Sunday, April 13, 2014

Getting a First Look at Provenance

2531 Eastbluff Dr. 
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Sometimes I really hate my regular job. I know, not really a big shock to hear someone say that, but I only feel this way sometimes. For the most part I am pretty happy where I work. I have been there for 26 years now, and it has afforded me to go on vacations, gives me a roof over my head, and allowed me to go out to a few restaurants. Then there's a day like a couple weeks ago. I had inventory weekend, and it just so happened that there was a media tasting at a new restaurant that I have been waiting to try since I heard about them opening. There was going to be no way that I could get out of work, so in my place, I sent my way better half Katie to enjoy a great afternoon at Provenance in Newport Beach.

Provenance is the new restaurant from Chef Cathy Pavlos of the highly acclaimed LUCCA Cafe in Irvine. If you go into Provenance thinking this is going to be just like LUCCA, you would be mistaken. LUCCA is a Mediterranean restaurant, that draws its inspiration from all of the countries that border the Mediterranean Sea. The culinary inspiration for Provenance comes from the California wine country, and that cuisine is of course greatly influenced by France and Italy, which means, so is the food of Provenance. Just like food of California is influenced by Asian and Latin flavors, the food making its way out of the kitchen at Provenance will have a slight tinge of Asian or Latin flavors on top of French and Italian basics.

Katie came home singing the praises of Chef Cathy. Chef Cathy is of course worthy of these praises. She's an architect by profession, with a degree in Architecture and Art History, a Master's Degree in social Ecology, and a PhD in Environmental Design and Analysis. Literally, she's one smart cookie. She grew up right here in Huntington Beach, but has lived in Italy, and traveled throughout Europe and the East Coast.

Chef Cathy grew up in Huntington Beach when the city was rural, and at Provenance, she's going back to her roots, with a garden right on the premises. Farm to Fork is all the rage now, but that's how she lived growing up, and that is what they are striving for here at Provenance. They are catering to a 35 and up clientele, and these diners are part of the LATTE culture, which means they are looking for restaurants that are Local, Authentic, Traceable, Trusted, and Ethical. It doesn't get anymore traceable than knowing that the vegetable on your plate is from the garden in the back of the restaurant. Just as they were settling in, the food started to make its way out. Let's see what Chef Cathy had cooked up this afternoon.

Speaking of the garden, starting things off was the Salted Garden Beets ($14). Joining the beets on the plate was a Di Stefano burrata, avocado, mandarin aigre-doux, chard, and a sherry-maple vinaigrette. I just learned that aigre-doux means sweet and sour while I was writing this, guess I should have taken French instead of Spanish in school. Katie went nuts over this. She claims that she has never had a better tasting burrata, which played well with the myriad of flavors here. The beets added an earthiness, while the mandarin sauce provided both a sweet and sour combination.

Back in 2005, when LUCCA first opened, Housemade Charcuterie ($23.50) was not as big as it is now. Fast forward to the present, and almost every fine dining restaurant now offers charcuterie. Provenance is no different, but their offering includes; potted rillettes, duck pate, sliced charcuterie, pickled veggies, and mustard's. Katie really liked the variety here.

Next up were a couple of sandwiches off of the lunch menu at Provenance. The Turkey Meatloaf ($15) is something that is definitely right up my alley. Joining the tender turkey meatloaf on this sandwich was applewood smoked bacon, Fiscalini Farmstead cheddar, cippoline in agrodulce, Boston lettuce, tomato relish, sweet pepper jelly, and a house aioli. Not your normal humdrum leftover meatloaf sandwich here. If the meatloaf sandwich sounds unique, the Roasted Leg of Colorado Lamb Sandwich ($16.50) is also not something that you see everyday. It's topped with a Meyer lemon confit, mixed chard's, a Kalamata olive tapenad, and the house aioli. For lamb lovers this one can not be beat. As if the insides of the sandwiches are not enough to make you happy, the bread at Provenance comes from Dean Kim's OC Baking Company, so you know it is going to be great.

Showing off more from the garden at Provenance, the Honey Balsamic Roasted Baby Carrots ($7). With such a simple sounding dish, there was a lot going on here. The carrots were fork tender, and popped with flavor from the addition of a spice blend, dill, chives, and the unusual inclusion of feta cheese.

The bounty from the garden continued to make its way to the table, with these two other offerings. I have never really been a big fan of Rapini ($8.50), but this version has me rethinking that. Topping the usually bitter vegetable is a spicy tomato sauce, green garlic, and my favorite part of this dish, a fried egg. Genius. Chef Cathy has found a way to make even rapini taste good. The Sweet and Sour Winter Squash Medley ($7.50) was plated in such a way, that you could really see Chef Cathy's architectural background. The tall black kale surrounding the squash, and sprinkled with roasted pumpkin seeds. This dish seemed to scream Autumn.

