was more impressive texturally, with a creamy, yet subtly snappy body.

19: Saba
This was mackerel from Japan, topped with kombu. Though saba can often times be an assertive-tasting fish, it was tempered significantly here by the seaweed, which resulted in an almost sweet flavor to the sushi.

Shiro Sake
20: Shiro Sake
Now here was a first for me: "white salmon" from Alaska. Also known as "ivory salmon," it's a type of King salmon with an extra enzyme that can process the carotene that normally collects in and colors a salmon's flesh. It was quite a different beast indeed, with a much heavier, heartier complexion, but blunter, milder taste.

21: Tamago
Tamago in the middle of the meal seemed a bit strange, but we went with the flow. It was a cold, dense version, with your prototypical sweetness, but also possessing a great seaweed tang.

Uni, Ikura
22: Uni, Ikura
Ikura and uni--egg and egg. Apparently, the combination originated from Hokkaido's famous uni ikura don rice bowl, and took off from there. I first tried the uni, from Santa Barbara, which was cold and briny, not quite as sweet or as creamy as I'd prefer. Next, the globules of salmon roe hailed from Alaska and exploded in my mouth with a pleasant pop, a burst of intense saltiness--not bad.

23: Mirugai
Next was mirugai, a.k.a. giant clam or elephant trunk clam. It was a bit crunchier than usual, but not too tough, still satisfying. In terms of flavor, it had a mildly briny smack, backed by a pleasant sweetness, finished by the flavor of the sushi's nori wrapper.

24: Kohada
Kohada is also known as Japanese gizzard shad. It was an oily, bold, robust fish, with an aggressively-flavored skin, and great, firm consistency. Note the beautiful cross-hatch pattern on the skin.

25: Aji
Aji, or Spanish mackerel, with the typical accoutrements of scallion and ginger. They're typical for a reason though--they provide a perfect balance to the flavor of the fish.

26: Maguro
Tuna, from South America. This was basically your standard maguro--it was certainly enjoyable, with a beatiful carnelian color, but didn't stand out in terms of taste.

27: Ika
Next was squid from Japan. This had a creamy, sticky consistency that I expect from squid, along with a mild, soft flavor that was heightened by wasabi.

28: Hamachi
Our final piece of nigiri was yellowtail, perhaps the most common sushi ingredient out there. It used to be my favorite, back when I was a sushi neophyte, but has steadily fallen out of favor. The example here was heavy, dense, with a mild, indistinctive flavor.

Fish Cake
29: Fish Cake
With the sushi dispensed with, it was back to the cooked dishes, starting with this lovely selection of three different types of fish cake, paired with three accompaniments: daikon/wasabi, lemon, and a spicy dipping sauce. Given that I'm a fan of fish cake in general, I quite enjoyed their subtle sweet, yet slightly varying flavors. My favorite was the one in the lower-left, with its delightful vegetal tang finished with a touch of sour lemon.

Kurobuta Pork Belly
30: Kurobuta Kakuni
Following was Kurobuta pork belly, simmered in an admixture likely containing dashi, mirin, sake, soy, and sugar. As a result of the dish's long braising time, it was expectedly tender, rich, fatty, and flavorful, with a sweet yet savory smack mitigated by the lightness of the paired vegetables.

Ikura-Sake Chazuke
31: Ikura-Sake Chazuke
For our last savory course, we were given chazuke (or ochazuke), basically tea poured over a mix of ingredients--rice, seaweed, salmon, and salmon roe in this case. The salmon was fantastic when eaten with the seaweed, while the ikura provided a counterbalancing briny tang. Overall, a hearty, heartwarming dish that formed a fitting close to the meal.

Goma Pudding
32: Goma Pudding
Our first dessert was this sesame pudding, served with black tea syrup. Eating the pudding alone, I noted a very strong, very pure essence of sesame. Pouring on the syrup elevated the sugar factor significantly.

Matcha Aisu Kurimu
33: Matcha Aisu Kurimu
And now, for some green tea ice cream. This particular example was housemade, and was quite sweet on the attack, with the tinge of tea coming in only on the midpalate. Very good.

34: Mochi Aisu Kurimu
Finally, the ubiquitous mochi ice cream, here in chocolate, mango, and vanilla versions.

