The bar at In a Silent Way wine bar and shop in Wiscasset. Photo by Chandler Sowden

I try not to futz around with restaurants’ names too much when writing reviews. The furthest I’ll usually go is to abbreviate in accordance with how the owners/chefs themselves refer to their business: Biddeford’s Magnus on Water becomes “Magnus,” the now-shuttered Bob’s Clam Hut and Back Bay Grill were “The Hut,” and “BBG,” respectively. But there’s no shortening the lowercase moniker of “in a silent way.” Co-owners Chandler Sowden and Zack Goodwin tell me “there is no official shorthand.” They’ll stick a few capital letters in there in an email but that’s about it.

In rejecting nicknames, Sowden and Goodwin tip their caps to the legendary Miles Davis album that lends its name to this Wiscasset wine bar. I’m OK with that; it’s a display of respect.

Indeed, the duo — recent Bay Area transplants with Boothbay roots — embody reverence in much of what they do in their breezy space on Water Street. Chef Goodwin’s five-item menu of exclusively local, seasonal small plates is a perfect example. At the peak of summer, when vegetables and fruits ought to dominate a menu, all but one of the dishes were plant-based. The sole exception: Penobscot Bay scallops shucked and served raw, simply drizzled with olive oil and lemon ($4.50 each).

Sowden’s approach to wine is equally respectful of the mostly European bottles offered, both in the restaurant itself and in the piously monitored, air-and-temperature-controlled shop, a bathroom-sized annex off In a Silent Way’s dining room.

Yet if you want to see true reverence in action, you’ll have to order something to drink at one of the wine bar’s 18 seats. Your wine, like the light, tart Guy Breton Régnié, overflowing with aromas of crushed berries ($17), arrives in a Josephinenhütte Josephine No. 2 stem.

The enviable glassware at In a Silent Way. Photo by Chandler Sowden

When Sowden set a glass of this pale, easy-sipper down on the table, my mouth dropped open. This wasn’t bulk glassware, beaded rims dribbling with every sip. No, In a Silent Way’s stemware selections are hand-blown crystal glasses engineered to enhance aromas and flavors, glasses that taper to a molecule-thin layer of glass where your tongue elides into liquid. Drinking from them is a rare experience and reason enough to visit.


I’d love to own a set of the Josephine Universal No. 2s in reckless circulation at In a Silent Way. After all, they were a top pick in this year’s Serious Eats “14 Best Wine Glasses of 2023.” But at an eye-watering $90 per glass (not a typo), I wouldn’t trust myself with them. Heck, I started to order a set of four after my visit to In a Silent Way but before I hit “Checkout,” I’d already broken three of them.

Sowden and Goodwin apparently do not share those concerns. When I asked about the agony over losing pricey stems, Sowden replied, “Ha, well we get to buy the glassware wholesale so it hurts a little less. But I think just due to the nature of our business and the slower pace of things, we don’t have much, if any, glassware breakage.”

It’s worth addressing the pacing at In a Silent Way. There’s little or no difference between the length of a visit there and anywhere else, as long as wine is all you’re ordering. But when you ask for a few plates, be ready to settle in.

“We’ve just got one speed here,” Sowden said when I placed my food and drink order, and as I discovered over the next two hours, that speed is glacial. That isn’t a complaint as much as a description, although I do think a bit more transparency to help guests budget time is in order.

Things move so slowly in part because Goodwin is the only person cooking in the exposed area designated as a sort of makeshift kitchen. “We do not have any staff, so it’s just Zack and myself,” Sowden said. “Volume-wise, we manage with just the two of us … The pace is slower, and it’s meant to be a place to sit and stay for a while.”

Goodwin is no slacker, though. Beavering away in the exposed rear half of the room over stainless steel bowls and a tabletop grill, he pulls together some of the most well-constructed, beautifully conceived dishes I’ve tried this year.


