Birthday Dinner at Providence: Dessert

My wonderful husband arranged a dinner with friends at Providence to celebrate me turning 21 for the 10th time in my life. You can read about the first part of the meal here.

After that delicious dinner, it was time for dessert, the real reason all of us were there.  😉  Despite starting to feel full, I still went for the full 8 course dessert tasting menu.  I didn’t know when I would be back so…*shrug*  Can you blame me?

Cocktails

First up was “Cocktails”.  Three different drinks manipulated via magic (okay, more like molecular gastronomy) into morsels that you pop in your mouth.  From left to right was a grapefruit concoction,  gin & tonic and mojito.  The grapefruit and mojito were contained within a very thin bubble that burst in your mouth.  The gin & tonic was turned into a jellied substance.  I can’t say I was an avid fan of any of the drinks mainly because I don’t care much for grapefruit, dislike gin and prefer my mojitos on the sweet side.  But texturally, this was quite a new and fun experience for me.

#2 kalamansi gelee - one of my faves

Next came the Kalamansi Gelee, which was my favorite…I think.  It’s a bit of a tie between this and the 4th course.  The kalamansi gelee was a first for me.  Turns out it’s a fruit that looks a lot like a lime and is popular in the Philippines.  Surrounding it was a soup of white chocolate coconut milk with tiny tapioca balls.  On top of the gelee was a litchi-shiso sorbet and coconut.  Now, I’m not at all a fan of coconut.  I usually avoid anything with the stuff, which is ironic given that I used to gnaw on raw coconut as a kid growing up in the South Pacific.  This dish wasn’t overly sweet nor was it strong on coconut flavor which is probably why it appealed to me.  It was also light and refreshing.  I think one of the reasons that I loved this dessert so much was the nostalgia the ingredients inspired in me, what with the coconut and the tapioca balls which reminded me of my boba-slurping days as a college student…

#3 mandarin-rose sorbet

The third course was the mandarin-rose sorbet.  There was a cute little pistachio macaron, some fluffy bits of yogurt cake and cardamon.  I believe under the sorbet was a raspberry gelee.  I’m not sure where the “mandarin” comes in but I did taste the rose and smelled it too.  It wasn’t too flower-y and went well with the raspberry and yogurt cake which reminded me a lot of angel food cake.  Macarons seem to be popping up all over the place nowadays which is fine with me because I love them.  And mini-versions are just adorable which makes me love them even more!

#4 sweeter side of panzanella

Another favorite, the sweeter side of panzanella came next. This had burrata ice cream on one side and strawberries marinated in basil and balsamic vinegar with a pan-fried frangipane.  I think the outstanding part of this dish was the strawberries.  The basil, balsamic and strawberries all melded together into something delicious yet I could still taste each individual component.  I am going to try and recreate it at home…but I’m sure I’ll probably come up with only a poor cat’s version.

#5 caramel pudding - oh so salty!

Caramel pudding was fifth on the list.  This dessert consisted of a cup filled with salted caramel pudding topped with a sprinkle of apricot, caramel popcorn and a chocolate peanut.   I love the whole salt and caramel combination so when I started, I was pleased.  However, when I reached the bottom, I found the pudding to be overly salty, so much that I really couldn’t finish it.  Sadness…

#6 dark chocolate mousse

Up next was the dark chocolate mousse with kumquats, ginger and goma ice cream.  Goma, it turns out, is sesame seed.  While it wasn’t as strong in flavor as the black sesame ice cream I had at Tsuruhashi, it was still quite enjoyable.  I think sesame seed ice cream is something that needs to become trendy so I can eat more of it.  Then again, my hips are already too wide…

#7

Next was the affogato.  This was pretty fabulous.  It’s an Italian ice cream dessert that’s topped off with a shot of coffee or espresso.  This version had canele ice cream with over a hazelnut streusel.  The bitter of the coffee was softened by the sweetness of the ice cream and the streusel helped give a nice textual contrast.  It was just a harmonious dish that I enjoyed.  I think this was my next favorite dessert from the tasting after the kalamansi and the panzanella.

