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The Poynt had only been open for three nights, and the wait for a table was already two hours and climbing. But no one at Newburyport’s newest restaurant seemed to mind. Waitstaff appeared calm and in control, doling out cheerful greetings and sunny smiles. Customers stood around the lively, airy bar sipping locally inspired craft cocktails; others enjoyed the peek-a-boo view of the Merrimack River from the back deck.

Natural light from the enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, super-friendly service, and a menu of light, fresh, and playful food are no surprise coming from John and Laura Wolf, the restaurateurs known for their trio of California-inflected Cottage Restaurants—one on the West Coast and two just west of Boston. However, the Newburyport couple’s concept for The Poynt is edgier, more urban, and a bit more experimental than their other spots, though the emphasis is still on high-quality fun in a casual atmosphere.

Executive chef Peter Hansen drew upon an impressive pedigree to create his confident menu, displaying a variety of influences from Middle Eastern to Chinese. His resumé includes stints with celebrity chefs Todd English and Bobby Flay, whom he assisted six times on the TV show Iron Chef (winning every time).
It’s hard to choose from among the wealth of small plates, salads, and pizzas, so bring a few hungry friends and plan to share. Start with the indulgent chilled lobster cocktail. Chunks of lobster glisten in a rocks glass, tossed with diced avocado and watercress, and balanced with lime juice and horseradish.

For a hot starter, try the crispy fried oysters, nicely battered and topped with a sweet-and-sour black pepper beurre blanc and American caviar.
The salad menu is equally enticing—the Caesar offers up a unique take on the classic, with half the lettuce grilled and the other half crisp and chilled. Topped with a powerful garlic and Parmesan dressing and a fried egg, it is challenging and fun.

Main courses also feature familiar comfort foods interpreted in new ways. The lamb Bolognese pappardelle steers a classic Italian dish toward the Middle East, with delicious results. House-made pappardelle is sauced with a rich mixture of meat seasoned with fennel, coriander, cardamom, and cumin—it is a dish to crave all winter long, and one that Hansen has been perfecting since his days working in London at the Grove Park Hotel.

Hansen is just as comfortable with the tastes of Asia—his Cantonese-style whole Maine lobster, originally developed while working with Todd English at Kingfish Hall in Boston, is an exciting take on a seaside classic. Meat is extracted from a generously large lobster and cooked tempura-style until moist and tender, and then it is stuffed back into the shell, which is also battered and fried. The sweet, savory, crunchy dish is served with a house-made teriyaki sauce, pumped up with lemongrass and ginger, over a bed of udon noodles tossed with an Asian-style vinaigrette.

Desserts like beignets are all made in-house. The square packets of fried dough, dusted with powdered sugar, will whisk customers from Water Street right down to the French Quarter.The restaurant’s vast open space, formerly John Farley Clothiers, has a chic urban vibe, thanks to celebrity designer Taniya Nayak, who hosts shows on HGTV and is a frequent expert on Food Network’s Restaurant: Impossible. Nayak is known for her flair for repurposing materials, so walls feature snow fencing from an old farm and an eye-catching array of wooden rolling pins over the cozy pizza bar. In a nod to the space’s former retail history, a faded John Farley sign adorns one wall and booths are upholstered in a plaid fabric.
It’s fortunate that the space is so large and welcoming—The Poynt does not take reservations, in a move the owners hope will be appealing to locals who just want to drop in for a bite. Insiders are well-advised to download the No Wait app, which enables guests to join the wait list from anywhere and monitor progress. Or just grab a cocktail!