In a Silent Way’s butter lettuce and shaved yellow zucchini salad. Photo by Chandler Sowden

A salad of butter lettuce and ribbons of shaved yellow zucchini ($17) comes dressed in a ranch-like buttermilk dressing that emits tiny, floral wafts of tarragon. Some say salads and wines don’t go together. I challenge them to try this one with a light red or lemony Zarate Rias Baixas ($15).

Listed simply as “heirloom tomato,” Goodwin’s interpretation of a classic Caprese salad ($19) features upgrades to the usual suspects: juicy, peak-of-season tomatoes; silky fresh mozzarella, a few intact leaves of fresh basil. But where some Capreses tilt toward sticky-sweet, In a Silent Way’s version employs an almost-savory, pleasantly musty aged Pedroni balsamic that amplifies, rather than disguises, the natural sugar from the tomatoes.

He uses a similar technique in another salad of sweet red peppers, crumbled feta cheese, cherry tomatoes and generous, meticulously de-seeded watermelon chunks ($18). Here, though, along with an elegant, balanced dressing of lemon juice, olive oil and salt, he uses cilantro leaves to italicize flavors in the produce. Spear all the components onto your fork, and you have a complex, layered bite that slips from floral to musky, saline to sweet and back again. I adored this so much that I made a version of it at home the following night, converting a resolute cilantro-hater in the bargain.

Most exciting of all the dishes I ate on my visit, as well as the one that took the longest time to prepare, was a broadly interpreted riff on eggplant parmesan ($20). Goodwin separates the fat-bottomed base of an Italian eggplant, scores it and roasts it to order, basting the flesh until the interior turns tender, like custard. He lowers the steaming eggplant into a sieved puree of barely cooked Sungold tomatoes, and showers the dish in torn basil leaves and grated parmesan.

As polished as In a Silent Way is, it is not perfect. The dining room remains a largely featureless space with iron-and-marble tables and simple muslin curtains in the bay windows. Walls showcase paint colors that range from cream to off-white. Together the lack of décor reads as provisional, impermanent. It’s hard to knock Sowden and Goodwin for this, though, because they had to vacate their previous Wiscasset space when its façade collapsed in 2021. But after more than a year in their current ultra-minimalist digs, the new space has earned a little personality. A simple change of paint color, even on a single wall, will make a huge difference.

Price is also a complication. Because meals take so long, it is tough to nurse a single glass of wine long enough to finish dinner. You’ll need at least two. Order a bottle to solve that problem and you run into a short, expertly chosen list of premium bottles with premium price tags. Reds start at $73 and whites at $79. The blow is softened considerably by the restaurant’s no-tipping policy—so knock 20% off those prices — but even with the reduction, bottles aren’t cheap.


Despite its flaws, In a Silent Way is an exceptional restaurant that understands itself (and its limitations) well, firmly requesting that guests leave behind preconceptions about what a night out should be. Meet it on its terms, with a few hours to devote to the experience, and whatever you do, don’t drop a glass.

A summer salad at In a Silent Way. Photo by Chandler Sowden

RATING: ****
WHERE: 51 Water St., Wiscasset. (no phone).
SERVING: Thursday to Sunday, 3–8 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $4.50, Small plates: $17-20
NOISE LEVEL: Quaker meeting house
VEGETARIAN: Most dishes
BAR: Wine

BOTTOM LINE: Opened around the start of the pandemic, Wiscasset wine bar In a Silent Way has taken both COVID and the partial collapse of its original building in stride. Co-owners Chandler Sowden and Zack Goodwin have put together a masterful selection of wines served in some of the best glassware you’ll ever encounter, as well as a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it-length menu of exquisitely prepared, vegetable-focused small plates. Sip a glass of tart, pale Guy Breton Régnié and order food with abandon. Everything I ate at In a Small Way was a delight, most especially a watermelon salad with peppers, tomato, feta and cilantro, and an exquisitely roasted eggplant in a nearly raw passata of Sungold tomatoes. Sowden and Goodwin are the only two staff at this 18-seater, so a meal at In a Small Way will likely take more time than at other restaurants. Budget accordingly.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):

* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of five recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at:
Twitter: @AndrewRossME 

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