Monday, April 28, 2008
I supped last Saturday evening at Providence with two friends and had a lovely time. The service at Providence cannot be beat. As Ruth Reichl writes in her book, Garlic and Sapphires, we dine out to be made to feel special and important. Dining is as much about the experience and company as it is about the food. And my experience was as luxurious and pampered as my company was lovely. The food, however, left something to be desired.
Now, I enjoy Water Grill and Providence in general, despite the preciousness of the presentation and the staid quality of the dining rooms. I love the flavors Michael Cimarusti and his kitchen put on the table. He combines food beautifully, in some very standard ways and sometimes in very innovative ways. The darling plates are always beautiful. It is well worth the time to ponder the dish and even to take a picture, because ultimately, in the words of a third grader, a picture does last longer.
I worked in a seafood restaurant in San Francisco for years, not the caliber of Providence or even close to it by any means. But it was also not a chain or a tourist trap on some pier or wharf or beachside cliff. It was a reputable lovely little restaurant south of Market called The Half Shell. Its first owner, Theresa Douglas (who last I heard was the culinary director for Korbel in Napa), created the most beautiful clam chowder for that restaurant, and it stayed with the business through the next three successive owners. Her chowder was in a thin and brothy base with butter, cream, clam juice, huge branches of rosemary and heaps of bacon bits. This is the standard in my mind to which all future chowders shall be held. The chowda at Providence fell short.
I have tasted this chowda several times, eating usually from my husband's dish. I knew it came with thick hunks of bacon, tender plump & luscious clams, and thin slices of new potato. An elegant soup. But broth bored me. It tasted like they put all those wonderful key ingredients in a bath of warm half and half. So much more could be done to that broth. If it were MY soup, I would have added all kinds of beautiful things much earlier to the broth and reduced it for days, much like Douglas' chowder which reached a tasty crescendo after about day three. The presentation at Providence far exceeded the simple cup & saucer at the Half Shell, but the flavor was left behind in the dust.
For an entree I decided to have the foie gras ravioli (apologies to non-foie eating animal lovers, haven't had it in literally years and couldn't resist). Again, disappointed. Primarily I ordered this because I was enticed by the double whammy of the foie gras and black truffle shavings. Unfortunately, this was not truffley in the slightest, and the only double whammy was my disappointment at the lack of trufflocity paired with the deep puddle of oil in my supper dish. Bluck.
I did taste S's lobster risotto with a lovely carrot foam...because I know what lobster tastes like I only sampled the rice and foam parts. This was both well done and lovely. The rice had that natural creaminess that comes from being cooked just right rather than being smothered in dairy. And the carrot foam added an acidity that balanced the dish nicely.
The sommelier did an excellent job choosing wine for us. He chose a half bottle of a rather tart sauvignon blanc for our starters and then a whole bottle of some other new world something for our mains. The second was headier and would have stood up strong and comfortingly to my dish had I ordered something with truffles. Very well done, in my opinion.
As I say, service was the star that evening. I will definitely go back again, as it is close to home and I am a huge fan of the bar. Anyone sitting at the bar gets lots of attention and an inside peek at how the staff hums along together during service. Everyone and everything seems happy and harmonious and this is definitely reflected at the table.