#8

For our last course, we were treated to a plate of mignardises – bite-sized desserts that are a type of petit four.  Mini chocolate macaraons, caramels and what I think were blackberry jelly candies graced our platter.  We chowed down on the macarons and the jellies but most of the caramels were collected and taken home to be savoured later.  These caramels had some salt in it and it was just right this time.  I wish I had taken them all!  😛

Another almost too pretty to eat thing...

Dark chocolate ganache

Not everyone partook in the tasting menu.  Husband and another friend opted for only one dessert but their one dish were just as fabulous as our tasting menu.  Husband went for the dark chocolate ganache which is a chocolate lover’s heaven.  I am not sure what my friend ordered but it was beautiful…an edible marble-looking ball filled with something yummy; This was a sophisticated version of those chocolate eggs or something like that.  Everyone was ooing and aahing when it arrived.

Overall, Providence has to be one of the best meals I’ve had so far.  The dessert tasting menu is definitely a bargain, I think, and I encourage you it out, especially if you are a lover of sweet!

5 NOMs for Providence!

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170
Providence on Urbanspoon

Birthday dinner at Providence (Part 1)

Providence

Ever since I read Gastronomy’s post about the dessert tasting menu at Providence, I’ve been mentioning it on and off to Husband and whoever else would listen.  Along comes my 10th 21st birthday and Husband arranges to have dinner and dessert here with some friends.  Awwww…what a keeper!  🙂

My first birthday cocktail

Husband's girlie drink

Husband and I arrived about 20mins early for our 8pm reservation due to misjudging just how bad traffic would be on the side streets…  Turns out, our side-street route was faster than the freeways!  Muhahaha! LA traffic can’t stop us!  Anyways, there was a private party at the bar area so we couldn’t hang out there but our table was ready so we were seated….in the middle of the room. It was a little conspicuous being just the two of us at a table for 10.

We started off with a couple of cocktails while we waited for the rest of the group.  I don’t recall the name of our cocktails or even what went into them (bad me!) but mine was something a little fruity without being overly sweet.  Husband got something I consider more “girlie” due to the fact that it was in a martini glass with a little flower.  I don’t think he liked his as much as I liked mine, though, because he switched to something else as his next drink.  I stopped after one since I figured I was going to end up driving home.  Plus, I was getting a bit fuzzy from it.  I’m a lightweight.  Plus, I came with an empty stomach.

I did notice they had a Dark & Stormy on the list which is a drink I want to try due to friends raving about various versions they’ve had.  It was also recommended by one of our waiters.  Next time….

Roll and nori focaccia

Once everyone arrived, we started perusing the menu.  A variety of bread was served – warm bacon rolls which were quite good, regular rolls and a nori focaccia that was yummtastic!  A plate of butter and a little bowl of salt with the cutest little scoop accompanied our bread.

Despite knowing that I was about to down 8 courses of dessert, I decided to indulge.  After all, I only turn 21 for the 10th time once…  I ordered oysters as a starter and the foie gras ravioli as my main course.  Husband opted for chowda and the prime New York steak.  Most of our table ended up ordering  just an appetizer to save room for the dessert tasting menu.

Amuse Bouche

Before our orders arrived, everyone at the table was served an amuse bouche.  This consisted of a house-made marshmallow dusted with wasabi, a cheese-stuffed bread bite and an incredible little glass filled with fish (I think the waiter said trout?), caviar, some crunchy little bits and edible gold.  The marshmallow was a pleasant bite with the wasabi being a sweeter version than the more familiar hot one. The cheese bread was delicious, a little tart.  The concotion in the glass was one of the highlights of the evening’s meal for me.  I absolutely adored this…so much so that I ate Husband’s and another friend’s since they weren’t fans of the fish.  I think I would have licked the glasses clean if I weren’t in public….

I am the Walrus...

Chowda

Our appetizers showed up a short while later.  Oysters! *slurp slurp slurp*.  There were 6 oysters in this order, served on ice with seaweed decorating the plate.  Very fresh, a little briny, and served with two different vinegars, these were excellent.

I stole a couple of bites of Husband’s chowda and oh my gosh, so good!  Thick, creamy, just like a proper clam chowder should be.  There was definitely a good amount of clam and it was grit-free.  I don’t know how many times I’ve ordered clam chowder only to encounter a little grit here and there…or a lot.  Seriously, nothing ruins a good chowder like grit…

Heavenly cheese cart

Cheese please!

