Chef David Kinch opened The Bywater as an ode to his hometown of New Orleans, while also giving himself a casual, friendly place to hang out. I saw him there on a recent Saturday evening, hanging out in a chef’s jacket on the back patio.

He seemed too relaxed to be the chef-owner of three-Michelin starred Manresa Restaurant, but here Kinch was chatting with diners in the intimate patio and bar of The Bywater.

The restaurant achieves Kinch’s vision of casual New Orleans dining, playing jazz and brass in the background of a French Quarter-style dining room. The wait times on most nights are around 40 minutes to one hour and they do not take reservations. Even with a sparse menu of four small plates and eight entrée options, it was difficult to choose between the inviting Creole offerings. The menu offers no descriptions to help aide in the selection process.

For a starter, we began with Oysters Rock-a-Fella ($24 for 4). The price is a bit higher than the classic usually fetches, but it was worth it to try properly made oysters Rockefeller for the first time. The original dish is so laden with butter that it was named after the richest man of the early 20th century, John D. Rockefeller. Bywater stayed true to tradition with creamy béchamel and chopped watercress and spinach baked hot-to-the-touch on top of the oysters. It was a very worthwhile dish.

Our first entrée, the fried chicken with a cup of butter beans ($22), was an obvious choice. Three large pieces were served in a red fast-food basket and a side of creamy butter beans. The batter was crispy and evenly browned covering the juicy tender chicken. A good dribble of Crystal Hot Sauce from Louisiana made each bite of chicken perfect. The butter beans were a nice balance of hearty yet light to pair with the chicken.

The Gumbo Ya Ya ($18) won me over to pass on other enticing options like the Gumbo Z’Herbes ($16), a lighter gumbo with more vegetables, and the Po Boys ($15-19). What arrived was a bowl of rich smoky gumbo with a blackened whole shrimp, toasted bread with crab meat and a scoop of white rice. Sifting through the dark roux were hidden treasure pieces of oyster and Andouille sausage.

It was about this time that Chef Kinch appeared on the patio to mingle with diners. This was very exciting—and distracting, as I had almost forgotten to order dessert … almost.

Beignets ($11 for 6) can never be bypassed. To say our beignets were dusted with powdered sugar would be an understatement. The mound of square fritters looked like snow-capped mountains, though the pastries themselves were soft and sweet with just the right springiness.

The line at The Bywater is unlikely to disappear as the restaurant matures. Luckily, they do take a phone number and call when seats open to make the wait more tolerable. It is better to come in with the expectation that the prices are higher and the portions on the lighter side.

Otherwise, expect to enjoy quality food, drinks and music—and maybe a conversation with one of the world’s most famous chefs.

The Bywater
532 N Santa Cruz Ave, Los Gatos.