30 September 2006

foam fetish fish

some of you might be familiar with the culinary wizardry of michael cimarusti, who used to hold court at downtown's water grill some years ago. i remember my first time going there, with a friend when we were but college students, and thinking, man, we're a bit out of our league in here. back in the day, water grill was widely regarded as the best seafood restaurant in town. cimarusti eventually left however; the menu changed (although you can still get some keen oysters there) and the quality, depending on whom you talk to and with the exception of the pastry menu, took a bit of a nosedive.

providence, tucked away on a nondescript, semi-residential stretch of melrose (east of all the trendiness), is cimarusti's long-awaited return. and then some. while water grill was stodgy and traditionalist in its east coast seafood house approach (think boston's legal seafood with a touch of california flair), providence is an entirely different animal. basically chef cimarusti has free reign now, and he goes buck wild with the west coast influences and his own particular brand of whimsy.

this was the centerpiece. quite appropriate with the seafood theme in resembling coral.

she was particularly enamored with the impeccably modern tableware.

we just threw caution to the wind and ordered the "chef's menu." there were two tasting menus on offer. as recommended by some fine folks, we chose the third, somewhat cryptic option, which basically meant omakase, cimarusti-style.

the first course was salmon skin "chips"; basically deep fried, "potato-chip style" salmon skin. quite remarkable and definitely unlike anything i've had before.

the second course was a tofu cheesecake-type amuse bouche
, flavored with crushed, dried wasabi. she pointed out that you can get the dried wasabi at mitsuwa. although i doubt most of the restaurant's clientele would have cared or even known what mitsuwa is. it didn't diminish at all from the dish. with its crunchy-meets-soft texture, it felt like a savory, wasabi-spiked candy.

third came the oyster shooter - kumamoto (what else) in tequila with lime. i forgot what the frothy foam/whip on top was, but foam would eventually become a theme throughout the evening. evidently the chef likes to play with textures quite a bit. i usually don't like tequila but this went down smoothly.

ah, kanpachi sashimi laced with julienned truffles and caviar. this was one of the best courses of the night. it was over too soon.

next came a tuna & truffle minimalist architectural composition, laced with truffle oil and i believe chopped parsley. the sauce was very flavorful. it's not too apparent from this picture, but the cubes are made of tuna slices alternately sandwiched between sheets of truffle and cut to form. the flavors were all there, but i found the texture of this one - hard/soft/hard/soft - a little discomforting. it's the same reason i'm not too fond of cooked eggplant - i don't like mushy flesh mixed with the vegetable's skin.

the next dish was a real winner though. uni marinating in a frothy blended egg yolk, laced with (again) truffle and served with brioche for dipping or spreading.

what seafood menu would be complete without grilled scallop? this one was topped with bacon and served on a tomato compote with burdock root on the side. a whole lotta japanese influence going on. not a bad thing when done well.

freshwater eel on creamy potato beds with a quail egg and shredded truffle. good but there were a few tiny edible bones in the eel. comes with the territory i think, but it's why i don't usually order eel at sushi restaurants. cimarusti's suppliers must have had a special on truffle today.

ayu, a japanese whitefish, with a delicately floured, pan-roasted skin and a sliced beet variety, which was very mild tasting and altogether quite good.

the waitstaff made a big fanfare with this next presentation. "a special chef surprise" they called it as they hauled out the domes. they opened them to reveal:

john dory with matsutake mushroom and lobster. as good as it sounds. the flavor of the mushroom really comes through; i forgot where i heard it, but japanese people say that the matsutake mushroom "tastes of the forests" in the same way that uni "tastes of the sea." now i can understand why.

they just kept rolling out the fish. the eleventh course of the evening was probably the wildest thing yet. cod over chorizo "in three forms" - sausage, powdered (?!) and foamed (?!?!). i don't think i want to know how they turned chorizo into foam, but i'll keep eating it that's for sure. the most intensely flavored dish of the evening. i think this is where cimarusti was like "fine! so they think they're hip enough for the chef's menu do they? let's see if they can take this!" and then rolled up his sleeves before making foam out of chorizo.

did you know that a full-sized four-pronged fork signals the arrival of a meat dish? my companion knew that meat was coming when the waiter placed four-pronged forks on the table. i didn't believe her since we were eating at a seafood restaurant and typically the beef dishes are mediocre and go in the "landlubbers" section. but lo and behold, filet mignon with grilled asparagus, baby carrot (complete with an edible stem), and the softest onion i've ever had. oh yes, and the meat was perfect too, seared to a char on the outside and evenly rare on the inside. that thing you see sitting on top of the beef is not a potatoe fingerling, it's a chunk of pure, grilled fat. i'd never seen fat presented as a garnish before so i had to eat some of it. it was divine. and it took a few years off my life i'm sure.

the pre-dessert was a handmade concord grape sorbet with ground peanuts and crumbled brioche. "it's basically a peanut butter and jelly sandwich" the server said. amazing.

finally, the dessert. as if the "pre-dessert" wasn't really a dessert too. yogurt (no, not like pinkberry) and graham cracker or pie-crust bits on one side and peach jelly on the other. two great tastes that taste great... ah, whatever. it was good.

finally, the post-dinner confections: chocolate-dipped potato chips, another jelly, and (ok i don't know what he was thinking here) some salted toffee-type thing that i kind of wish i hadn't tried. if only because the aftertaste lingered so. maybe it was meant to go with tea or coffee, which we regrettably ordered neither of.

all in all, it was a great chef's menu and, considering how much we ate (14 courses?!), well worth the price. cimarusti when unleashed is definitely skilled and imaginative. i wonder what else he does with foam =P. normally i'm a different kind of diner, one who prefers ethnic/traditional foods over haute cuisine, but providence appealed to my lust for seafood and the chef is very,very  good at what he does. go, go, go by all means.


Blogger adrian said...

black olive caramels, sorry you didn't enjoy them.

8:58 AM  
Blogger yoony said...

your dinner looks awesome! i want to try providence out but i don't know if it'll be affordable. if you don't mind me asking how much was your chef's tasting dinner?

12:55 PM  
Blogger Colleen Cuisine said...

Nice meeting you last night! Your blog looks great - you've got some heavy-hitting reviews to drooooooool over. Can't wait to see your future food adventures!

10:50 AM  
Blogger Jeni said...

Everything looks sooo delicious. I wanna go now!

11:26 PM  

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