There was a cheese cart that we spied that had all sorts of amazing looking cheeses so some of our table ordered a plate to nibble on.  The selected cheeses were served with bread and complimentary fruits like fig, apricot and apple.  The variety was quite impressive – sheep’s milk, blues, soft and hard cheeses, an herbed goat cheese, cheese with truffle bits in them.  I tasted one of the blues which was mild for a stinky cheese.  The herbed goat cheese was okay but not my favorite.  I adored the truffled cheese though.  So   delicious…

Beautiful fish dish

One of the couples split the Hawaiian Yellowfin Tuna.  I have no idea how this dish tasted but if appearances are anything to go on, this must have been a spectacular dish!  The tuna looked to be barely seared, just kissed by flame.  The sungold tomatoes and blossoms really added nice color contrast that makes this bowl look more like a work of art.  I’d be hesitant to dig in…but only for a split second.

Foie gras ravioli with shaved black truffle

Prime New York steak

It was main course time.  My foie gras ravioli dish was placed in front of me and the waiter shaved a black summer truffle over it.  Um…more, please?  In fact, I’ll just take that whole truffle…  😀  This dish was amazingly decadent but didn’t feel heavy considering what was in it.  The pasta was the perfect thickness and cooked beyond al dente without being mushy.  The little bits of vegetable in the sauce added a crunchy texture contrast.  It was fabulous.

Husband’s steak didn’t wow him.  It was good but it was too “fancy” for his taste and didn’t care for any of the veggies that garnished his plate.  The bite I tried had was cooked at the requested medium well and wasn’t melt in your mouth but was still tender and moist.  But I think I agree with Husband that the best steak is still at Mastro’s.

Black winter truffle risotto

And the prawns were parted...

One of our friends ordered a black winter truffle risotto while her boyfriend got the salt roasted Santa Barbara spot prawns.  Like the foie gras ravioli, they shaved truffle over the risotto.  The prawns were quite impressive.  They came out in a skillet covered with salt.  Rosemary had been added as well and you could smell it.  Everyone at the table was taking deep breaths because it was just so deliciously fragrant.  Each prawn was fished out and split table-side.  I was offered a bite and these were fantastic.  The prawns were cooked perfectly and you could taste the rosemary.

At this point, I was pretty much full but dessert was still to be had!  Stay tuned for part 2 – the 8 course dessert tasting menu!  Yup, I still went for it…

You can find more pictures on my Facebook page.

So far, Providence gets 5 NOMs in my book.

Providence
5955 Melrose Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 460-4170
Providence on Urbanspoon

Hawaii: Imari at the Hilton Waikoloa

During our anniversary trip to the Big Island, Husband and I stayed at the Hilton Waikoloa resort. This hotel was built when I still lived on the island and I remember taking family trips to this place to ride the tram and boats and watch the dolphins; it was a treat and a trip down memory lane to stay here.

Lagoon

This natural lagoon is filled with a reef and lots of fish.  People can rent kayaks, snorkel gear, paddle boats and other water gear.  Husband and I went snorkeling on our last full day and saw eels, angelfish, humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish) and even a sea turtle!  Very cool…

View from our room lanai

One of the many animals that live at the Hilton Waikoloa

Dolphin at the Dolphin Quest lagoon

There’s a dolphin encounter type type deal at the Hilton Waikoloa.  We didn’t do it due to the prices but we did watch some people and kids take part.

One of the perks of staying here was the availability of several fine dining options for dinner.  Since we arrived late Thursday afternoon, we decided to stay on the resort grounds for dinner.  We chose to eat at Imari which serves Japanese cuisine. For some reason, I thought we ate here on Saturday but apparently not based on the photos’ dates. I’m getting old…

Built to look like a traditional tea house, this place offers a sushi bar, a teppanyaki style experience, or regular table dining. Since we ended up arriving for a late meal due to the time difference between California and Hawaii, we could not partake in the teppanyaki fun and Husband doesn’t do sushi so…

Edamame

Everything on the menu looked really good so I decided to go for the Omakase Bento which ended up being a 3-course meal and had variety. Since I didn’t realize just how much food the Omakase Bento would end up being, I also got a side order of abalone nigiri (something I don’t often see and have never eaten) and the seared ahi tuna appetizer which was a special that night. Husband got edamame to munch on, one of the few vegetables he will eat.

