The Water Street Kitchen & Bar closed for the month of January, but it reopened just in time to be a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner destination.
The restaurant is one of a limited number of dine-in options in Lincoln County for couples seeking an upscale date night. Water Street is open from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, serving both a dinner menu and a bar menu. Two people can easily enjoy a meal with appetizer and wine for under $100.
Front-of-house manager Shane McCarthy said the staff strives to make the restaurant feel safe. Tables are 6-12 feet apart and employees wear masks in both the dining room and the kitchen.
The sense of space and the high ceilings of the dining room help customers feel more comfortable. And weather permitting, the staff cracks the windows to increase air circulation even more. “We built a nice environment,” McCarthy said.
And so they have. The restaurant is a study in contrast between the airy, glass-enclosed dining room and the cozy bar. The dining room is subtly done in shades of blue, gray, and white. During the winter season those colors almost mimic the sea and snow and sky just outside the expansive windows. The bar is toasted brown and golden wood with iron accents. A wood stove warms a corner and upholstered wing chairs, along with a well-pillowed sofa, form inviting conversation nooks.
Ed Colburn, head chef and owner, is Portuguese and Puerto Rican, and his culinary ambition is on display in both the menu and the wine list. The Water Street Kitchen & Bar focuses on Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on fresh, local seafood.
The appetizer menu is diverse and delicious and the dishes can function as appetizers, sides, or small meals. Vegetarians will find options such as charred Brussels sprouts, whole roasted cauliflower, or truffle fries. The butternut squash soup is rich and velvety with a hint of tang. It’s made even better with the addition of roasted pumpkin seeds and a cool drizzle of creme fraiche.
The white bean soup, flavored with chives and bacon, is thick and warm and deeply satisfying on a cold day. The haddock cakes, a dish developed by head line cook Edward Albert, make a satisfying light meal. Three crisp-fried fish cakes are enhanced by a squeeze of fresh lemon and a generous portion of house-made tartar sauce.
Inspired by the Spanish classic, the restaurant hopes to position paella as a signature dish, featuring local clams and Maine mussels as well as shrimp, chicken, and chorizo. Saffron threads impart a golden color to the soccarat, or crispy rice, that slowly and deliciously cooks to the bottom of the pan. The dish can be prepared for a couple or for a family with 35 minutes’ notice.
Other offerings include Italian classics like shrimp scampi, pasta Bolognese, and Cioppino, a seafood stew made with wine and tomatoes. Roasted Maine lobster is served with whiskey tarragon butter. Hangar steak is served with shoestring fries and chimichurri. Portions are generous — the chicken Marsala includes two flavorful breasts with buttery pasta and fresh mushrooms. Most of the pasta dishes are also available in half orders.
The wine list is well curated and diverse, featuring wines from France, Germany, New Zealand, Argentina, Portugal, Italy, California, and Oregon. A small selection of dessert wines is available, including a sauternes and a Sandeman Founders Reserve port.
Water Street Kitchen & Bar features desserts by Westport Island baker Daphne Cromwell, who rotates in the pies and cheesecakes on the menu. They also offer a limoncello cake, two layers of light yellow cake encased in a shell of pale, citrusy icing.
There is a relaxed atmosphere at the Water Street Kitchen & Bar, despite the pandemic that informs so many of our decisions, including how we dine. Perhaps it’s the serene view of the Sheepscot, or the ability to linger over a glass of wine. Perhaps it’s the crackle of the fire. Or perhaps it’s the spacing of the tables. “It feels like we can stay as long as we want,” said one lunchtime diner. “It feels leisurely.”
Water Street Kitchen & Bar is located at 15 Water St. in Wiscasset.