During a “Guys’ Night,” a few of my friends and I went to North in Providence, RI. It is a relatively “young” restaurant having been established in late 2012 in place of the now closed, “Ama’s,” but has quickly made a name for itself. My friends and I had never been there before and were eager to try a restaurant new to all of us that boasted a group of young experimental chefs concocting unique dishes.
3 Luongo Square
Providence, RI 02903
Service and Atmosphere
North is a small restaurant that tries to maximize its space with a short bar near the entrance and tightly packed tables. Despite the small space and seating arrangement, the dim lighting provides a sense of privacy for groups of people dining. Many of the decorations are left over from the previous restaurant, Ama’s. As one of the first sights one might see upon entering North, there is a giant ham leg perched at the back of the bar used for servings of Country Ham that seems to imply, “We’re serious about food.” It would be hard to nail down North as a single kind of cuisine, but overall I would classify the restaurant as Asian Fusion with a little variance (like the country ham).
Truthfully, in a trendy-looking place like North, I expected our server to be more along the lines of a bored hipster, but luckily that wasn’t the case. Our server that evening was friendly, attentive, and patient with us. With my group of friends, there is often a demand for a server to keep running back and forth to accommodate silly, haphazard requests, so we appreciated her cheerful demeanor.
At first glance, I was a little concerned about the food. Many of the items on the menu at North are essentially small plates meant to be shared among a table of people. A person can easily just order a dish for him/herself, of course, but that didn’t seem to be the point of the menu. I’ve mentioned before that I really don’t care for small plates and tapas as a general rule with few exceptions. That’s mostly due to the fact that I think many are a rip off, often utilize sub-par ingredients, and the portion sizes are hard to divide between people. At North, a lot of the dishes when we were there (the menu changes occasionally) were noodle dishes. They even had a bowl of Ramen for sharing, which I personally found a little bizarre. We knew that the portion sizes were relatively small, so we ordered a bunch of plates for the table that we would share. The sharing was a little awkward to try and pick at some of the noodle dishes with chop sticks, but we managed.
Oysters – One of the first things we tried were the oysters. None of us can remember what kind they were, but as long as an oyster is fresh like these were, it’s really hard to mess up an oyster. They weren’t expensive by Providence standards at 6 for $12, but they weren’t an amazing bargain either. They tasted very good though.
Country Ham – The next appetizer we ordered was the Country Ham. It came out shaved with crusty bread and mustard. The ham tasted really good and the texture wasn’t too dry due to the nice marbling of the fat. Even though it was cured, it was still a little gamey, but in the good way that a naturally cured ham should taste. It had all of us darting our eyes over to the plate to see who would eat the last piece that we were all too polite to take.
Dan Dan Noodles – The next few dishes we tried came from the small plates and bowls category of the menu. We tried the Dan Dan Noodles, the Charred Squid and Grits, the Marinated Mussels and Clams, and the Hot Flavor Sesame Noodles. The Dan Dan Noodles were described as having goat, squid, and fermented chili. I thought the flavors of this dish were pretty good together and the squid with goat was a fun play on surf and turf. The dish was fairly spicy due to the chilies, but I liked the heat and the loosely placed cilantro added a freshness to the dish. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was that the goat was ground like a ragu and not actual pieces of meat. This made it especially hard to eat when negotiating the dish with chopsticks. Good flavors, but I just wish the goat wasn’t ground up.
Charred Squid and Grits – I wasn’t sure what to expect with this dish, but it was a winner. I love grits when cooked properly and the grits in this dish were great although they tasted a bit more like polenta than classically Southern Grits. The charred squid mostly added a different texture to the dish without changing the well-crafted flavors and the cilantro added an oddly Mexican component to the dish. I enjoyed picking at the grits with my chopsticks even if it was yet another dish that was hard to eat that way.
Marinated Mussels and Clams – My least favorite dish of the evening had to be the marinated mussels and clams. I didn’t expect them to be served chilled, but they were. In addition to being chilled, I didn’t think the mussels and clams tasted particularly fresh. The last problem for me was that I felt the shellfish were overcooked so that they ended up being a little rubbery. That was my opinion, however at least two of my friends with me at the time said they enjoyed the dish, so maybe that was just a personal preference on my part.
Hot Flavor Sesame Noodles – Perhaps my favorite dish of the evening was the Hot Flavor Sesame Noodles. They were very spicy, which worked for me, but I could see how someone who doesn’t like spicy foods would be turned off. The dish practically oozed sesame, but in a way that didn’t make it feel overwhelming. In addition to the noodles perhaps tossed in sesame oil, there was sesame candy broken up over the noodles. When I first saw that, I didn’t even know how to comprehend the flavors before tasting the combination of noodles and sesame candy. Strangely, it totally worked. I would never have imagined using a candy I grew up eating in that way. The Sesame Noodles were a fairly simple dish, but I found it to be one of the more creative at North for combining ingredients in a way I’d never seen before.
The food at North is a unique style of Asian fusion that mixes in Southern themes. I would recommend North as a restaurant for people looking to split appetizer-sized dishes for a snack or quick bite. The prices don’t seem too expensive at first, but if you’re trying to have a filling meal there for a few people, the bill can get pretty big pretty fast, so I wouldn’t recommend the restaurant if you’re looking for a typically filling dinner out on a budget. I feel like the restaurant may be a little over-hyped in general, but the flavor combinations are interesting and if you like small plates or prefer ordering appetizers as meals then it’s definitely worth a visit.