Locale Profile: The “New” North

image1 (1)For the three years I’ve known about North, I’ve refused to write about it for any media outlet because I was afraid of what might happen: crowds of tourists lining up, longer waits, higher prices, inevitable change. But it was easily my favorite restaurant in Providence, the one I recommended only to people I trusted, and it was the place I’d return to again and again whenever I wanted to show off Rhode Island cuisine.

I admit, part of what I loved about North was its intimacy. Hidden in a West End neighborhood across from an equally hidden bar called the Avery, the once 27-person restaurant looked like a ground-level apartment except for a blue neon sign in the window that read, “North.” Knotted ropes hung overhead, strung with lights, and customers rotated through a small set of tables every night of the week — with no reservations. If we were seated with less than an hour’s wait, I considered it a quick night. It was for this reason, I believe, the owners finally decided to move to a bigger, more visible location. And now North sits inside the Dean Hotel, where Faust recently closed its doors, and they’ve redecorated the former beer hall into a brand new concept.

The first experience I had of the “new” North was the first day Rhode Island’s temperatures dropped below freezing this year. My South Korean friend, Jisoo, and I pushed our way through the big glass doors, eager for respite from the cold. When the hostess asked where we’d like to sit, I said, “As far from this door as possible.” She brought two place settings to the end of the bar on the opposite side of the restaurant and took us to our seats.

image3It’s the first time I’ve ever visited North and not had to give my phone number to be called when a seat became available. It took a few minutes to adjust to this new experience.

The décor, as expected, was also much different: brighter lights, taller ceilings, white walls with wood paneling. Similar to the previous beer hall, there were long community tables, but classier — mahogany colored with gold trim — and simple decals drawn on the walls. There are two bars offering seats, one wrapped around a selection of alcohol, and the other wrapped around the kitchen. We sat at the latter, and had an insider’s view of the chefs at work.

I was happy to see the menu was as I remembered it, everything fitting on one small rectangle, food on one side, drinks on the other. I’ve always gotten my alcohol fix from the Avery while waiting for a table, so this time I decided to try Two Roads Coffee Stout. Our waiter, Nick, asked if I wanted a 12oz or 8oz pour, and I was thrilled to have such an option! I’m a lightweight when it comes to beer, so I went with the smaller size, while Jisoo had 12oz of Wachusett Wally Juice IPA. We cheers’d and then tried to narrow down our menu options.

image4North plates are designed for sharing, with family-style dining in mind. I advise coming with your most ambitious food friends, not the, “I’ll have a Chicken Ceasar Salad,” friends. Two of my favorite items are the tiny ham biscuits — diced country ham with housemade mustard — and the hot sesame noodles. I will warn you that the latter is spicy, but it’s that nose-running-but-must-eat-more-noodles kind of spicy. The sweet sesame cakes balance the heat, and the pieces of crispy broccoli are goldmines of flavor.

Since ingredients are primarily locally sourced, the menu changes frequently. This time around, there were two new vegetable dishes that sounded intriguing: crispy Brussels sprouts with strawberry buffalo sauce and pistachio ranch, and roasted carrots and ginger with sesame, oats, salted soybeans and coffee. The Brussels sprouts were our favorite dish of the night, with a combination of textures and flavors that satisfied all of our desires (caution: It’s also spicy, and if you swallow the buffalo sauce down the wrong pipe, as I did, you will appear to be dying for a short while). The carrots — cooked both whole and pureed — worked well to offset the heat of the Brussels sprouts, with the coffee drizzled on top like a balsamic reduction and the oats adding a granola-like crunch.

Our final main dish was dan dan noodles, which is unlike all other dan dan: lacking traditional noodles, but brimming with mutton, squid, fermented chile and cilantro (which I requested on the side because to me it tastes like soap). True food lovers would appreciate this dish, just as I appreciated the sliced beef heart I once saw on the menu, but apprehensive folks would probably prefer the hot sesame noodles. (As an unrelated fun fact, $0.25 of every dish goes to the local food bank of RI and/or Amos House.)

These three dishes were the perfect portion size for two of us, but we still wanted dessert. We ordered both the chocolate upside down cake and sweet ricotta custard with pumpkin jam. I dutifully ate my half of the custard, but I fought Jisoo for the chocolate cake, which tasted like a molten lava cake with candied beets in place of fudge. I vowed to walk home in freezing temperatures to justify my indulgences. Definitely worth it.

The new location isn’t as intimate as its off-the-beaten-path neighborhood was, but it still earns its reputation as a destination restaurant. When in doubt which way to travel, just follow the compass — it will correctly point you to North.

122 Fountain St, PVD

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