- Casey Howell
- The scallops presented without foam
I believe my second review on the job took me to 210 Ceviche, which was heavy on the kitsch. Too many anchors, nautical ropes and whimsical nets filled with faux aquatic life. This tends to be the way seafood restaurants are presented throughout the city—but not Starfish.
Doors opened in June, as Rene Fernandez (owner of Azuca Nuevo Latino) and his son, chef Diego Fernandez, teamed up to bring a seafood-specific eatery to Southtown. The restaurant isn’t very large–there’s just 12 or so tables. Starfish features a gleaming open kitchen and exposed brick walls enclosing the space.
In local terms, the restaurant looks like Andrew Weissman’s Sandbar had a tiny merchild with Steve McHugh’s Cured. The ocean theme is more subtle, more abstract than that of its peers—long jellyfish-esque lamps dangle from the ceiling near the chef’s table, two glass chandeliers made of long chains of what look like bubbles anchor the entry and only three fish-inspired pieces of art hang from the wall, all touches brought in by artists Abraham Mojica, Charles Harrison, Emmett Martinez, Nik Soupe and Maureen “Momo” Brown.
But back to the open kitchen for a minute—the concept is admirable and impressive, when you consider just about everything is made in-house from scratch. It’s a teensy workspace, so chef and co. really do have to exercise calm even in stormy dining situations.
This was the case on a recent Saturday night. Tables were full-up, and a handful of patrons were seated along the chef’s bar, which meant we were seated outside on Starfish’s patio. Much like its sister Azuca, the patio is done well and offers a chance to peer into chef’s garden, which was filled with hearty chiles and herbs during our visit. Considering the busy interior and our “banishment” to the patio, a lesser restaurant may have delivered an absent-minded experience, but server Camille made sure to communicate the kitchen’s issues that night, while being almost too apologetic about it. Though more than one server checking in on a lone table can be annoying, the staff’s attention to our general experience was thoughtful and even-paced.
We began the evening with beers and cocktails listed in the libations portion of the menu. While my dining companions opted for craft brews (bottled offerings were available at $5 to $5.50, with two beers hailing from New York’s Brewery Ommegang coming in at in the mid- to high-20s for a 750ml bottle), I chose the Perfect Storm, with Herradura Reposado, Ancho Reyes ancho chile liquor, lime juice and Fresca, just sweet and spicy enough to get my evening going.
Bread service followed with the standard fare save for the rosemary-laced crispy flat bread, which happened to be the perfect vessel for our Hawaiian poke starter. The appetizer featured an artfully plated helping of lightly marinated Ahi tuna topped with seaweed and crushed Brazilian nuts. A great dish for patio dining, the poke was paired with chilled cucumber foam clusters.
The scallop entrée was in line with the level of presentation set by our starter—I might as well been looking at a Kandinsky canvas. A celery root and apple puree served as a bed for three charred scallops (one might have been on the grill for just a second too long, but was otherwise flavorful), roasted beet bites and thinly sliced pickled beet rounds were sprinkled throughout, and a reserved orange velouté sauce topped roasted fingerling potatoes. A refreshing, but likely accidental, take on surf and earthy beet turf, the dish suffered only from the inclusion of more foam. Just because you can make foam doesn’t mean it needs to be featured throughout.
My dining partner’s crisp Black drum, with Asian spice, braised endive and goat cheese gnocchi impressed, but we all felt the flavors could have been tied together better—even at the expense of presentation.
For my second visit, the lunch menu held a truncated selection of starters, salads, mains and sandwiches. As noted on the menu, breads are made in-house, and the ciabatta was startlingly soft and almost sweet; it could have used a quick toast to help keep the sammie’s innards intact. A cedar plank cobia, or black kingfish, was lightly smoky, and the sandwich’s only fault was a so-so remoulade that could have steered closer to New Orleans varieties than the classic French iterations.
While Starfish still has a few minor tweaks to make, its coastal theme, artful plates and refreshing cocktails are welcome addition to the Southtown area.
709 S Alamo
The Skinny Southtown’s newest dining spot focuses on seafood fare with a coastal flair. Reservations are strongly encouraged as this tiny eatery can fill up fast
Best Bets Hawaiian poke, Black drum, scallops, cobia fish sandwich
Hours 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-10pm Mon-Thu; 11:30am-2:30pm, 5:30-11pm Fri-Sat
Price $7-$12 lunch, $7-$22 dinner