Rhode Island may be the smallest state, but it’s culinary scene is anything but small. From Cambodia to Cape Verde, Providence, R.I., restaurants span the globe in a big way.
Big King is the latest restaurant in that city from James Mark, the chef-owner best known for North, a critically acclaimed Asian-fusion restaurant. Before that, Mr. Mark, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, worked for David Chang at the Momofuku restaurant group.
He opened the Japanese-inspired Big King in June in the West Side of Providence. The neighborhood is home to a mix of residences, youth arts organizations and some of the city’s best brunch spots. North previously occupied the space that Big King now does, but moved to larger accommodations at the Dean Hotel, a hip establishment located in downtown Providence.
In contrast to North’s bustle and long wait times, Mr. Marks makes a move toward simplicity with Big King (a tribute to his grandmother, Big King Lee). For the new concept, he introduced reservations and orchestrated a physical redesign, extending the bar, but reducing the numbers of seats to an intimate 21.
On a chilly December evening, seated at the bar for an early dinner with a friend, we ordered the majority of the à la carte menu.
Dishes tend to focus on individual ingredients, many sourced from Rhode Island. Diners can also choose between a four-course or six-course set menu ($40 and $55, respectively), with the option to add a sake pairing. The menu, which changes frequently, is written in journals everyday, and given to diners. The offerings that day were penned in bright blue ink.
An array of seafood, vegetable and rice-based dishes arrived one by one —-perfectly spaced. We started with a half dozen Salt Pond oysters, accompanied by a mildly spicy green chile sauce and a surprise seventh oyster.
To follow, a small plate of almost raw lobster lacquered in soy milk and poppy seeds stood out. As did a simple bowl of grilled broccoli with white sesame, cashews and a hint of lemon.
Per our server’s recommendation, we sipped Kiku-Masamune Junmai Kimoto, a lighter sake that complemented the first half of our meal. It’s worth noting that diners will not find wine on the drinks menu; just a pared down list of sake, assorted liquor and light beer.
To round out the meal, we split four pieces of black bass nigiri with ponzu, a tart-tangy sauce that complemented the sweetness of the fish, and two lobster hand rolls.
The service was attentive and kind; cooks seamlessly slipped in and out of the kitchen to deliver dishes.
And for dessert, we enjoyed concord grape sorbet with candied ginger, the texture reminiscent of Pop Rocks, as well as a scoop of quince and vanilla ice cream enrobed in a shell of dark chocolate — a grown up version of a child’s ice cream sundae.
Big King self-identifies as “(kinda) strange,” according to its Instagram bio. That may be true, but my companion and I left content, appreciative that even on a Saturday evening, we achieved a state of serenity over sake.
Big King, 3 Luongo Square (no phone; reservations, www.exploretock.com); a meal for two is about $100, not including drinks or tip.
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