Selva Grill (selva means jungle in Peruvian) has earned cheers from his faithful fans in downtown Sarasota.
"Ceviche for everyone" could be its new motto, because on any given weekend night it's not unusual for the bustling open kitchen to turn out 300 of these gorgeous marinated raw seafood and lightly seared meat appetizers. Ceviches are arranged like art in variously sized plates and stemware, each one an ingenious and tempting bundle of savory/sweet/tangy bliss. They range in price from $7 to $13 and include combinations such as octopus, sliced thin and marinated with Peruvian black olive sauce, or salmon with lemongrass and ginger-infused coconut water. Or how about tuna bathed in ginger and soy sauce and paired with cubes of fresh watermelon for a taste experience that's both sweet and clean? The house specialty ceviche combines corvina fish, lime, onion, cilantro, corn and roasted camotes. That one will perk up your palate, all right.
There's also Don Pedros on the fancy drink menu. This Argentinean favorite consists of Scotch or bourbon with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Cocktail and dessert in one glass-how efficient.
The new Selva Grill space was formerly occupied by Main Street Bistro, and there haven't been major changes to the décor; the flat wall fountain is still outside and the ever-changing swirling light mural inside. But the rooms are a bit more sophisticated with black tablecloths and napkins, comfortable low lighting and sexy background music. Inside, seating is a combination of tables and banquettes, or you can eat at the bar on the other side of the partition. Additionally, the bar serves a late-night menu from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Service by a young and multicultural staff is crisp and efficient, with lots of smiles.
Expect pan-Central and South American cooking with a dash of Asian. Risotto is prepared with cilantro, green peas and beer to be served with duck breast. Wok-fried sirloin is wed to fried yucca, while a piece of mahi-mahi is glazed with guava and served up with a black bean jicama salad and pineapple salsa. Skirt steak comes with beet relish and sweet plantains, and a roasted bass nuzzles up to corn custard flan and black bean sauce. Even the ubiquitous salmon is jazzed up at Selva Grill. It's pan-seared, wrapped in plantain leaves and served with rice and champagne vinaigrette. While recipes might be rooted in modest peasant kitchens of Northern Peru or even China, there's a modern cross-cultural theatrical flair about everything that's created in this Sarasota bistro. Entrées average about $25. And extra sides, such as jicama salad or sweet plantains or tostones, are an additional $5.
You do want to try chef Houseknecht's desserts ($6.50-$8), if just for the pleasure of seeing these beauties sail out of the kitchen, raised aloft by the wait staff. With their colorful (and edible) neon palm trees and modern art squiggles, each looks as appealing as it tastes. Selections such as strawberry shortcake, banana flan, cheesecake or bread pudding might sound old hat, but they, too, are spun into lively flights of fancy with combinations of ingredients that will leave you coveting the recipes. Indeed, Selva Grill "is a party in your mouth."
1345 Main St., Sarasota
Dinner: 5-10 p.m. nightly and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Catering offsite and private lunches in the dining rooms available
Valet or street parking