big king is that place that I will always drag you to if you’re in town. Partly because I really want other people to love it as much as I do—and partly because I selfishly will use any excuse to go. This is a restaurant very dear to my heart!
This restaurant is chef James Mark’s second one in Providence, and took over the location of his first one, north. But things look a bit different these days. When that wonderful restaurant got all grown up and moved to its new spot in the Dean Hotel in downtown Providence, its tiny space got an absolutely beautiful redesign. It’s downright classy. As you enter, there are a few counter seats in front of seafood prep, and moving down the narrow space a few seats at the bar counter. Behind the bar are a some cool, small shelves with extremely tempting whiskies on display. Center of attention—and almost exactly dead center of the whole small room—is the long row of big sake bottles on the bar counter, a mission statement right in your face. At the end of the counter, two booths to fit four people each close around a small table, and beyond those the walkway to the kitchen, through which chefs will come bearing gifts all evening long.
The food menu is handwritten daily in a notebook, which, if you’re the curious type, lets you travel back in time by flipping back through the old pages. As you might guess, things here are swift and seasonal. There’s typically two sets, one four dishes and one six, and a few a la carte dishes. Nothing is heavy or hard to eat so you can really go for it with the menu. I could go on and on about the amazing things I’ve eaten here. Cabbage or spring onion or chicken hearts off the charcoal grill. Nigiri with mackerel, or sardine, or live scallop. A dish of tempura potato with Japanese curry that spawns addictions. Astonishing sauces and dashis. The soufflé cheesecake that is one of the best desserts I ever had.
Sitting in one of those booths, in a place so small it feels like you’re in on a secret, sharing a bottle of sake with friends, plate after delicious plate hitting the table—it must be the most comfortable place in the world. I’m trying hard not to use the word “intimate” here because it seems like such a cliche, but when something this good is so humble and relaxed, when your hosts are all so positive and talented, when everything feels personal, it seems alright. I guess I’ll forgive myself in this case.
I’ve been lucky to have had many fun evenings with friends at big king. But I still get excited before every visit. I still try to find a way to order everything on the menu every time, and I still find the conversation getting louder and happier with eat bite and sip. Like a kind and generous friend, this is a place that you want to hang out with whenever you can.
big king 231 Carpenter St, Providence, RI 02903