This year has been a doozy for Manresa chef/owner David Kinch, starting with the reopening of his Los Gatos restaurant following a major fire and ending with attaining three Michelin stars. Oh, and he opened a bakery, ManresaBread, and filmed a season of PBS's Mind of a Chef along the way.
It's unsurprising, given the chef's ambition and focus, that Kinch would open a second restaurant, though the strictly casual nature of The Bywater might give some fans and critics pause. "Someone asked me how I thought The Bywater will fit in to the 'pantheon' of Bay Area dining," said Kinch. "It won't. I'm not trying to make a statement in any kind of way — I'm not doing it to fit into a pantheon of anything." In fact, the chef says he, along with partner Andrew Burnham, decided to open the restaurant partially because he wanted to create a place that he himself wanted to hang out and enjoy the flavors of home. Kinch grew up in New Orleans, and spent his early years cooking at dining staples like Commander's Palace, and under chef Paul Prudhomme. "That is the signifier. I selfishly created a place that I wanted to hang out at."
"We’re a neighborhood restaurant here. That’s what I want. This is not a big second restaurant opening for a Michelin-starred second place: this is a drop-in, extremely fun place."
However, what might surprise people most about Kinch's strictly casual offshoot is the vibe. This won't be a "sister restaurant" to Manresa, offering Michelin-starred dishes in a casual setting — in fact, the centerpiece of the menu will be New Orleans' beloved po'boy, a sandwich made with baguette-like bread that often features fried shrimp or oysters, then "dressed" with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato and pickles. "I think it's mostly the unpretentiousness that will surprise people," said Kinch. "The food scene in the Bay Area area is so super serious, happening, and "going on"; it's like a chef can't open a restaurant without it being perceived as some sort of statement."
That said, there's no doubt that, given Kinch's attention to detail and singular dedication to pristine ingredients, The Bywater will not be a facsimile of the lovable but grungy hole-in-the-walls that give New Orleans its charm. "As simple and as casual as the concept is, there has to be a certain level of quality," said Kinch. Aiding him in that effort is chef David Morgan, who brings experience from stints at both John Besh's Restaurant August in New Orleans and Cyrus in Healdsburg — a pretty ideal combination of high-end Northern California and Southern Louisiana cooking experiences. However, according to Kinch, fine-dining has been "burned out of his system," and Morgan is ready for something a little more fun.
The menu will be in keeping with the NOLA vibe, including a variety of the city's favorite dishes. Three types of po'boys will headline the menu, including fried shrimp, oysters, and a hot link, which is a flat patty cooked like a hamburger. There'll also be fried chicken that's been brined, soaked in buttermilk, dredged in seasoning, and fried in lard, served with butterbeans; boiled Gulf shrimp will be served by the pound, scattered across a beer tray with andouille, potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob. Desserts will happily skew classic as well, including beignets and a decadent butterscotch pot de créme.
"There is one po’boy I do not eat. Roast beef: the most boring po’boy of all."
Drinks from Tin Roof Drinking Community's Chad Arnholt and Claire Sprouse are in line with the "classics but better" theme, including a Hurricane made with fresh passion fruit. Especially exciting is the frozen daiquiri machine, which evokes the fun of Bourbon Street without the mess. And staying true to the city's many frozen daiquiri shops, the potent drink will be served in go-cups, or by the jug.
Drinks, left to right:
HURRICANE (Jamaican rums, passion fruit, Campari, lemon, Peychaud's bitters)
DEVIL CAT (gin, Batavia Arrack, amaro, raspberry, cayenne, lime)
SAZERAC (rye whiskey, armagnac, Herbsaint, Peychaud's bitters)
FRAPPÉ (Herbsaint, Lo-Fi dry vermouth, apple, lime)
MINT JULEP (bourbon, smoked tea, sugar, mint)
Here, now, is an exclusive first look at some of the dishes and drinks that will be served at The Bywater, opening on January 12.