Imagine an intimate dining room around a central fountain ringed with lights that change color, suffusing the space with blues, greens, golds, and reds. In the middle of the fountain a flame flickers in a glass column. On the walls, backlit acrylic panels that resemble blocks of ice change hue with the changing light. Chandeliers over the bar are glass lanterns with tear-shaped drops of blue glass that evoke melting icicles.
This is WaterFire Tavern, incongruously ensconced in the buttoned-up John Carver Inn in the center of Plymouth. The design is innovative, and the menu, which leans heavily toward small plates and shareable dishes, makes for good reading.
On a recent visit, however, we found the decor far outshone the food and service. On a weeknight, there seemed to be no excuse for the nearly three hours it took to order, consume, and pay for two drinks, a few small plates, a flatbread pizza, and one steak.
There’s a good selection of craft beers — I had to try 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon ($6) just for the name — and intriguing cocktails such as the WaterFire martini ($10), a combination of Grand Marnier, ginger liqueur, and ginger ale, topped with a flaming chocolate cup and finished with cinnamon.
When our drinks came, we ordered the WaterFire bourbon cheese bowl ($14), one of two signature fondue-like “fire bowls” (the other is a chocolate bowl for dessert, $16). When the cheese bowl arrived 15 minutes later, we placed the rest of our order. These items did not appear for more than an hour, and when they did, the food was not remotely hot.
Our waitress apologized for the delay, explaining there were a couple of “large parties” in the adjoining Hearth & Kettle restaurant (which uses the same kitchen and chef). But its dining room seemed to be less than half full, and we were one of only three parties in the tavern.
The cheese bowl was a crock of creamy melted smoked Gouda accompanied by carrot and celery sticks, broccoli florets, sliced green apples, toasted bread slices, and crackers for dipping. The vegetables were crisp, and the apple paired especially well with the warm and tangy cheese.
Fried calamari ($5), served with sliced cherry peppers and marinara sauce, was the best of our tapas. They were lightly battered and crisp.
Sliders did not fare as well. Peppercorn burger sliders ($7), with Gouda cheese and caramelized onions, had little flavor and arrived well done though we had asked for them medium rare. Lobster salad sliders ($12) were better, but they did not have the bright, sweet taste we associate with fresh lobster in summer.
In both, the brioche rolls had been grilled until they were hard. We should probably have listened to our server, who said the bleu cheese truffle chips ($5) were a big hit.
Arugula flatbread ($11) featured a tasty mix of organic arugula, nitrate-free applewood-smoked bacon, dried cranberries, toasted pecans, and crumbled blue cheese served with a maple balsamic dressing, atop a soft, pita-like crust.
It appeared that the salad had just been tossed on the crust — nothing anchored it, so that when you lifted a wedge of flatbread, all the toppings slid off.
The same combination of ingredients is offered as a salad, which we suspect would be a more user-friendly choice.
From the four entrees on the menu, we chose steak Fiorentina ($23), which is a grilled seasoned rib-eye, topped with garlic and herb truffle butter, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. The steak had the ample marbling characteristic of rib-eye, but not the typical tenderness and flavor. A mound of garlic mashed potatoes was unremarkable except for its generous size.
On the plus side, prices for both food and drink are very reasonable. The ambience is edgy, servers are friendly, and the tavern provides live entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights.
Our waitress was personable and professional, even when it was clear that we were not enthusiastic about the food or the glacial pace of the kitchen. Her offer of a WaterFire chocolate bowl on the house was tempting — but it was already past our bedtime.
For more photos from the WaterFire Tavern, visit your-town.boston.com/plymouth.