Bill Bill Bill
I couldn't make sense of the bill, but the bottom line was that the omakase here came out to $150 per person, higher than I expected, but not too bad given the Urasawa-level length of the meal.

Overall, I came away pretty satisfied with Izayoi. It's a fun place, with competent sushi to be sure, but the real excitement comes with the diversity of fare here: traditional izakaya-inspired food with Shiode-san's unique touch. Give it a shot if you're looking for something else besides mere sushi.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Providence (Los Angeles, CA) [3]

5955 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tue 08/25/2009, 07:00p-01:30a

After my first visit to Providence with H.C. of L.A. and O.C. Foodventures, where I had the nine-course tasting, I vowed to return and tackle the 16-course Chef's Menu. Well, I came back a second time for a 5x5 event, ordered a la carte on meal three, and then paid a fourth visit for another 5x5. I was thus determined that there would no more messing around this time: my fifth trip would be for the Chef's Menu, end of story. And actually, I did it one better: Dason, one of my readers, arranged a special 22-course degustation, which would end up being the longest meal I've ever had (edging out my fourth Urasawa dinner), clocking in at an astounding 6.5 hours!

Chef's Table Menu Chef's Dessert Tasting Menu
Above we see the list of courses that we had; click for larger versions. The bill was almost indecipherable, but after a series of specials and discounts, the tab came out to about $360 per person, inclusive of tax, tea, tonic, tip, and tipple.

Kitchen View James the Garde Manger
We were seated at the Chef's Table, which provided us a superb view of the dynamic, yet strangely tranquil kitchen. One of my dining companions spotted a young man (right photo) whom she swore worked at Urasawa previously. I was feeling a bit incredulous of that claim, so we made a bet--the loser would treat the winner to the $95 omakase at Wakasan. Of course, I lost. It turns out that the lad, James, was indeed our server at Urasawa. He'd left the restaurant in December of last year to work at Kuru-Kuru Sushi in Burbank (where he'd been prior to his stint at the "U"). James came to Providence in order to gain more exposure to Western cooking techniques, and is currently working as the garde manger. Interestingly, we were also told that when Urasawa-san himself dines at Providence, he always sits at the Chef's Table.

Bread & Butter
A troika of bread was presented: nori focaccia (my favorite), bacon brioche, and plain white. As usual, salt and butter were also provided.

greyhound gin and tonic
Amuse Bouche 1: greyhound & gin and tonic
An amuse bouche at Providence almost always includes some sort of spherification. This time is was a Greyhound cocktail, which I'd also had at the last 5x5. A Greyhound is a vodka- or gin-based cocktail enhanced with grapefruit, and this time around, the spherification was somewhat richer in flavor than before, with the tart quintessence of grapefruit artfully captured and exploding in my mouth upon mastication. Along with the Greyhound came a "Gin and Tonic" in gelée form. We were told to squeeze lime juice onto the translucent, oblong cuboid, which in turn activated a distinct, tingly effervescence, simulating the carbonation of tonic water. It was a tart, fizzy experience, like a G&T with very little alcohol.

soy wasabi marshmallow, cured trout, gougers, carrot soup/vadouvan cured trout
soy wasabi marshmallow, gougers carrot soup/vadouvan
Amuse Bouche 2: soy wasabi marshmallow, cured trout, gougers, carrot soup/vadouvan
We were told to eat from left to right, so I first tried the cured Tasmanian trout with ginger crème fraîche, crispy rice, and shimeji mushrooms. I quite liked this one, with the mushrooms adding a certain weight to the delicate nature of the fish, while the rice lingered on the close, while also providing a fantastic crunchy textural element to liven things up. Second was the gougère, made with Gruyère and Parmesan. When I bit into it, the cheese puff exploded, coating my palate with its contents--a hot, gooey, salty liquid that was quite in-your-face, thanks to the use of that second cheese. Next I had the soy marshmallow, coated with wasabi-green pea dust. The marshmallow itself was incredibly soft, almost ethereal, but packed a biting punch, an amalgam of salty and sweet and spicy, with a lingering pea-tinged finish. Finally came the chilled carrot soup with vadouvan and crème fraîche. The spice blend was apparent on the fiery attack, but was tempered somewhat by the creamy crème fraîche; the carrot only came to the fore on the late midpalate, and was the main component I tasted on the finish.

