James Mark opened North in a “weird residential area” in Providence’s West Side in 2012 with partners Tim Shulga and John Chester. Serving a variety of Asian-inspired dishes, the 27-seat, no-reservations restaurant soon became a destination, and just this year, it earned a spot on Eater editor Bill Addison’s list of essential New England restaurants.
But, all of that attention wasn’t entirely a good thing. “When we opened North it was a neighborhood joint 100 percent, but these days it’s not,” Mark says. “The neighbors don’t want to wait two hours to eat there. Coming to terms with ‘destination restaurant’ status was a big thing for us, and it’s not something we have control over.”
North has embraced the fact that it’s grown beyond the neighborhood with a move to a bigger space in the Dean Hotel in Downtown Providence this week, a move that Mark hopes will improve wait times and, ultimately, make dining at North a more pleasant experience. “The main goal is to expand our dining room — not necessarily to serve more customers, but to get the wait down for those seats,” Mark says.
With more than 40 seats in the new dining room, North will more easily reach the 150 covers it did nightly in the old space — without the rush. People “[won’t] have been waiting for an hour and a half already and then eat food as quickly as possible and go home and pass out.” Mark says. “We want to make it a better experience.”
North will now be open every day of the year. Its menu is a “reflection of what it means to be a modern Rhode Islander,” Mark says. This approach comes through in the flavors — “there’s a huge Asian population, there’s a large Filipino population, there’s a sizable North African population, so it’s all there,” Mark says — and in the ingredients, 90 percent of which come from Rhode Island purveyors. That all unfolds on a menu of share plates — not small plates — like those at the old restaurant. By the time the original North served its last meal Sunday, that menu had expanded to include nearly 30 “complex and beautiful” items prepared in a small kitchen.
As the staff settles into the new kitchen, which is twice the size of the old one, Mark says they’ll be bringing back more large format dishes, like whole grilled or steamed fish. Mark wants guests to order family-style, and so, as the most difficult dish to share, ramen won’t appear on the menu at the new North. Mark also wants to make it clear that North isn’t just about Asian food: “We had it on for when a solo diner came in, and then people confused [the restaurant] for a ramen place,” he says.
North isn’t a neighborhood restaurant anymore, but it isn’t leaving the old neighborhood behind. Mark is keeping the original space, and plans to open up a new, simpler restaurant for the neighborhood in a few months. Meanwhile, Downtown, North will get more foot traffic, but with its reputation in Providence, it’s unlikely to need it.
• north [Official site]