Zaru soba

My first course arrived – zaru soba, a few slices of sashimi and a bit of other stuff – seaweed, tofu, edamame and a crab mixture with a sweet sauce. The soba noodles were perfectly cooked, retaining a bit of firmness without being hard.

Sashimi

The sashimi was fantastic…beautiful fresh cuts of fresh tuna and hamachi (yellowtail).

Japanese "banchan"??

The crab mixture was delicious.  I think the black stuff in the foil cup was a type of seaweed and the green stuff down on the bottom was another type of seaweed salad, both yummy.

Seared Ahi

Abalone nigiri

The seared tuna arrived and oh my goodness! I’ve had “seared” ahi before where the fish was just shy of being fully cooked. This was not the case with Imari’s version. The fish looked like it had been gently touched by flame and had a wonderful peppery crust that made each bite burst with flavor and gave it a kick. It did mask the ahi a little bit, though. I convinced the husband to try a little bite and even he liked it! Shocking, considering he doesn’t like raw/rare and cold meat. This dish was the best one of the meal.

The abalone nigiri was delivered, beautifully plated. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was caught off guard by the crunchiness of it. But it was delicious, delicate in flavor.

Grilled Hawaiian Opa with sweet potato mash

For my “main course”, I got a piece of grilled Hawaiian Opa with a sweet potato-taro mash, asparagus spear and tempura. The fish flaked easily and had a nice light flavor. I enjoyed the mash but the asparagus was tough.

Tempura

The tempura was lightly battered, crispy and was not heavy with oil.

Stacked dishes with daikon and rice

They also brought out rice and a little dish with daikon and other pickled vegetables.

Steak

dessert

My husband had ordered a steak which was served with mashed potatoes and shiitake mushrooms (which he quickly off-loaded onto my plate). The bite of beef I got to try was flavorful, tender and moist despite being well done (I’m a medium-rare/medium type of gal…).

To end the meal, the Omakase Bento comes with a choice of ice cream flavor. I opted for green tea. I was expecting a small bowl with a single scoop but ended up with a bowl containing 3 scoops and crisp fan-shaped wafers. The smooth and creamy ice cream had really good green tea flavor. Sadly, I was so stuffed that I couldn’t finish off this dessert and ended up leaving half of it. I tried…

If you ever find yourself in the Waikoloa area, I highly recommend stopping in at Imari for dinner. It’s a lovely dining experience. The food is top-notch and the service impeccable. It is pricey, with main courses costing around $35-40 on average. I found the Omakase Bento ($45) to be the best quantity for the cost and it was pretty tasty.

5 NOMs for Imari!

Imari
Hilton Waikoloa Village
69-425 Waikoloa Beach Dr.
Waikoloa, Hawaii 96738
Reservations: (808) 886-1234

Imari (Hilton Waikoloa Village) on Urbanspoon

XIV

A few weeks ago, Dine LA hosted its Spring Restaurant Week (well, actually 2 weeks).  This is a prime opportunity to sample some of Los Angeles’s fine dining restaurants without breaking the wallet.  My friends, Kristeen (proprietor of Kristeen LaBrot Events) and Suzy, accompanied me to XIV.  We’ve talked about this place for a while now and were finally lured in by the offer of a $44 prix fixe 3-course dinner menu.

Bar at XIV

XIV, owned by Michael Mina, is pretty much what you’d expect a hip LA fine-dining establishment to be – posh decor, a large bar serving unique cocktails, fashionable patrons and, of course, the occasional sighting of a celebrity or three.  Oh yeah, can’t forget the looooong wait for a table, either, despite having a reservation.  We waited over 40 minutes to be seated.  The host did comp us a round of drinks for the inconvenience, though.  Suzy, who is warming a bun in the oven, was quickly accommodated with delicious mocktails.  The saying “you get what you pay for” holds true for XIV…impeccable service on all fronts.

