Pioneering California chef David Kinch's new restaurant is a casual place that channels the cuisine and spirit of New Orleans.

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LOS GATOS, Calif. — If you want to understand the Bywater, look no further than its frozen-daiquiri machine. Yes, it’s pumping out flamingo-pink slushies, but they contain two kinds of premium rum and get their color from pomegranate juice.

“It’s a well-thought out, well-balanced cocktail that just happens to be in slushy form,” says David Kinch, the restaurant’s owner. “That kind of sums up what we’re trying to do.”

Frozen daiquiris are perhaps the last thing you’d expect to see on a menu from Kinch, the pioneering California chef who has racked up three Michelin stars for his innovative cooking at Manresa, the restaurant he opened in Los Gatos in 2002. But for his second restaurant (a few blocks from his first) the chef wanted a casual place that would channel the cuisine and spirit of New Orleans, the city where he grew up and got his first job in a restaurant kitchen, as a 16-year-old line cook at Commander’s Palace.

“At Manresa, we spend a lot of time creating an experience that becomes a giant memory,” Kinch says. “With the Bywater, the whole point was creating a neighborhood joint.”

The neighborhood has responded enthusiastically: For the first couple of months after the Bywater opened in January, a line snaked down the block from its purple, green and yellow front doors. Inside the snug space, servers in Crescent City-themed T-shirts (Kinch’s favorite reads “New Orleans Is for Livers”) dish out regional specialties like rich, meaty gumbo ya-ya, satisfyingly crunchy oyster po’boys, fried green tomatoes and pillowy beignets.

The frozen daiquiri at the Bywater. (Photo courtesy of  Michelle Cassidy)
The frozen daiquiri at the Bywater. (Photo courtesy of Michelle Cassidy)

In devising their menu, Kinch and the Bywater’s chef, David Morgan, couldn’t resist adding personal spins to some of the classics. There’s a “bo boy,” a porky riff on bo ssam, and “oysters Rock-a-Fella,” which forsakes oysters Rockefeller’s typical all-spinach base for a half-spinach, half-watercress version that harks back to the original recipe.

Pretty much everything about the restaurant is a testament to Kinch’s love of New Orleans: The walls are decorated with photos and paintings from his collection, while the music — a mix of New Orleans soul funk and traditional jazz, retro R&B, brass band and bebop — is pulled from the soundtrack of his youth. The restaurant is, in short, a place where the chef can have fun.

“I’m not saying we don’t pay attention to detail, but there’s a certain amount of freedom,” Kinch says. “It’s really casual, there are no reservations and the music is a little bit loud.”