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Friday, May 26, 2017

Providence - Los Angeles

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.

This box holds Wagyu Beef Cigars

an aromatic blend of the rich rush of dried wagyu meat anchored by a robust eggplant purée.

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.

The Dungeness Crab is dashing, sweeping a viscous Hokkaido uni off its feet. 

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.

I don't want the Artisanal Cheeses course, I want the whole damn cart. 

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. 

A square of Lemon Jelly contrasts a serious Macaron, crispy shell giving way to peanut butter and a banana hint. The chocolate peanut Truffle is rich and gooey, sweet in a way that is deep and dark. 

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.
Providence Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Beard Papa UPDATE - Los Angeles

Beard Papa, you LIE! How dare you recommend eating your cream puffs the day of when they're just as good the next?! 

And damned if they don't taste better. The Honey Butter Cream Puff turns into a crispy-crusty blitz. The cream sets but doesn't separate, and cream turns to custard in a frosty fridge.

Paris Brest
is best, but really, fed is best. Don't let the best brest go to waste, and eat it the way a delectable cream-donut deserves to be eaten.

Don't listen to Beard Papa. You can have your cream puff and eat it today, but don't hesitate to buy enough for tomorrow too!
Beard Papa's Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Panvimarn Thai Kitchen - Long Beach

It's just a random shopping center in Long Beach. A boutique, a specialty store, a pharmacy, but on a random Friday night, Panvimarn comes alive. 

There's so much going on everywhere you look. There's a line out the door, and people demanding tables all around. Inside every table is full, and every patron has something to smile about.

The busy-bee, trying-to-be-trendy vibe is everywhere, too. It's on the many-page menu, the range of food from noodles to sushi to soup, and it's apparent in every tricked-out dish.
The Appetizer Sampler, for example, is a crazy potpourri of all the things you could possible throw into a fryer. 

The Siam Spring Rolls, shipped straight from Siam. They're fried but they finish light, a lot going on, with silver noodles,cabbage, celery, and carrot squished like all the water in my tiny bladder because the bathroom is too far away. 

I didn't mind the Shrimp Blanket, despite having tired of all things fried. The tiger shrimp is incredibly fresh-tasting, and it shines through with a dab of sweet and sour despite being mummified in a thin wonton skin. 

They must use different skins because the Fried Wonton is thick. There's a generic gyoza filling of chicken and undetectable shrimp. 

Sometimes a house special can be right on the money...but the Money Bags are not. A hot mess of bland chicken and shrimp in yet another wonton skin; it's just a less salty version of the fried wonton except it's shaped like an airbag. Then again, this train wreck could use a good airbag.

Stick to the simple stuff. The best thing is a simple Chicken Sa-Te. The spices are right-on, and it finishes sweet under a curried dust. I love a good peanut sauce, and this one is close enough.

I need to take my own advice. Had I ordered my entrees after the appetizer, I wouldn't have gone anywhere near the Roasted Duck Curry. It's an indescribable crazy-soup, with expected ingredients like duck, pineapple, and basil leaves, but then they threw in grapes and lychee. The grapes are just strange, the way they cook into incongruent juice-bubbles, and the lychee has a preserved-in-a-can-aftertaste that permeates the rest of the curry.

The Soft Shell Crab Curry is better...kind of. It's just a heap of...stuff. Yellow-colored...stuff. Shreds of egg hang off like like cobwebs, a weeping-willow that covers the crab. The crab does taste reasonably fresh, and the yellow curry sauce suits it.

What a mess! Whatever frantic, stream-of-consciousness, grab-an-ingredient-off-the-
counter-and-throw-it-in kind of innovative spirit is driving these people needs to be stopped! I love that you're trying to think, and I love that you're trying to be different, but there has to be some sort of filter, a tiger-mom to tell you when enough is enough. Panvimarn gets an A for effort, but they really need to reign it in. 

Panvimarn Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Friday, May 19, 2017

Da Pasquale - Beverly Hills

I love Italian, but when I heard that Da Pasquale was in Beverly Hills, I had serious second thoughts. The traffic is a nightmare, a wondrous weave of one-way streets preceded by a freeway that doubles as a parking lot. 

It takes a lot for me to even consider a trip in that direction, but Da Pasquale is WORTH IT.

Everything in Beverly Hills screams extravagance, and considering the prices, everything sure does feel like a luxury. Da Pasquale isn't cheap, but there's real value in their vittles, a genuine quality to the ingredients that makes the import fees and authenticity cost so WORTH IT. 

Take the Proscuitto San Daniele, for example. Those thin, salty-pink slices finish sweet, silky against a backdrop of soft-yet-bold burrata. The cream tastes like Tuscan sunshine, cold rays on a crisp bed of bitter baby arugula.

The Mezze Maniche alla Posillipo is their perfect pasta, floppy kaleidoscope-tubes spreading a colorful blend of spicy tomato, al dente sea-legs of dense crab and tender shrimp.

A river engulfs an unsuspecting Osso Bucco, a muddy gravy of peas and mushrooms in a hearty stew.

The spinach and potatoes come as a side, lest they drown.

The Lemon Sorbet comes not a moment too soon. Like much of Da Pasquale, this tangy, tart, feather-light delight doesn't forget where it came from. Sitting pretty in its original rind, it does double duty as a palate cleanser and a wake-up call for the osso-bucco coma.

The Panna Cotta is right on. A clean, blank slate dotted with a bright berry sauce, it finishes creamy and sweet, an exquisite texture as smooth as satin.

The Affogato al Caffe will keep me up all night. A potent shot of espresso will make even the most tired of hair stand on end, as it engulfs a scoop of a textbook gelato.

There's so much glitz and glamour in Beverly Hills; it's hard to tell what's real. Da Pasquale may be the only restaurants that continues to keep it real, and it makes them the only place I'll go. The ambiance is the kind of genuine warmth that usually gets lost under the harsh city lights, an old-school charm commonly dwarfed by the surrounding skyscraper. Yet Da Pasquale has it all: a cozy dining room as familiar as chianti, a server who learned her Italian before her English yet somehow masters both, and the most amazing thing of all, a chef who still cooks all her food. Walk by the kitchen and catch a glimpse of Anna, so engrossed in making every meal as perfect as the last that she may not look up all night. This is why Da Pasquale stands strong, and I hope it always stays like this.
Da Pasquale Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato