The Improper Bostonian critic MC Slim JB visits SELECT Oyster Bar, the first solo venture from former Neptune Oyster chef Michael Serpa. "While it's not Neptune redux, it hits many of the same highs while charting some new waters," he writes. The raw oysters are "unimpeachable." Also on the raw bar — a menu section Slim says could feed you well, by itself — is a dayboat scallop ceviche, which is "happily, gently transformed" in its lime, shallot, and cilantro dressing. For things that are cooked, the "almost overpoweringly rich" broth of the chefs' billi-bi, "like an extravagant variant on New England clam chowder," is balanced by "good, plentiful PEI mussels." Octopus basquaise "truly wows" by braising the octopus tentacles for tenderness, then throwing them on the plancha for added crunch on the outside, he writes.
But Icelandic arctic char is "a rare misstep," Slim assesses: His fish is "unpleasantly underdone" in the middle. The whole-roasted sea bream "taverna style" is a well-accompanied hit, and SELECT's pan-roasted Maine lobster "brings refinement to the tourist grail." At the end of his enjoyable meal, Slim didn't question the automatic 20% gratuity on the bill, but he notes it may offend otherwise happy customers.
Devra First can't help but compare her recent experiences at Serafina with the building's incomparable former tenant. "Remember? ... That corner is where you ate your last Radius burger, a 9-ounce patty topped with horseradish sauce, cheddar, and crispy onions that was the only reason you needed to visit the restaurant: born 1998, deceased 2013," she laments at the start of her 1-star review of Serafina in the Boston Globe.
"Serafina opened in ... April, bringing salads and pizza and pasta, better prices and worse cooking." She finds some enjoyable plates: Octopus antipasto is "smoky, fresh, [and] full of contrasts." A bass filet wrapped in potato and served over zucchini and leeks is "pleasingly light." An arugula salad, despite the undercooked cannellini beans it's served with, is "acceptable."
But then there are misses: For one, First found that anything advertised as having "a touch of cream" "is likely to arrive drenched in it." Steak frites is flavorless despite its "nice char," and comes with lackluster sides. The restaurant's pizza menu isn't bad, she concedes. The thin, chewy crusts lack char, but not structure. "It is the accretion of not-badness that is the problem here: so much so-so food on the table," she writes. (Though she continues on to describe a few outright fails.) Her overall assessment is that Serafina isn't inexpensive or good enough to make for return customers — and it's definitely not enough to make her forget Radius.
Outside of town, the Globe's Sheryl Julian tries a tavern with "unexpectedly good food" in Malden, Ferry Street Food & Drink. Opened about a year ago by Jason and Shannon Ladd, the menu reflects Jason's Houston upbringing. The Texas chili, for example, is a bowl of spicy meat "you want to keep eating." Jambalaya, "a smoky helping of rice studded with andouille and Cajun-spiced chicken," is another signature. Fish and chips is made with skin-on, farm-raised trout and comes with Cajun-spiced fries.
For dessert, Julian finds the one misstep — a "gelatinous" vanilla panna cotta. But at least there's the PB&J skillet, which is a skillet-cooked peanut butter cookie, topped with ice cream and warm raspberry preserves. "Your spoons will scrape the little pan clean" on that dish.