One could say a little bird told me about the newest addition to the already-fabulous food scene in Warren, and I had been anxiously awaiting my visit to Bywater since I found out about it in March. The official opening took place mid-June, and after only two months, owners Katie and Brian are already all-stars. They knocked it out of the park. Home run. Grand slam. Over the fence, World Series kind of stuff. It was so good, I can only think in clichéd baseball analogies because my stomach overtook my brain and now all of my insides are a puddle of bliss. When I finally stand again, I’ll walk straight into a corn maze, call Rhode Island “Iowa” and ask if Iowa is actually Heaven, and I’ll tell Katie and Brian, “Now that you’ve built it, Jenny will come.”
(In case that wasn’t clear, Bywater is really, really good.)
It began with $1 oysters and cocktails, which is the best way to start a Monday night. My date had just experienced “a case of the Mondays” by getting a flat tire as he pulled up to the restaurant, so when Katie asked him if he’d like a drink, he calmly said, “Yes. Everything, please.”
We admired the impressive wine and beer list, but ultimately decided that the stronger the drink, the better, so we looked to the small-but-intriguing list of cocktails. Topping this list was the “daily shrub,” which on this particular day was of a mixture of apricots, ginger, lemon and a big swig of mezcal. Katie described it as having a flavor that “punches you in the face … I mean that in a good way!” She was right — it did pack a punch — but it was exactly what I wanted: smoky and sweet. My date went with a plum liqueur’d fizzy drink (“parking lot fizz”), hoping that the bubbles would lift his spirits.
The calming feng shui within the restaurant helped, too. Like many of Warren’s new locales, Bywater is intimate in size, but it doesn’t feel small. The interior is awash with shades of blue, and plants dangle from the ceiling beside the hostess stand. A giant canvas hangs on the sidewall, depicting a ship’s white sails against the swirling dark colors of the sea, and it was immediately my favorite part of the décor. It’s evident, however, that every detail of the restaurant was thoughtfully considered, from the mason jars holding the cocktail forks to the wooden boards on which the homemade bread was served.
Speaking of — let’s take a moment to discuss their Irish brown bread. I’ve never tasted bread so hearty and yet so sweet. Katie said the recipe came from her mother-in-law’s family, an old Irish tradition in which the first cooking direction is “Take off your rings,” and where a “cup” referred to her cup, not necessarily an 8 oz serving. Brian managed to successfully decipher the measurements because the bread was so good, I confidently declared that if the meal consisted of nothing else, I’d leave a happy person.
Next came the shucker’s choice oysters. Although we had several options of condiments, I found lemon juice to be the best complement, noting that I’ve come a long way since the days when I had to fully submerge oysters in cocktail sauce to enjoy them. Next came a surprise: broccoli croquettes, fried on the outside with aged gouda on the inside, and finished with a spicy, creamy, mustard sauce, the “best hangover remedy” according to the oyster shucker. I scraped the board clean of the sauce, like a true champion.
For our main courses, I ordered the Shellfish Panzanella, a plateful of mussels, lobster, littlenecks and house sausage, with deliciously sweet squares of cornbread. My date ordered the Ricotta Gnocchi — smoked chorizo, shitakes, sugar-snap peas in a mustard-thyme broth — and we split the dishes down the middle. They were completely different, yet most satisfying as a combination. Light seafood, rich gnocchi, fresh ingredients with perfect execution. I thought there was no way I could manage dessert, and yet …
There’s always room for dessert. I was won over by the coffee ice cream, which — rumor has it — Katie is responsible for making, and I heard it’s not uncommon for the ice cream flavors to have a hint of booze in them. It’s the little details that make all the difference, and Katie and Brian have nailed them all.
As if the $1 oysters, daily shrubs, Irish breads, fresh seafood and homemade ice cream were not enough, the wow factor for this experience came from the staff themselves. When I insisted on telling everyone about my date’s flat tire, they jumped to the rescue. The hostess offered to loan him a jack, Katie gave him her AAA card, they called the hotline for us while we ate dinner and were so wonderfully attentive.
Culinary excellence can be taught, but genuine human kindness cannot, and this is the secret ingredient Bywater possesses. It’s the difference between a base hit and a grand slam.
54 Stateside Street, Warren; bywaterrestaurant.com