People who live in Providence—make that the entire state of Rhode Island—have long known that the best things come in little packages. The capital of the country’s smallest state has been attracting artists, academics, and chefs for years. A disproportionately large number of restaurants—mostly seafood, Italian, and Portuguese—opened to served them. The “Creative Capital” continues to turn out crave-worthy food today. And yes, even the restaurants are little.
North in Federal Hill focuses on Asian ingredients and small plates. Think David Chang; one of the chefs used to work at Michelin-starred Momofuku Ko. The tiny restaurant has about six tables, and it doesn’t accept reservations. If you’re lucky enough to squeeze in, you find dark walls and ropes hanging from the ceiling. The plates start appearing quickly. You begin with raw oysters with green chile vinegar, a squid and citrus salad, and lightly charred beets. During a slight pause, you check out the food on the table next to you and decide to add the seared and sliced beef heart to your order. It arrives after the littlenecks with cannellini beans and cauliflower with crispy pork. You devour it, despite being completely full.
Another acclaimed chef is focusing on modern New England fare at nearby Birch. The Washington Street restaurant, in another small space, has high ceilings, exposed brick walls, and a U-shaped bar. The food is seasonal, the techniques are classic, and the results are delicious. You opt for the prix-fixe menu, a steal at $49 for four courses. Grilled baby radishes are your first selection. They’re served with just the right amount of dill. A perfect winter dish, pumpkin with local mussels and sunflower seeds, comes next. It’s followed by Rhode Island heritage pork, paired with beets, preserved blueberries, and horseradish. Normally you’d pass on dessert, but the caramelized whey with kabocha squash ends the meal on a nice savory note.
You probably can’t eat another bite after your filling dinner, but a well-made cocktail is the perfect way to end the evening. The new Dean Hotel is just steps away from Birch. Inside, the Magdalenae Room has a horseshoe-shaped bar, mural-filled walls, and dim lighting. There isn’t a menu, but the bartender will create a drink based on your mood and taste. It turns out small, but potent, just like the rest of Providence.