hokkaido scallop
Amuse Bouche 3: hokkaido scallop | nasturtium blossoms, crispy rice cracker
The final amuse was also the best. The key here was how the nasturtium and wasabi countered the scallop's innate sweetness with an admixture of peppery and spicy notes, thus forming the perfect foil to the mollusk. Meanwhile, the rice added a fantastic crispness to an otherwise creamy dish, taking things up a notch. Superb.

kanpachi sashimi
1: kanpachi sashimi | endive, summer truffle vinaigrette, soy crème fraiche
txakoli, txomin etxaniz 2008
Our first "real" course was comprised of kanpachi, served with sous vide endive, yuzu, soba, soy crème fraîche, and black truffle. What made this dish for me was the interplay between the kanpachi and the truffle, with the truffle adding a profound earthiness and gravity to the otherwise subtle fish. Texturally, things worked out perfectly as well, with the bits of soba adding a fantastic crunch to things, while the endive had a very pleasing, snappy consistency as well. Arguably my favorite course of the evening.

santa barbara sea urchin
2: santa barbara sea urchin | served in a farm fresh egg, champagne beurre blanc, fines herbes
crémant de bourgogne blanc de blanc, domaine parigot & richard m.v.
Next we have Cimarusti's take on the classic "egg cup" dish: slow-cooked yolk, Santa Barbara sea urchin, Champagne butter sauce, toasted brioche croutons, fines herbes, and American caviar. I appreciated how the salty caviar cut the rich, monolithic creaminess of the yolk, but the egg-on-egg action was the ticket here, with the yolk tempering the brininess of the uni considerably. Some, however, would've liked the uni to have been more apparent, and I can definitely understand that point of view as well.

grilled santa barbara spot prawns grilled santa barbara spot prawns
grilled santa barbara spot prawns grilled santa barbara spot prawns
3: grilled santa barbara spot prawns | served simply with french olive oil and lemon
friulano, sirch 2007
Now for some tableside presentation: a cart was wheeled in, on top of which sat a pan containing five beautiful salt-grilled spot prawns. Providence Co-Owner and Maître d' Donato Poto proceeded to serve the shrimp, separating the head and tail sections, then splitting the two pieces before plating. The natural sweetness of prawn was deftly balanced by the salt, while the lemon added a great sour tang to spice things up. Most of my dining companions actually preferred the more flavorful head portion.

4: unagi | summer truffle, crushed potato, quail egg
riesling spätlese, "alte reben" kaseler nies'chen, erben von beulwitz 2007
Here was quite possibly the best preparation of unagi (freshwater eel) I've ever had. Though some thought that it was overly fishy, I appreciated the eel's strong, heady savor, as well as its exceptionally crisp, oily skin. The cruces of the dish for me was the potato, which did a great job in mitigating the unagi's overt fishiness, as well as the quail egg, which added a moderating creaminess to the dish. Again, as with the first course, the application of summer truffle worked beautifully here as well.

wild turbot
5: wild turbot | matsutake, sake, rosemary
bourgogne blanc, françois mikulski 2006
Following up my best ever unagi was perhaps my best ever turbot. What did it for me was the use of rosemary; pairing it with the turbot was genius, with the pungency of the herb complementing the hearty, buttery fish superbly. I especially enjoyed the crispy, super-saporous skin. The matsutakes, at the same time, mixed things up texturally, while providing a subtle veil of earthiness.

Truffles pasta alla chitarra
6: pasta alla chitarra | italian black summer truffles
anjou, "les 4 pépinières" domaine jo pithon 2005
A specialty of the Abruzzo region, alla chitarra refers to pasta that has been formed by forcing flat pasta through a chitarra, a grid of finely spaced strings. The pasta was dressed simply with olive oil and set before us, unadorned. Donato then stepped inside with a basket of truffles, and proceed to give each of us a generous shaving. The fungi's heady aroma was intoxicating, but its flavor was actually tempered by the heavy, al dente noodles, as well as the olive oil.

niman ranch pork belly
7: niman ranch pork belly | carrot-orange purée, pickled ramps, mizuna, carrot-ginger butter
coteaux de layon, "les 4 villages" domaine jo pithon 2006
I've been liking pork belly more and more as of late, and this course just continued the trend. The pork itself actually reminded us of pastrami, with its distinctive brine and pepperiness. It was also quite fatty, but not overwhelming so, with a delightfully crunchy skin to boot. The belly's weight was simultaneously balanced by the sweetness from the carrot sauce and the pungent bitterness of the mizuna and ramps.

