On a frigid night at Bywater in Warren, the kitchen staff wore flat caps and beanies. One of the waitresses was sporting a hat with a pom-pom. But as chilly as it was outside, the Bywater’s dining room was toasty and welcoming. There’s something special about coming in from the cold into a warm restaurant you’ve been looking forward to trying out. Bywater has a hip interior – a gray and black color palette, with Edison lights hanging over angular floorboards. I liked the letter box window to the kitchen, offering a hint of the hustle.
One of Bywater’s owners hails from Ireland, and I started off the meal with Irish soda bread, which was “bang on,” as my cousin in Ballintober says. I had to wait a bit for the butter to be spreadable, but that gave me time to play with the small pepper mill. I had the Columna Albarino white wine ($9), a nice pairing for fish from Galicia, while my wife bested me with a Santa Cruz ‘le cigare blanc’ blend ($10), which was subtle, like a crisp pear.
The concise menu showcases Bywater’s raw bar, but with the restaurant’s front steps covered in ice, we didn’t want anything chilled. No, this was a night for warmer dishes: we began with cream of broccoli soup ($8) and a brothy bowl of steamed littlenecks ($14). There were more exotic things on the menu, but it’s a real test to make these old favorites stand out. Both were delicious, but the steamed littlenecks were some of the best I’ve ever had, with a velvety, garlicky broth. The cream of broccoli soup was heavy on the cream, which is just fine this time of year. I fished for florets and caught some tender little ones.
For our mains, we had Faroe Island salmon ($27) in a cream sauce, and pappardelle with braised pork ($25). Once again, while both were enjoyable, it was the seafood that I’d come back for. The salmon itself was generously portioned and delicious, and I appreciated the care they’d put into each mild ingredient: perfectly cooked fingerlings, glassy with butter; bok choy, wilted but still crunchy; and vinegar-infused maitake mushrooms. Our eyes were bigger than our stomachs, and we foresaw defeat about halfway through the pappardelle. Silky sauced ribbons snaked around dark kale and braised pork, and cherry tomatoes popped in the mouth in a burst of
sugar and acid.
I always find room for dessert, and despite the bitter cold on the other side of the window pane, we were warm enough for an ice cream taster ($7), selecting cardamom, chocolate, and brown bread. I didn’t care for the brown bread’s texture of swirled crumbs, but the others were a hit: the cardamom reminded me of gulab jamun, a classic Indian dessert, and the chocolate was dark and deep as can be.
Freezing temperatures already made it hard to leave, but after a digestif of honey mead before settling up – courtesy of the house – we were all smiles on our way out.
54 State Street, Warren