The lone lunch entree brought out was this Mahi Mahi ($21.50). This fish was encrusted with pistachios, and served alongside a quinoa medley, tomatillos, salsa verde, and a hint of citrus. Katie really enjoyed this earthy dish. She liked the fish, but was taken aback by the quinoa here. She said she could have just made a meal of the quinoa medley.

Now onto the dinner menu, and starting things off was this starter, the Whole Smoked Idaho Trout ($27.50). For smoked fish lovers, this is a must. Topped with ribbons of hearts of palm, capers, artichoke hearts, oven roasted tomatoes, and smoked olive and lemon cream. Katie's not much of a smoked fish fan, so she did not try this, but I really enjoyed the plating here, so I had to include this shot.

The fish parade just kept on coming, with this Pan Fried New Zealand Sole on the Plancha ($28.50). For being pan fried, this fish had a lightness to it, and lacked any noticeable grease. The sole was served with crispy prosciutto, planch potatoes, spinach, tarragon, and infused brown butter sauce. A very nice fish dish, for light eaters who do not want to sacrifice flavor.

New Zealand not only brought us the sole above, but also this lamb. This Rack of New Zealand Lamb might look like its not cooked all the way through, but at Provenance, they cook some of their meats using the top of the line Sous Vide station, which cooks meats all the way through to the desired temperature, in a vacuumed packed bag. It's a cooking process made popular by Thomas Keller, which cooks items evenly, from the inside out. Also served with the lamb is a blood orange leek risotto and a cilantro macadamia nut pesto. A lot more creative than that horrible mint jelly option.

When Katie came home and showed me the pictures that she took, the one that caught my eye immediately was this one of the Roasted Jidori Chicken ($23). A lot of times chicken can be boring, but looking at the chicken here, it made me crave it. It comes with garden veggies, baby Yukon potatoes, blistered Brussels sprouts, and pan gravy. Comfort food, with a modern twist. According to Katie the chicken was some of the most tender she has had. This is a meal that you can feel good about eating.

Just like at LUCCA, Provenance will be serving brunch, but for right now the brunch at Provenance is only on Sundays. No run of the mill eggs Benedict here. This is the Housemade Whiskey and Brown Sugar Cured Wild Salmon Gravadlax. This Nordic style way of serving salmon is placed on top of two house made English muffins, with poached eggs, dilled Hollandaise sauce, and fried capers placed on top of the salmon.

They love their fish at Provenance, and there is no shortage of seafood on the brunch menu here. This Pan Seared Idaho Trout ($17.50) is not something I would normally order at brunch, but the menu description definitely piqued my interest. Two poached cage free eggs, root veggie loose hash-browns, baby garden greens, all with a mustard cognac Bearnaise sauce, comprised this dish. Katie liked every aspect of this plate, but the root vegetable hash-browns really got her attention here.

I love hash for breakfast, but a lot of them are just mediocre. After seeing the picture of this CAB Shortrib Corned Beef Hash ($16.50), I have very high hopes for this version at Provenance. Served with a sunny side up egg, a butternut squash succotash, and a Wasabi Cream, this promises to be full of big time flavors. I look forward to making it here to try this as soon as possible.

Last but not least, we jump back to the dinner menu for this grand finale, the 32 Ounce Certified Angus Beef Porterhouse Steak for 2 ($93). This was brought to the table medium rare, and was one of the most tender pieces of meat that Katie has ever consumed. It is carved off the bone, and served with a plethora of grilled vegetables from their garden, potatoes, and sauces. If you are a steak fiend, this is probably what you should get at Provenance.

Just when they could not eat any more, a nice trio of desserts were brought out. Pastry Chef Alice Castro, formerly of Park Avenue in Stanton, has been brought on board to create the desserts at Provenance. Always a sucker for apple pie ala mode, the Cast Iron Apple Pie ($9) looks like it will be a winner, with a salted caramel sauce and Calvados ice cream. For those that do not know, like me until I looked it up, Calvados is an apple brandy from France. For a lighter dessert, you may want to try the Plate of Cookies and Mini Pastries ($9). Carrot Cake ($9) always gets my attention, and after seeing this one, I had to stop myself from licking my computer screen trying to get a taste of the good looking cream cheese frosting. Just like at Park Avenue, a lot of Alice's desserts feature house made ice creams, with some unique flavors. All the more reason to save room for dessert when dining at Provenance.

For the next couple of weeks after her visit to Provenance, Katie could not help but sing their praises. She told a bunch of people that they must try it with us, so it looks like I will be able to experience it for myself very soon. Provenance was everything that Katie thought it was going to be. The food was amazing, innovative, and Chef Cathy really inspired her. I was pretty upset that I had to miss this event, but glad Katie got to experience it.

For more information about Provenance, go to their web site here:

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