In my profession, they call it the "art of medicine", the "art of healing". Every profession has them, those masters who mix talent with tact, competence with style, empathy with ambition. Even the stiffest, most unyielding fields are never without their stand-outs.
Art had its DaVinci, ballet had its Baryshnikov, and Providence has its Michael Cimarusti.
I had almost forgotten what Michelin-level fine dining tasted like until that very first Cocktail Bubble burst. A small-shot semisolid plays perceptively, quenching the thirst for an aperitif as well as an amusing la bouche. Gin gyrates with a sharp ginger beer, while basil seed brings the texture; grounding and solidifying an otherwise liquid lush.
The amuse bouches continue, and immediately, the prodigal presentation comes into play. Crab Wontons sound simple, but these are far from the cream-cheese travesties of your college take-out nights. An unimaginably thin slice of watermelon radish takes a tri-corner shape, shaved under a virtuoso's knife. It enshrouds a brief box crab, accented with a ginger touch.
All delectable dishes can stand alone, but some just do better in pairs. The Santa Barbara Mussel duo duels, salty and soft on crispy focaccia sings a sweet and creamy song in a shot of foamy soup.
Light and bright goes dark and the heavier bites dig deeper. The Black Sesame Cake changes the tone of the tastebuds, a denser, earthier base for a flavor-burst as black pearls of ossetra caviar explode in a wave stormy sea.
The first course arrives with a fluorish; the Topneck Clam signals the start of a seafood-based tasting: fleshy on the half-shell, tender with minimal brine, and a bite that bites back with a harsh horseradish kick.
The Shima Aji Sashimi is a bouquet in a field of flowers, clean and bright under a cherry blossom vinaigrette. The vinegar brings out a hint of sweetness in the fish, and strips of geoduck add another angle of texture and sweet.
First the sea-meat and the weeds. There is a basket of exquisitely-crafted bread, and each piece takes you to a different place. The Seaweed Foccacia is a snorkeling adventure, and as you pull back the layers of a solid-butter Brioche you weave through the vineyards of France. Even the White Bread conjures the ovens of old.
It takes longer to say the name than it does to consume the dish. Stracciatella con capesante come la mia nonna josephine translates to golden filigree of egg-spaghetti, vines of sunlight that encircle silky scallops, sliding through consommé rivulets.
What is this nugget that they claim is Abalone? I've never seen such a delicate thing, nor have I ever had an abalone so supple that its flesh unfolds under the soft side of a dull fork. Stripped of its sea-snail texture, its commonly-firm faults are gone, and nothing but a white-meat steak remains. And the side notes are not to be ignored. Small bars of gently-breaded eggplant pack the flavor of a giant into one powerful bite, and the boiled turnips are finish with an effortless warmth.
It's my first encounter with a west coast treasure, the Santa Barbara Spot Prawn. The meticulously-dissected head has the boldly-bitter liver, and the body is that of a very little lobster. This dish is exceptional, down to the last detail, and the Belgian white asparagus steals the show. Delicate and warm, the chef has drawn out its full fragrance, which finishes like a fresh summer rain.
The Striped Bass seems almost boring after so many exotics and so many news. But this one channels the ebb and flow of the tide, a clean wave that washes the palate, preparing it for the salty ramps and spongy Oregon morels.
The A5 Wagyu doesn't need explaining - the taste is like a dream. Butter-beef, liquid-meat, pearls of fat that dissolve with each passing moment. A crisp, coastal green onion swoops in when the wagyu overwhelms the senses, and sweet beets soften the blow.
Our sampling is a small hint at the true elegance underlying this selection. The soft cheeses are pungent and strong, the sheep cheese is smooth, and the blue is creamy and bold.
My last bite is a brave blue cheese, and I struggle to get the lingering taste out of my mouth. Turns out, it's the perfect transition to the Sour Cherry Mulberry, a shallow, gently-tart pool of fruit that meshes with the biting blue. The berries support a smooth ricotta, and this subtle dish leaves an impression that lasts.
The Meyer Lemon Sorbet is so refreshing after all the heaviness and the cream. It is uplifting and tangy and makes the tongue tingle, but it blends into the sleek satin bed of burrata cream.
The Dulcey looks like a bowl of barley and cereal, but it combines the best of both worlds. Hazelnut perfumes a sweet blackberry stew, and a pudding-esque eggless custard draws out the sesame smoke.
Even after dessert, there is an after-dessert, which we bagged for luxurious morning-after snack. The Chocolate Banana Muffin is just perfect to perk up the next day, even when I'm still full from the night before.
In every field, there are the virtuosos, and in every city, select restaurants rise above the pack. Providence is above and beyond almost anything I've had in this city, and I dare say it beats French Laundry in my book. True, there is always more talent to be discovered, and I'm sure Providence will meet its match, but really, I doubt I'll find much better here, there, or anywhere.