Hold onto your hats, everyone — there’s a newish dining destination on the Pinellas beaches that is NOT a great place for grouper sandwiches, onion rings and Key lime pie (not that there’s anything wrong with any of that) or a mediocre tourist trap with Sysco offerings.
A former Village Inn has morphed into Selene, a modern and serenely chillaxing adult oasis. (I didn’t see any children or a kids menu — and a youngster would need to have a pretty adventurous palate to be happy here.) That’s OK, because sometimes grownups need a break. The interior is sleek, somewhat minimalistic and awash in the soothing shades of Santorini blue and white.
My party of four toddled in at the embarrassingly early hour of 5 p.m., as we AARP-card carriers are wont to do, but our iron-poor blood paid dividends when happy hour menus were dispensed. If there is a finer happy hour menu with similar pricing and comparable food quality in Pinellas County, I want to hear about it. (Seriously. My email address is at the end of this column). Generous pours of house wines and locally brewed craft beers are priced at $4 (domestic beers at $3) between 4 and 6, and there’s a discounted selection of delectable apps. We were required to dine in the bar area to qualify for those discounts, but the environment is quite pleasing and the service received was knowledgeable, friendly and attentive.
Right off the bat, I must lavish kudos on the remarkable complimentary bread service. A Jenga-like stack of hot and crispy slabs of gluten-riche decadence showed up along with some sexy, curry-infused crunchy bread sticks. A luxe little trough of brightly fresh hummus for dipping rounded out this low-carber’s nightmare.
The rock star of our sampling of apps was a heaping $7 pile of grilled octopodi. Little char-grilled disks of cephalopod were almost lobster-like in consistency and accented with oregano, red wine vinegar, onion and capers. One of the best versions to be had in Tampa Bay for my money. A $6 selection of toasty pita wedges with a choice of three spreads was also snarfed in short order. Most selections afforded out-of-the-ordinary taste sensations and all elicited multiple dips and mmmms and ahhhs — smoked eggplant, yellow split pea mousse (FAR more delightful than it sounds — sweet and delicate), and the adventure-seeker’s skordalia (a mild, silky mashed potato and garlic-based spread spiked with garlic and pureed fish roe). The $5 stuffed mushrooms with bacon, roasted peppers and mozzarella were also winners, boasting a meaty, non-slimy texture that even the non-fungi lover in our party appreciated.
Entrees were, for the most part, healthy and filling. Fish dishes are done simply and extremely well at Selene. Hub’s entire deboned branzino was lightly grilled to moist perfection with olive oil and lemon … that’s it. Served with a warm slaw, a nutty $5 side of giant limas (don’t dis them ’til you’ve tried them) was tacked on to share with the group. Steak lovers need not despair — New York strip, filet mignon and ribeye are all available at Selene and prepared with care, based on a taste of the beautifully seared, juicy tenderloin with grilled veggies and a side of Béarnaise I snagged from a dining companion’s plate.
Never one to feign daintiness or pretend to count calories when dining out, I practically did a face plant into the depths of my pool of luxurious shrimp and grouper risotto (a special of the evening). I’m a huge advocate of moderation … especially as it applies to moderation.
The dessert menu is outré and might cause traditionalists a moment of hesitation, but one must keep an open mind. I’ll admit I recoiled in horror at the very idea of a cheesecake lavished in tomato jam and sweet spoon olives. Really, what sounds more horrible than that? Maybe an old tire frosted with a can of cream of mushroom soup. But guess what? This works. I don’t know how, but it does. You will be unable to keep your fork out of it. The pear poached in white wine and saffron, stuffed with vanilla ice cream, is also a solid choice if you need to stay closer to your epicurean comfort zone. Baby steps.
Selene is at 4945 Gulf Blvd., St. Petersburg; (727) 317-2064 or www.selene restaurant.com
Hungry for more? Denise’s blog is http://sweetpolly food.blogspot.com. Contact Denise at firstname.lastname@example.org