The Best 7 Course Dessert Experience. Ever.
5955 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA
Cross street - Wilcox
Myself + 2 Guests (The Very Best Friend + Her Other Half)
The first time I had dessert at Providence, I knew how the restaurant got its name. As an amateur dessert master myself (well, cookie-master is more like it), I'm critical of the sweets in this city. And for good reason. It's a chicken or the egg conundrum - do restaurants not have worthy pastry chefs (and in most cases, none at all) because people in LA don't want to eat dessert, or do people in LA not want to eat dessert because, as a rule, it sucks? We have scores of chefs experimenting with flavors and ingredients, fusing methodologies and giving us lollipops and test tubes - with accolades and question marks, admittedly, but the opportunity is there. It hasn't seem that way for pastry chefs. It's creme brulee, tiramisu, and chocolate cake or nothing. And yet, there's hope.
Adrian R. Vasquez is a rare breed in Hollywood - not only is he exclusively a pastry chef, but he's also a risk-taker. He'll put unusual ingredients like herbs, corn, and jalapenos in his creations, and at times, you can't even identify the flavors. But in just a few short minutes, he can change your mind about what desserts should be.
Providence, in a show of faith for their shining sugar-star, is displaying Adrian's talents in a full-on dessert tasting menu. I recently had the supreme honor of devouring every last spoonful. Coupled with the incredible wine-pairings from the sommelier, Drew (arguably the absolute best in the city, because he knows his stuff AND he treats all his guests without condescension - I've never ever said that about his profession before), this experience left the three of us wondering why we'd ever passed on dessert before. Let me tell you - at least where Adrian is involved - that won't happen again.
Here are my meager descriptions - just trust me when I say these don't do the equally gorgeous and flavorful dishes justice, but let it whet your appetite.
Coconut, Carrot, and Passion
* The Amuse Bouche of the dessert world, this tiny but incredibly powerful beginning is served on a gorgeous white porcelain spoon. A ribbon of carrot is accented on one side by a coconut emulsion, and on the other by a dollop of punchy passionfruit. This the proverbial wake-up call for your tastebuds. Such a perfect summertime accent.
Yogurt Cucumber Mint Sorbet and Cantaloupe Soup
* In trying to describe this to my mother, she immediately gasped and declared "A soup? With cantaloupe? I don't know about that." And that's the thing with Adrian's desserts - you read the ingredients on an elegant menu and it's hard to know what to expect. Since most of us have never had such flavor combinations, there's no experience with which to judge. But come on now, the foodies of the world branch out for the savory goods all the time - it's time caution take a nose-dive for desserts as well. And this course is the perfect starting point. Small and elegant, the refreshing sorbet has just a hint of mint, which manages to highlight the cool and vibrant flavor of the cantaloupe. It's absolutely amazing.
Warm Blackberries, Polenta Streusal, Corn Ice Cream
* Let's think about corn for a moment. The best ears are sweet and lightly yellow, and need very little condiments to kick them up. We drench the kernels in salads with fruity vinaigrette, so why not highlight them in a fruity dessert? I think, of all the courses, this was my favorite. Massive, juicy blackberries resting on a divine but not too-sweet-streusal, capped with a spoonful of Adrian's most gifted offerings - ice cream. In this case, velvety smooth ice cream with the loveliest sweet corn zing.
Drew paired this with a true dessert wine - a 2003 Domaine Jo Pithon Coteaux du Layon - with a gorgeously sweet apple note, this combo was almost coma-inducing.
(Adrian deviated from his tasting menu and treated us to one of his ala carte offerings here)
Harry's Strawberries, Lemon Curd, Ras el Hanout Ice Cream, and Pistachios
* You've had strawberries and lemon before, in many combinations. This is an undeniably lovely match. Adrian sends this into another statosphere with what I believe is his signature ice cream - Ras el Hanout. This is a melange of Moroccan spices, and it leaks out a complex, other-worldly punch of flavor that draws together the strawberries and citrus in a magnificent union. Add the delightful crunch of the pistachios, and you have the package deal.
(Another tiny off-the-menu treat from Adrian, this won Best Of raves from one of my guests)
* Forgive me, I don't know the official name of this gem, but out came a tiny glass mug with a strawberries and cream-like soda concoction, scattered with what were called "Tonka beans", and what tasted to me like tiny malted chocolate balls. This simple yet highly original palette tickler made me realize part of his genius - textures don't play second stage in anything he serves. All the dishes had soft and creamy, refreshing, velvety, and crunchy elements, among others. I think that's why everything feels so adventurous, in addition to their presented beauty.
Apricot and Fennel Ice Cream
* If you've never had fennel with fruit before, you're missing a magnificent marriage. The herb pushes out the fruity flavor all the more, and almost fools your palette into thinking it's more tropical and complex. Drew served us a 2004 Terre Rouge Muscat, which, as he described, was blended with a bit of Grappa, and therefore still had a layer of acidity. I loathe the syrupy aspects of a typical dessert wine - this creation did not offend. Potent yet airy, sweet yet acidic - perfection.
Raspberries, Chocolate Cremeux, and Raspberry Beer
* This one breaks all the rules. Sure, it's got the normal raspberry/chocolate combo, but this is not what you had last night at the Cheesecake Factory. Woah god. The bottom layer is a gelatin-esque raspberry disc, highlighted with the flavor of the fruity beer. On top of that, Adrian layers a smattering of - get ready - micro-greens and flower petals. Yes, there's a salad in the dessert. On top of that goes an exquisite chocolate ice cream and, of course, raspberries. I don't know how, I don't know why, but this WORKS. Again, he offers up a ton of flavor and texture - every bite is a mystery. Drew gave us a surprise too - an Italian red bubbly called, I believe, Bella Rosa. We loved it so much my friends purchased a bottle (he has a retail license too, bless his heart - can this place be any more perfect?)
Is it a sign of a bad critic to not criticize? Fine then, at this point, I would have said - gee, why not have more chocolate? Most of us dessert-ie types are addicted. And then came the check. With the finally dessert offering - a tray of three bite-sized goodies.
1) Lycee gelee - melt-in-your mouth sweet
2) Black Olive Caramel - oh hell YES! And why not? Olives are salty, and so should a be good caramel be. LOVE THIS!
3) Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup - I think you know by now Adrian's version is decadent, amazing, and kicks Reese's ass. This was the chocolate overload I needed.
Yeah, we can die now.
Seriously gang - do yourself a favor and hit up Providence for this rare and delicious tasting menu. If you have to skip dinner, so be it. Lord knows you've skipped dessert enough times - let's repay the favor and show the sugars of the world we care.
The tasting menu is $30 - $50 with the wine pairing. An incredible bargain, if you do the math. Even more so when you see and taste.