columbia river king salmon
8: columbia river king salmon | kumquat, peas, jurançon
rosé, château de pampelonne 2008
The salmon was a point of contention for us. The salmon itself couldn't be faulted, but some thought that the kumquat was far too tart, overshadowing the natural savor of the fish. For me though, that wasn't an issue, and I really appreciated the vegetal tang and finish imparted by the peas. We all, however, agreed on the brilliance of the stupendously unctuous and flavorful skin.

loin of colorado lamb
9: loin of colorado lamb | eggplant, artichoke, celebrity tomato
grenache, domaine de la pertuisane 2005
The lamb had the honor of inspiring the best quote of the night: My lamb has more game than my date! This seemingly Delicious Life-inspired line had some merit though; the lamb was more robust than most, and though it was too overbearing for some, I appreciated its rank, as well as its delicate body. But it wasn't just about the lamb, the tomato compote added a distinct weight, a marked sweetness to counter the slight sourness of the meat, while the artichoke accented things with a bit of bitterness. The best accoutrement, though, was the basil sauce, with a bold pungency that greatly tempered the lamb.

japanese wagyu beef (gunma, japan) bacon parmesan risotto
10: japanese wagyu beef (gunma, japan) | roasted asparagus, wild mushrooms, bacon parmesan risotto
I think we were all blown away by the beef here. Magnificently marbled, tremendously tender, supremely sapid, with a splendid, savory crust--it was as good as any you'd find in a high-end steakhouse, and that includes CUT. It was so good, in fact, that I preferred to eat it completely devoid of any trappings. The asparagus, mushroom, butterball potato, beef jus, even the risotto--they were fine, but unnecessary in my opinion.

cheese selection cheese selection
cheese selection cheese selection
11: cheese selection
gewurztraminer, "brand" domaine stirn 2001
Providence has always had one of the best cheese carts in the City, from which we were given a select sextet of fromage, accompanied by figs, candied walnuts, apricot-black pepper jam, apple jam, and nut bread:
  • Capriole Sofia - My second favorite of the bunch, this was a delicate, slightly sweet, lightly flavored goat cheese from producer Capriole out of Greenville, Indiana.
  • Tomme de Chèvre des Pyrenees - Tomme is a term that generally refers to cheese produced in the French alps; however, this example was from a different mountain range: the Pyrenees. It was a goat's milk cheese, with a mild, subtly salty character.
  • Ossau-Iraty - Next was another cheese from the Pyrenees, though this time one made from sheep milk. The Ossau-Iraty had a creamy, medium-firm body and lightly nutty sapor.
  • Gubbeen Cheese - From Ireland comes this surface-ripened, semi-soft cow's milk cheese with a pleasant, soft earthiness and lovely nuttiness.
  • Grès de Vosges - This was a soft cow's milk cheese from Alsace, notable for its gooey consistency and pungent, sweet flavor (from the use of kirsch in the production process). Easily my favorite of the set.
  • Rogue River Blue Cheese - A cheese plate just wouldn't seem complete without a bleu, so here we had one from Rogue Creamery of Central Point, Oregon. Made from raw cow's milk and wrapped in grape leaves, the cheese was sharp, herbaceous, and a bit sweet.
cantaloupe soup
Dessert Amuse Bouche: cantaloupe soup
And with that, we were on to dessert. Though our menus listed the "Mojito" spherification as the pre-dessert, we were instead given this (due to the similarity between the Mojito and the Greyhound): a cantaloupe soup with blackberry gelée, vanilla ice cream, lime granita, and mint. It was a great substitution. The cantaloupe was ever-present, a base on which the sweet berry, sour lime, and creamy vanilla could play, while the mint gave the shot an overarching lightness.

kalamansi gelee
12: kalamansi gelee | white chocolate coconut soy milk soup, litchi-shiso sorbet
ume blanc, choya nv
First up was a dessert with a distinctly Thai-influenced tinge, thanks to the coconut and the pandan-esque flavor of the sorbet. It thus had a sweetness reminiscent of Lod-Chong Nam Ka-Ti, a dessert of pandan noodles in coconut milk, but was balanced by the tartness of the kalamansi, or calamondin, gelée. Overall, a light, refreshing course to kick things off.

