Address: 3 Luongo Memorial Sq, Providence, RI 02909
Telephone: (401) 421-1100
north has quite an inconvenient name, since searching in Google Maps for “north, Providence” always gives me “North Providence” instead. So I’ve committed their address to memory. My October visit was my second, the other being 5 months ago in May. The restaurant is one of two restaurants pushing the envelope of food experimentation in Providence (both incidentally run by Johnson & Wales alum) – the other is birch, which I have raved about here and here. In particular, many of the dishes in north have fermented products in them.
In the words of the cooks:
“The state of Providence’s dining scene is a complicated question. It is better than it has ever been. The major change is the product quality. Five years ago no one except maybe Matt Gennuso [Chez Pascal] was breaking down pigs on a regular basis; now Nicks on Broadway and others are breaking down whole pigs every two weeks! There were no serious farmer’s markets five years ago; now we have the Farm Fresh system, which freakin’ delivers to your door! The connections that have been forged between restaurants and farmers/fishermen are amazing.
There have been some really exciting places cropping up – Flan y Ajo and the Dorrance kill it. I had an awesome sandwich at Dok’s Deli the other day. (Plus, they have a Roadhouse sandwich –“Pain don’t hurt.”) It’s exciting to see young dudes coming up, and I’m hoping that they and the more established restaurants in the city keep pushing themselves to find our own distinctive voices. We certainly will be at north.”
The Area: Located in a corner of Federal Hill between Broadway and Atwells, north is one of two restaurants in Providence which is trying to do something interesting with food. On the Friday night I was there, north was completely packed with its share of Federal Hill regulars, which was quite different from the College Hill crowd. For those who do not own a car (yours truly), it can take a lot of time to get from one hill to the other, which is why I visit Federal Hill a bit less than I like.
The Food: north errs on the side of experimentation. In my two experiences there, I’ve had a hit-and-miss experience. One can often expect Asian influences to come up prominently – James Mark having worked with David Chang at Momofuku Ko.
Interesting ingredients are the key to their cuisine. From fish sauce and fermented crab to cherry vinegar and miso, there are fermented products in almost every dish. It’s against health department codes for restaurants to create their own fermented concoctions, so north must purchase regulated products. Even Momofuku enlists a culinary laboratory for safety reasons. “Fermented products are around us all the time: beer, wine, bread, soy sauce, vinegars,” says Mark. “The ingredients are not meant to be obvious, but they add a complexity to the dish. You can’t necessarily pick it out when you’re eating it, but it makes it craveable.” – RImonthly
NB: north does not take reservations!
Crispy Dumplings & Fall Squash (3.75/5)
Buttermilk Dressing, Charred Squash Jam
An interesting dish. The dish did not come together, the dumplings being a crisp whole, that did not interact with the squash nor the squash jam underneath. The fried dumpling (akin to a spring roll in texture) was essentially complete in itself.
Roasted Sea Robin (4/5)
Brown Butter Carrots, Mustards, Glazed Radicchio
I found the carrot sauce very appetising. I have heard that sea robin is a hard fish to cook. It has a taste and texture like a cross between the texture and meat geometry of cod, and the taste of snakehead (Toman fish, for Singaporean readers). It was a good combination with some fermented cabbage underneath.
Dan Dan Noodles (3.5/5)
Goat, Squid, Fermented Chile, Black Pepper
I enjoyed the sour Szechuan-inspired sauce very much on this hybrid land-sea dish, but I felt disappointed by the very chewy dan dan noodles, which made it a chore to move my jaw just to finish a bite. I remembered this dish being less chewy and better in May. Dining there with a companion from New York, he mentioned that this is a very similar dish to one at the Momofuku Ssam Bar, except that the rice pellets here aren’t covered in pork fat and deep fried.
north falls very much on the Asian-side of the fence in cooking. On the positive side, I enjoyed the experimentation and the uncertainty that comes with each meal. (I had a very good Tsukemen-style ramen in May, with charred jalapenos and pork broth, and Mapo Tofu with peanut brittle). With restaurants that are trying to accomplish something new, one expects a certain number of misses. The hit-miss ratio at north was a bit low for me during my October visit though. A bit more quality control may be needed: how exactly are shaved slices of squash and a squash semi-solid going to interact with large chunks of self-contained dumpling? The dan dan noodles also needed a bit more time in the pot. Judging from the packed restaurant though, I think James Mark, Tim Shulga, and John Chester have found themselves a well of demand for their kind of food.
Other Notable Write-ups:
- RImonthly’s initial write-up of north’s opening.
- A write-up in the Providence monthly
- James Mark talks about his life leading up to north.
Historical reference Pictures: May visit!