Michael Serpa is thinking small. And he’s loving it. Sure, the chef/owner has big plans for his forthcoming Select Oyster Bar in Back Bay, but he’s more than happy to contain those grand ideas in a small space.
With four two-top tables, a communal table for eight to 10 people near the front window and 16 seats at the bar, Select will have an intimate feel when it opens this month, one that Serpa expects to retain even when a three-season private back patio adds a couple dozen seats in a few months.
“I think Back Bay has some of those small, personal restaurants, but not quite enough. It fits in well with little tiny store, little tiny hair salon, little tiny coffee shop. Little tiny restaurant,” Serpa explains. “When you’re in a big restaurant with 20 people, you’re like: ‘This place is dead.’ When you’re in our restaurant with 20 people, you’ll think, ‘Oh, there must be something going on.’ ”
The advantages of going small entail more than just building buzz. Serpa, the former executive chef of Neptune Oyster, is most excited about the flexibility it will lend to his menu. Instead of needing 50 units of a product, he says he’ll be content with five. And it’s how he’s serving that product that he hopes will help Select stand apart from the many quality seafood restaurants that have opened in Boston during the past decade.
“What all those places have in common is they’re based on the New England clam shack thing, with fried clams, lobster rolls, chowder,” Serpa says. “I want to go away from that. I just want to cook fish and focus on more Mediterranean-type flavors and stuff you’d see in Spain, North Africa, Italy and France.”
That means chowder is out, and in its place is billi bi soup with mussels, leeks and egg yolk. The frequently changing menu will be split into starters such as grilled bacalao and mains such as scallops with carrot puree, chanterelles and kale. True to its name, Select will have a raw bar section, including ceviche and six types of oysters.
To accompany all the seafood, Serpa is offering a wine program that’s heavily focused on whites, with more than 20 by-the-glass offerings as well as carafe picks. Small-batch spirits will be the centerpiece of the cocktail program, with many drinks, such as the Green Issac’s Special (coconut water, gin, lime juice and bitters), pulled from the works of Serpa’s favorite author, Ernest Hemingway.
It’s one of many personal touches from Serpa, who picked out everything from the pressed white tin ceiling to the handcrafted tables he found through a Winchester carpenter. “This is what I’d want in my house,” he says. “I have more creative freedom in areas that I never did before.”
But one thing is still exactly the same. Serpa says: “I’m dying to start cooking.”
Select Oyster Bar 50 Gloucester St., Boston (857-239-8064) selectboston.com