mud creek blackberries
13: mud creek blackberries | yuzu curd, blackberry-jasmine sorbet, meringue, warm almond cake
jurançon, "clos urolat" charles hours 2006
Next, an interesting study in the interaction between sweet and sour. We have a meringue tube, filled with a tangy yuzu curd, atop an almond cake. The curd-cake complex was rather nondescript on its own, but was countered beautifully by the sorbet, imbued with the saccharine essence of blackberry, and the blackberry fruit itself.

harry's strawberries
14: harry's strawberries | basil ice cream, balsamic marshmallow, pistachios
late harvest chardonnay, levendi vineyards, napa valley 2006
Surprisingly, the bracing, pungent smack of the basil proved a superb complement to the cloying sweetness of the strawberry--a fanciful, yet fabulously fitting foil. The pistachios, meanwhile, provided a countervailing nuttiness, as well as a great crunchy textural ingredient, while the heavy, toasty balsamic marshmallow seemed a bit out of place, though it did add a distinct gravity to the dish.

miso cheesecake
15: miso cheesecake | masumoto peaches, black sesame, white peach sorbet
moscato d'asti, "riveto" dante rivetti 2008
This next dessert was easily the most controversial of the series, due to the miso cheesecake. The cake was actually quite savory, especially when taken in concert with the black sesame; one of my dining companions even likened its flavor to Cheez Whiz! As a result, it was a bit disconcerting to eat, though fortunately it was tempered significantly by the sugary peach (from Masumoto Family Farm in Fresno) and peach sorbet.

chocolate ganache
16: chocolate ganache | peanut butter, "these pretzels are making me thirsty", chambly noir ice cream
banyuls, joseph nadal 1996
Given that I'm not a fan of peanut butter, it's not surprising that this dessert wasn't a hit with me. Nevertheless, the ganache did do an admirable job in covering its sapor, while the pretzels contributed a bit of saltiness, while adding a great crunch to things. The best part of this, though, was the ice cream made from Unibroue's Chambly Noire dark ale, with its unique bitterness, smokiness, and toffee notes. FYI: "these pretzels are making me thirsty" is a reference to the Seinfeld episode "The Alternate Side," in which Kramer is slated to utter the line in a Woody Allen movie--yes, I'm a Seinfeld fan.

a café in bordeaux
17: a café in bordeaux | coffee mousse, canelé ice cream, chicory caramel and hazelnuts
vin santo del chianti classico, castello di meleto 2005
This was actually a dessert that I had on my last visit. A canelé is a type of pastry from the Bordeaux region of France; however, the "canelé" here was merely a shell, filled with a cold coffee mousse center. The canelé's delectable rum- and vanilla-tinged flavor was thereby moved to the ice cream, with the hazelnuts providing a lovely, nutty finish. A great interplay of tastes and textures--I can see why this is the restaurant's most popular dessert.

white chocolate, mango and cardamom lollipop
18: white chocolate, mango and cardamom lollipop
And now, Providence's infamous lollipop. Despite being made with mango, we all thought that it tasted of banana, with a spicy savory accent on account of the cardamom. Humorously, we were warned not to shoot the glass of sugar!

With the menu proper devoured, we were given the requisite plate of mignardises. I first tried the crunchy Almond Praline Truffle, the most conventional of the trio, tasting of Ferrero Rocher with an Amaretto tinge. Next was the Ras el Hanout Gelée, which had an interesting sweet and savory interplay going on, thanks to the use of the Middle Eastern spice blend. Finally we have the Bacon Caramel, which I instantly described as tasting "like breakfast" upon consuming. It was eye-opening, and actually a bit uncomfortable to eat, with a flavor not unlike bacon dressed in maple syrup!

Without a doubt, this was my strongest Providence meal to date. While my previous visits were certainly enjoyable, it's only now that I was able to realize the full extent of Michael Cimarusti's talent. What I experienced clearly demonstrated a masterful grasp of ingredients, combined with plenty of innovation, creativity, and a touch of "molecular" technique, all together creating what I consider the most exciting seafooder in the City--it is clear to me now why Michelin chose to bestow two stars here.