When we perused the regular menu, the debate began as to whether we should stick to the Restaurant Week menu or splurge and order one of the tasting menus.  XIV offers 3 levels – 8 courses for $64, 11 courses for $88, and 14 courses for $112.  For those not familiar with what a tasting menu is, the table selects a number of choices from the menu and each person is served a sample portion (usually around 2-3 bites) of that dish.  It is a great way to sample a variety of the restaurant’s offerings but the entire table is required to agree on what the choices are.  While not really a problem for smaller groups, for larger ones, getting consensus could be like herding cats since the menu has a lot of delicious options.  XIV does accommodate vegetarians and vegans as well.

We decided to splurge and went with the 8 course tasting menu.

Nantucket Bay Scallop Tempura

First up was the Nantucket Bay Scallop Tempura.  I was expecting a large scallop that was tempura battered and fried.  What I got was very different.  Little baby scallops dotted the plate, garnished with fried tempura batter bits, cauliflower..  The flavor was delicious and the scallops perfectly cooked.  The crunchy texture was a nice contrast to the butteriness of the scallops.  Even Suzy, who is not a fan of scallops, liked this dish.

Ricotta Strozzapreti

Next on the appetizer list, the Ricotta Strozzapreti.  This is actually a pasta dish with a ricotta and pecorino cheese sauce, porcini mushrooms, turnip greens and sunchokes.  This was one of the best dishes of the night, in my opinion.  The flavor of the cheese was nicely balanced with the earthiness of the mushrooms and the greens added a much-needed burst of color.  After tasting this, I was a little surprised that this is an appetizer; it seems a bit heavy and rich to be a starter.

Crispy Branzino

For our first main course sample, we chose the Crispy Branzino.  The branzino (a type of sea bass found in Europe) was delicious.  The skin was perfectly crisp, the meat moist and flaky.  The butter bean puree that was served under the fish, I found bland even when combined with the other ingredients on the plate.  The chorizo didn’t really come thru for me, either.  While the presentation was beautiful, taste-wise, this was the most disappointing dish of the night for me.

Maine Lobster Pot Pie

Maine Lobster Pot Pie - inside

We selected the Maine Lobster Pot Pie which was next and came with an extra $15/pp charge.  It was more like a lobster bisque covered with a puff pastry and definitely took more than 2-3 bites to eat.  The “filling” had a creamy smooth texture and great flavor.  The puff pastry was flaky and buttery.  While I liked this dish best out of the 3 main courses we tried, I didn’t think it was on par with the Strozzapreti.

Prime N.Y. Steak

The Prime N.Y. Steak arrived next.  I really had high hopes for this dish.  It had a list of ingredients that I love – Kobe short rib, arugula, hazelnut, figs, horseradish.  The short rib, while fork tender, ended up being drowned out by the flavor of the sauce.  The arugula salad with fig and hazelnut was good but nothing special.  Overall, this was an okay dish but not outstanding as I hoped.

XIV Cheese Selection

For our first dessert, we ordered the XIV cheese selection.  This dish just popped in my mouth.  A slice of brie-like cheese with sweet quince (tasted a bit like guava) and Meyer foam, the flavor combination just blew me away.  I adored this dessert and would have been happy eating 8 courses of the XIV cheese selection.  Definitely one of the most memorable things I have eaten in my life…

Nutella Custard

The Nutella Custard followed and this was another superb desert.  Topped with passionfruit foam, toast streusel and popcorn ice cream, the textures and flavors melded together to form delectable, decadent bites.  A must order for Nutella fans, like me.

Chocolate Cream dessert

To end our meal, we had the Chocolate Cream dessert.  It was not the dish I would have wanted to end my night on.  While it was a good chocolate dessert, it didn’t blow me away like the XIV cheese did or make me want to lick the dish like the Nutella custard did.  I would have preferred to start the desserts with this as I thought it was the weakest one.

Overall, XIV both impressed and disappointed my taste buds.  The selections we had from the main course section of the menu were nothing that would draw me back for the cost but the cheese and Strozzapreti were delicious enough that I would come back just to eat those dishes again.  Fortunately, there’s still quite a few items left untasted on the menu to make another visit worthwhile.

The Catty Critic gives XIV 4 NOMs.

XIV
8117 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90046
(323) 656-1414
http://www.sbe.net/xiv
XIV on Urbanspoon