For a small, quiet town, Warren is starting to punch above its weight class in the fine dining category. Bywater – located on Water Street, in the heart of the arts district – is the latest addition to the town’s burgeoning restaurant scene.
The restaurant is somewhat literally “by the water” – the river is nearby, but your views are more historic New England than coastal. Bywater has made its home in a small industrial-looking building (most recently occupied by a cheese shop) but the inside has been renovated into a warm and inviting space.
The specialty cocktail menu is short but will intrigue connoisseurs with its creativity. There’s the drink whose ingredients you have to Google (the Gone to Seed with its bolted fennel and burdock), the drink whose ingredients you never thought to combine (the Port and Tonic with white port and charred lemons), and the drink whose ingredients you didn’t know should be drunk (the Parking Lot Fizz with basil and peppercorn syrup). I went with the Apple Shrub ($10), made with apple cider vinegar and a fresh cider reduction, bourbon, rum, and fig and cinnamon bitters. It’s the perfect drink to welcome fall, but I was also curious to see whether apple cider vinegar and its health benefits work in a cocktail – imagine drinking at happy hour in the name of clear skin! The results are inconclusive... the vinegar and/or bitters made the drink taste a tad medicinal; however, I suspect it would be easily remedied with an extra sprinkle of cinnamon.
If you check the menu online before you visit, note that the offerings change daily and there will likely be some additions to what you see on the website. One appetizer addition I was excited to see was Black Pudding ($9) – blood sausage with cider glaze, caramelized onions and apple. Coming from a Portuguese family, blood sausage is an occasional treat that is rarely found on restaurant menus. This version was one of the few preparations I’ve had where the sausage itself was the main event, and the result was a great balance of umami and sweet.
The appetizer menu included several other enticing dishes that could be considered beyond run of the mill – Smoked Trout Pate and Beef Tartare, for example – but our preferences for the rest of this round aired on the side of simplicity. We tried the House Pickles ($3), which were quick, crispy and unexpectedly came with half pickles and half carrots. Also, the Frites ($5), which were cut large like steak fries and accompanied by an excellent garlicky mayo. It’s not often that a food columnist bypasses pate and tartare for pickles and potatoes, but such is life with a pregnant wife.
On our waitress’s recommendation, I selected the Panzanella ($28) for my entrée – mussels, lobster, littlenecks, cornbread, sausage, tomato and leeks combined to make a hearty stew. It’s not your ordinary fisherman’s stew, as the cornbread and ground sausage impart a unique flavor and texture relative to simpler versions. The seafood servings were generous and the dish overall was quite good, with the corn bread adding a mild overall sweetness. I’d be curious to try this dish with chunks of rustic-style bread for a more savory flavor profile.
My wife tried the Ricotta Gnocchi ($22), another addition to the day’s menu. Plump gnocchi was served with shiitake mushrooms and sugar snap peas in a mustard-thyme broth (the dish also comes with smoked chorizo, which is easily eliminated for vegetarians). The mustard-thyme broth was a different choice of sauce for a pasta, but it packed a flavorful punch.
For dessert, we passed on the homemade ice creams and went with Milk & Cookies ($5), North Bakery's oven-warm chocolate chip cookies seasoned with sea salt and accompanied by a glass of milk. We asked our waitress to hold the milk since we didn’t plan on drinking it, but we should have – we noticed the sea salt and missed having something cool and thick to wash it down. We won’t make that mistake next time.
Overall, from the drinks to the food, Bywater certainly has one of the most thoughtful and interesting menus around. With a small, ever-changing menu and creative minds in the kitchen, East Bay diners should look forward to joining Bywater's culinary journey.
54 State Street
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