Tucked away in Luongo Square, you might find yourself standing in front of a tiny restaurant with soft lights shining through the window. Inside, you can make out a backlit bar with rows of obscure liquor bottles and, almost without a doubt, a crowd of hungry hopefuls waiting for a table. On the bottom right of the facade, you can vaguely make out a neon sign that reads “north” in blue script writing. Then you will know you’re in the right place.
north (sic), an Asian Fusion restaurant located in East Providence, has food that makes up in flavor twofold what the restaurant lacks in space. It offers dishes that are both irreverent and delicious; seemingly strange, yet expectation-shattering in the best way possible. The chef, James Mark, attributes the restaurant’s success to the collaborative forces that drive the culinary team. Starchefs.com calls Mark not a head chef, but the leader of “a collective, a group of cooks who are making great culinary and community strides in Providence.” The restaurant website features bios of every staff member from head chef to dishwasher; Mark emphasizes that a successful restaurant is only the product of its driven and talented staff members.
The menu is small, but it changes daily based on seasonality. A slushie machine swirls behind the bar, filled with a daily alcoholic frozen concoction of the bartender’s choosing. A group of six diners sit at the bar, slurping down raw oysters served on a bed of crushed ice right in front of them. The five-or-so table restaurant is dimly lit and warm; the servers are dressed in ripped denim and clogs, undoubtedly with a facial piercing or two. Make sure you show up dressed casually – and with an appetite.
Due to the nature and size of the dishes, I have found that north is best experienced by going with a group of two or more. The plates vary in size, though most are closer to tapas-sized than full plates. That being said, the dishes also tend to be very rich, so a little often goes a long way. It is best to go with an adventurous group that also favors family-style-dining.
My most recent trip to north was no less exciting than the first meal I had there over a year ago. My two friends and I scoured the menu and, as usual, were able to identify only about half of the ingredients in each dish. (What exactly is quince jam and why do I want to eat it? Hoz-what?) Unfamiliarity aside, we had no issue choosing four dishes to share among us. In fact, the greatest challenge proved to be resisting the temptation to order everything.
To begin, we ordered two lighter seafood dishes. The first was a marinated squid and citrus salad with braised fennel, pumpkin, and sunflower hozon. The dish was served cold and had a complex, floral flavor. The soft texture of the squid paired nicely with the tart citrus and the sweet pumpkin to make this a refreshing first few bites of the meal.
Our second starter was called “Scallops, the next iteration.” Small scallops were scattered on the plate, surrounded by butternut squash, quince jam, grilled scallion, and chervil. The fish itself was cooked perfectly – tender and buttery – and the combination of sweet and savory vegetable accouterments. enhanced its flavor.
We settled on north’s famous Dan Dan noodles without dispute. These gnocchi-like, homemade noodles are served in a savory sauce prepared with mutton, squid, fermented chile, and black pepper. Each bite is likely to taste different than the first. When mixed all together, the spicy dish’s ingredients come together seamlessly, with cilantro cooling the kick of the chile. Though the plate may sound (and look) unfamiliar at first, do not shy away from that which you do not know! Your taste buds will regret it.
To round out the main course, we enjoyed north’s Hot Flavor Sesame Noodles. Accompanied by pickled greens, broccoli, garlic, chile, and sesame brittle, the noodles have a spice that creeps up on you. The sweet brittle combines well with the spicy, salty peanut sauce, while the pickled greens offer a welcome and cool respite from the heat.
Bellies full and tongues still slightly on fire, we headed home fully satisfied. Leaving north is never disappointing, for you can rest assured that the next time around Chef Mark will make your dining experience remarkably different yet equally delicious. When you’re in the mood for a little more spice than Cajun Chicken Pasta can offer, a meal at north is well worth the short drive off of the Hill.