PROVIDENCE — For the six years it was open, wine bar Fortnight was known for shaking up the local restaurant scene in the most unconventional — and sometimes highly contentious — ways. The eight co-op owners would battle local real estate moguls, hung posters that offered more than a subtle glimpse into their distaste for the political establishment parties, and were fierce advocates for groups that were often scorned, from sex workers to local ATV riders. It was a renegade’s dream, but it closed earlier this year after the owners opted not to renew their lease.
Their small storefront on Mathewson Street — formerly home to Berrí by chef and owner Siobhan Chavarria — sat empty for a short time. In late May, chef Han Chung moved into the space with a new concept: Providence Noodle Bar.
Chung categorizes it as a “modern Asian noodle bar,” serving Karaage, an Ika Ponzu Salad, Sumo Katsudon, and ramen. You can sit alone at the counter seats that look over the open kitchen, or cozy up in the booths that line the back wall.
Chung moved to the United States in 2002 from South Korea. He was originally studying pharmaceuticals, but realized he didn’t want to make it into his life-long career.
“I needed something that was both active and creative,” said Chung. While searing wet romaine on a recent afternoon, he said he really wanted to become a police detective, but chuckled: “My physical form doesn’t really support that.”
“So cooking was my second choice,” said Chung.
He graduated from the culinary program at Johnson & Wales University in 2015, and interned at Gracie’s and at the New York Yacht Club in Newport. For the last two years, he has helped lead the kitchen staff at nearby Wok & Pot, whose owner Jaewoo Choi now co-owns the noodle bar with Chung.
While Wok & Pot serves large portions of the typical Korean soups, bibimbap, and bulgogi that are fit for gatherings, Providence Noodle Bar is intimate, with a specific and focused menu. Most of the dishes are served on bamboo trays with four or five “pairings” in tiny, hand-painted bowls so customers can customize the heat levels or add just the right of Daikon or seaweed and scallions to their dish.
Many of the dishes come with a small side bowl of onsen egg — silky, custard-like eggs in a light broth. Sliding the soft-cooked egg onto, say, Chung’s Spicy Scallion Noodle dish with slices of marinated tempura portobello and a spicy garlic scallion sauce, then breaking its yolk and mixing it in thoroughly gives the dish a creamy, almost velvety texture.
Chung said he plans to keep the prices low, continue experimenting, and keep the kitchen open late — a small service to his fellow hospitality workers who are still at work after 9 p.m., when most restaurants are just winding down. The restaurant’s walls will become an art gallery, curated by Rhode Island School of Design graduate Jun-Rui Wang, where local artists can sell their work.
Each plate has a recommended drink to pair with it: from sake, Shōchū that’s distilled from rice, and cocktails that forgo the usual, American ingredients. Look for unique spirits from Japan, like the Nikka vodka (distilled with white birch charcoal) and Etsu Gin (which is distilled with a botanicals like yuzu, angelica root, and bitter orange peel). The gin is colorless, but you can taste florals and a hint of tea, licorice, and citrus before a very dry-textured finish.
“Most of these won’t be found in many other bars around here,” said Nicole B. Garcia as she ran her fingers across the bottles behind the small restaurant’s makeshift bar. She practically runs the entire front-of-house operation, serving as waitstaff, bartender, and host. She uses the liquors to create cocktails like the Strawberry Seoul, which is also available as a mocktail, with house-made vanilla bean syrup and rooibos tea strained into a coup glass.
“The beauty of working in a small kitchen is that I can test all sorts of things. If it doesn’t work, it might end up as a special at Wok & Pot. Or we’ll be eating it as a staff meal that day,” said Chung motioning to Garcia and sous chef Domingo Gutierrez — his only two employees.
“These aren’t the dishes I grew up on. None of these were things my mom made while I was growing up,” said Chung, who said his family visited to try the noodle bar during the restaurant’s second full week of operating. “But it is the food I noticed and wanted to make when I started cooking. It’s the food I’ve always wanted to make in Providence.”
Providence Noodle Bar, 187 Mathewson Street, Providence, 401-414-7729, pvdnoodlebar.com. Hours: The kitchen is open Thursdays through Mondays from 5 p.m. to midnight. Check their Instagram for updates.