Provecho is a modern Mexican restaurant that hosted an ambitious tequila pairing dinner.
Earlier this year, downtown L.A. received an unprecedented infusion of modern Latin restaurants. Provecho, the Mexican restaurant owned by chef Gabriel Morales and wife Jill Bigelow-Morales, was initially overshadowed by Rivera and still had to contend with CASA and Boca at The Conga Room. To generate interest in a new tasting opportunity, Provecho recently hosted a group of food writers, pairing five courses of sustainable seafood with Milagro tequila. The meal turned out to be unique and displayed a commitment to top-flight seafood that’s normally reserved for select sushi restaurants.
The 5000 square foot space is modern but hidden at the base of an office tower, just off the Figueroa Corridor but out of view. It’s not the best location but there are positives, including a see-through water wall separating the ceviche bar from the kitchen. I also liked the art glass chandeliers. Next door you’ll find Remedy, a related lounge.
Chef Gabriel Morales was born in Guadalajara, raised in Pasadena, and previously worked for high-profile restaurants like the Polo Lounge.
Morales has cultivated a reputation as a tequila aficionado. At Provecho, he has a 35-foot tequila humidor at his disposal, which holds 80 different tequilas. Given the selection, we were compelled to share three different cocktails.
The signature Provecho Clasica ($10) was my favorite, combining Herradura silver, muddled oranges, lemons, limes and simple syrup. The heat from the un-aged tequila played well against the citrus and touch of sugar. Provecho’s Margarita ($10) had more bite than normal thanks to the chile-lined rim. In the glass, the well-balanced margarita incorporated Cazadores Blanco, muddled cucumber, fresh lime and agave nectar. Finally, the Polanco ($12) involved Corzo silver, Grand Marnier, fresh lime and mint. The drink received a color and spice injection from fresh hibiscus juice and pop from a jalapeño garnish, seeds and all.
Representatives from CleanFish and New Zealand’s Oceanz Blue abalone purveyor were on hand to discuss aquaculture and their eco-friendly products as we received each course, adding to the experience.
Oceanz Blue New Zealand abalone arrived in the shell, diced and supple, lightly dressed in a subtly spicy tarragon Serrano vinaigrette and peppery yuzu juice. Abalone shells are used for jewelry in New Zealand, for good reason. Their shimmer contributed to dramatic plating.
Oceanz Blue’s Matthew Wiseman explained that his company’s abalone are grown indoors in a pollution- and stress-free environment and cryogenically frozen at an extreme temperature so the salt doesn’t pool in the middle, which happens with freezing at lower temperatures.
Milagro Silver is certified organic tequila from Jalisco, the company’s baseline blanco, rimmed with salt and a slice of lime. Morales predicted we would “taste the char of the barrel, which plays off the vinegar” of the vinaigrette. The tequila’s spice did cut through the acidity.
Silky pink Australian yellowtail strips hosted sweet crystalized ginger strands and came with a mild but flavorful smear of guajillo chile, dots of condensed lime juice and cilantro salt.
Milagro Reposado was aged in French oak for 3 months, so it was able to absorb some smoky notes from the barrel.
Gigha [Gee-uh] is a small Scottish island that a 110-person co-op purchased from a Lord in 2000. They bought three used windmills to generate electricity for the island. Now they have an energy surplus and even sell power back to the mainland. Oh yeah, they also farm excellent halibut. In this case, Morales paired the delicate white fish with Texas sweet onion escabeche, micro cilantro and blood orange.
Milagro barrel select blanco is culled from the the central 30% of the agave piña, leading to a more refined, slightly sweeter tequila.
Morales decided to give us a small taste from the regular menu, and it was one of the night’s best plates. Octopus was braised in red wine and served with smoked bell peppers, leading to an earthy flavor that infused the tender tentacles.
The Valdez-Cervantes family caught wild shrimp of of Mexico’s Sonora coast, in the Sea of Cortez. Shrimp is an example of “by-catch,” seafood that gets caught in fish nets. Clearly, there was still value there. The shrimp were seared and served in a light vinaigrette with chopped stone fruit that set off the shrimp’s sweetness.
Barrel select reposado was barrel-aged for 12 months, leading to rich color and depth of flavor.
New Orleans chef Paul Prudhomme made red fish so popular that it became endangered. Now Texas red fish is staging a small comeback, and we got to try a fillet. It was undercooked and could have used crisp skin, but Morales said cooking the fish any longer would dry it out. Still, the fish was hard to cut and hard to eat at its designated temperature. There was still plenty of flavor on the plate due to the smear of spicy chile sauce and creamy white corn truffle flan. Thankfully Morales showed restraint with white truffle oil and let the sweet white corn star.
Milagro barrel aged añejo was aged 16 months and delivered the night’s deepest flavors. Morales predicted “cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg, which should pair perfectly with the heat of salsa and delicate red fish.” It was my favorite tequila of the night, but since I didn’t enjoy the red fish, it would be hard to call this a successful pairing.
For dessert, pastry chef Amy Brown made a white chocolate corn cake with roasted pineapple, white chocolate chip ice cream and white chocolate mole sauce. White chocolate is normally despicable, a buttery chocolate impostor. In this case, the spongy corn cake helped to balance the ingredient’s sweetness.
Sustainable Ceviche Tasting menu is now a regular offering at Provecho, available nightly. The cost: $65 per person, $85 with tequila pairings. It’s worth trying.