Nancy Batista-Caswell knows she’s a rare bird. At a time when many successful city chefs are opening spots in the ’burbs, she’s bucking the trend. The restaurateur behind Newburyport’s Brine and Ceia Kitchen + Bar is set to open Oak + Rowan in Fort Point at the end of October.
“I always wanted to be a part of Boston proper at some point, but I didn’t think I’d ever have the success to do so,” Batista-Caswell says. “I know it’s another beast coming from the suburbs to the city, but there’s also the challenge of the lack of population in the suburbs, and things like that where you have to work very aggressively on an everyday basis. If we can take what we’ve implemented there and do it here, I think we’ll probably be successful.”
Justin Shoults will leave his post as executive chef at Brine to oversee the kitchen at Oak + Rowan, focusing on a surf-and-turf concept. Starters include a halibut poke with egg yolk, turnip, shallots and white sturgeon caviar. “I want to eliminate the perception of caviar. I felt like it was age- and demographic-specific,” Batista-Caswell says. Caviar offerings will range from an ounce down to a 4-gram tasting on a Portuguese muffin. Housemade pastas such as doppio ravioli with smoked scallop, pumpkin and cider and testarolo with preserved tomato, whole-belly clams, chili and oregano are meant as a second course. Entrees include a few steaks, like bone-in rib-eye, sirloin and Denver, as well as lobster and sweetbreads with caviar potato gnocchi, cranberry, seabeans and bottarga.
“I’m trying to find a way to make sure the classical way of dining has some kind of a return in a very casual environment,” Batista-Caswell says. “I still believe in that style of dining.”
The dessert menu, overseen by executive pastry chef Brian Mercury (Harvest), features dishes like a chocolate tart and cranberry swirl fro-yo. Mercury also heads up the bread program, which will include baked goods for departing customers to enjoy the next morning. “Brian’s such a big part of what we do, but people don’t always leave room for dessert,” Batista-Caswell explains. “So we’re going to do takeaways to showcase Brian’s talent. … If they didn’t leave room for dessert, come back for it.”
She similarly hopes to showcase the talents of bar manager Chris O’Neill and the bar staff with a
cocktail cart that will allow batched cocktails to be poured tableside, giving diners a sense of the action. The wine list of 70-80 bottles will focus on European vintners. The bar itself will seat 22, with room for about 40-50 at nearby tables. A narrow space off that room will hold 20 at a communal table that sits under lights that were repurposed from the “B, W, C” letters on the old Boston Wharf Company sign. On the other side of that space will be a 30-seat private dining area overlooking the open kitchen. The building’s loading dock doors will remain, giving a few customers a feeling of alfresco dining inside a space that’s full of brick and wooden beams. “If it’s too minimal, it’s not enough. If it’s too much, then it’s distracting,” Batista-Caswell says of the design. “I always want to make sure that the food is still the centerpiece—and the service. Because we’re performing; it’s a show essentially. We’re on stage.”
Oak + Rowan 319 A St., Boston. oakandrowan.com