Restaurant review: Selene is likely to succeed

The lively, upscale Selene restaurant in St. Pete Beach shows tremendous potential.

click to enlarge St. Pete Beach's new Selene boasts a handsome, welcoming environment. - NICOLE ABBETT
Nicole Abbett
St. Pete Beach's new Selene boasts a handsome, welcoming environment.

When I first hear that a new Mediterranean restaurant in St. Pete Beach is called Selene, I smile from ear to ear.

My mind harkens back to the stunning Greek isle of Santorini. For it’s there in Fira, the island’s capital on its west coast, where I ate a glorious meal of the freshest seafood imaginable. My table was on an outcropping of the caldera cliffs opposite the volcano as the sun set over the deep blue Aegean Sea. The restaurant’s name? Selene.

And while the Skiadiotis family’s latest venture (after more than 40 years in the restaurant business) isn’t perched on the side of a cliff, it’s a welcome addition to Gulf Boulevard, where there is a dearth of upscale dining options. They’ve created a handsome, welcoming environment with ample booths upholstered with horizontal teal leather roll pleats. Above the black-and-white stripes created by the tile floor are sleek black tables and aqua chairs. The multiple tray ceilings each holds a single globe lamp, and there are plenty of shiny chrome accents. It’s a lively room, well-suited for buzz rather than quiet conversation.

Our appetizer choices from chef Nikola Karvelas’s menu are superb. The chef seems to favor ring-mold presentations, a style that's distinctly old-school. Gordon Ramsay wouldn't approve, but I like them: They offer a clean presentation and the ability to layer foods with finesse. For instance, small cubes of tuna tartare are marinated with coriander, cucumber juice and soy sauce, and then placed on top of creamy avocado chunks in a tall mold that rises over a pool of the viscous marinade. Though some might wish for more acidity, that’s a personal choice. My tuna taster is all smiles.

click to enlarge The restaurant's tuna tartare sits neatly atop creamy avocado chunks. - NICOLE ABBETT
Nicole Abbett
The restaurant's tuna tartare sits neatly atop creamy avocado chunks.

Don’t be afraid of beef oxtails. One of my tablemates is reluctant, but I am reassuring. The slow-cooked, sweet meat is a rich ragu above a ring mold stuffed with mashed potatoes flavored with truffle oil. This is sophisticated comfort food; I have made a convert. The plate is garnished with a couple of spicy dollops of tear-shaped red pepper sauce if you want to add some heat.

My favorite of the night also raises questions from my hesitant compatriots. I admit that grilled octopus might not be for everyone, but this restaurant has Greek roots, and the treatment proves my point. By the tenderness of the sliced meat, I’m guessing the tentacles were cooked low and slow in a sous vide water bath before a quick grill sear to add some delicious char. They’re served over julienned sticks of red onions tossed with EVOO, red wine vinegar, oregano and fresh dill (instead of the capers listed on the menu). The contrast makes your tongue come alive. It’s a dish deserving of your attention.

Our delicious round of starters raises my expectations for what’s to come. Sadly, our entrees don’t deliver bright surprises on the palate like our first courses.

The slow-cooked lamb shank, tender and falling off the bone, is bland; the herbs that the bill of fare mentions as being part of the prep don’t register at all. The creamy lemon-thyme sauce is equally without punch. If only the protein had the zing of the accompanying fat lemon potato wedges, which remind me of the fresh flavors that are so enticing on the Greek islands.

The perfectly cooked grouper fillet sits on a simple spinach sauté in a pool of creamy tomato-Parmesan sauce. It’s finished with thin strips of dried eggplant skins to add crunch. It’s a subtle item, which I quite like, but one taster laments the lack of pop.

Pulled duck leg confit is a study in shades of brown. A ring mold of layered duck meat sits on a plateful of tangy-sweet raisin mustard sauce, covered with a balsamic glaze that snakes back and forth across the dish. Instead of being served over polenta as promised on the menu, a square of molded polenta is served on the side. The duck and polenta have good flavor but are slightly on the dry side.

click to enlarge For dessert, the hazelnut tart is complemented by ice cream and fresh fruit. - NICOLE ABBETT
Nicole Abbett
For dessert, the hazelnut tart is complemented by ice cream and fresh fruit.

The warm hazelnut tart is essentially a small pastry crust with a creamy, warm molten center. The chocolate is lush, yet the hazelnut is so faint that is doesn’t register. Still, it’s a nice match with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, plus fresh blueberries and tiny strawberry pieces that bisect the plate.

The poached pear with white wine and saffron has lovely flavors but is underdone. It’s cut through in several places on the bottom, held together by leaving the top near the stem intact. Our efforts to cut it with a fork are difficult and make a mishmash of the ice cream that’s also in the bowl. You shouldn’t need a knife, already whisked away by the attentive servers, to eat the fruit, and the almond biscuit on the lineup is absent. Although I applaud the inclusion of poached pears on the menu, the technique for this one needs tweaking.

Despite the quibbles, Selene, which has been open for a few weeks, has tremendous potential. When the dust settles and the dishes are executed as well as our starters, it will join the list of those few upscale restaurants on Gulf Boulevard worthy of the journey.

Jon Palmer Claridge dines anonymously when reviewing. Check out the explanation of his rating system.

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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