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Food & Drink

Artful Plates inside Southtown’s Starfish

Photo: Casey Howell, License: N/A

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.

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