When Michael Serpa set out to launch his first restaurant, he wanted to take what he had learned over seven years at the celebrated North End seafood destination spot, Neptune Oysters, and distill it into a new vision of his own creation. And wherever he ended up in town, he would bring a touch of the new South End ethos of small, chef-driven restaurants that aim to become tiny go-to enclaves for locals.
“I love places that are chill, where you can get a glass of wine and some lunch and just be like, ‘This is awesome,’ those kind of spots,” he says. “I’m trying to make really good food and care about quality a lot. Not that higher-end spots or [big] steakhouses around the Back Bay don’t, but there’s obviously a difference in feel, and if you’re sitting in a little, quaint spot. Hopefully we can fill that void in the Back Bay.”
And for Serpa, filling that void meant creating a menu of killer crudos and oysters along with creative seafood for his svelte brownstone and its 30-seat dining area, which is flanked by exposed brick and a forthcoming 22-seat heated patio out back. But this won’t be just Boston’s latest option for regional staples (see: fried clams, chowder). Instead, SELECT will take some of those classics and offer a nuanced spin on them, be it a steamed mussel and white wine soup with leeks and egg yolk (“our answer to chowder, and nobody is really doing it like that”), or even more unusual offerings like the Egyptian style whole fish they’ll be offering down the line.
“Zero places in the city are doing it,” Serpa says, “and my thing was to do something more creative in terms of what we’re presenting here. So we based it off the food of Mediterranean countries, and people don’t think of Egypt or North Africa or Morocco as part of the Mediterranean.” Ultimately though, New England seafood and produce is something that he remained keenly focused on while developing the opening offerings.
“New England has the best seafood, at least in the country if not in the most recognized areas in the world,” he says, adding that he’s working with everyone from the Island Creek Oysters team (“they’re the reason they have the best-known, most sought after oysters in the country”) to Pangea Shellfish out of the Seaport, and even Browne Trading Company out of Portland, Maine, which specializes in caviar and fresh fish.
With the notorious rise in Back Bay rent prices Serpa didn’t want to open an insanely expensive neighborhood joint, making up for smaller volume with high prices and small portions. Instead, his goal was to keep prices as low as possible while focusing on higher volume and a repeat loyal local customer base.
“I’m not one for chintzy portions, and if I order fish, I want a big piece of fish,” he says. “So hopefully we make our revenues work by attracting repeat customers and neighborhood people. I don’t want to be pricey when we can price things very, very fairly with an eye for value and attracting neighborhood people. I just want people to want to come hang here, have fun, and come back.”