Chef's Secret may have had some minor ups and downs in its several years of existence, but by and large, it is still a remarkably good seafood restaurant. And, judging from a few recent visits, the kitchen's quality control, which had been a little shaky in the past, has returned to consistency.
The basic virtue is very fresh seafood that is well prepared and served in generous portions at reasonable prices. Although you wouldn't know it from the drab clapboard exterior, the setting is charming, too: a handsome, softly lit, dark walled dining room with fresh flowers and candles and good acoustics.
The regular appetizers are uniformly good. Mussels mariniere, for example, are big and fresh, in a zingy butter-wine sauce laced with minced garlic. There is also nicely chewy linguine with lots of chopped clams in red or white sauces, or equally toothy fettuccine Alfredo, blessedly light and with real flavor. Fish chowder, overly mild in flavor, perhaps, but crammed with a seafood melange and lively vegetables, is also good. There have been some terrific appetizer specials lately, too. Oysters Rockefeller have been flawless: the oysters big and briny, the binder with just a touch of eggy, anise-flavored custard, the spinach fresh and nearly crisp. And there's been an excellent avocado and crab soup. The house salad is ordinary, but for a dollar more the special spinach salad with mushrooms and bacon is a generous gem.
Entrees fall into two general categories: a broad selection of broiled and grilled fish dishes, and shellfish-fish combinations of several kinds. Both are superlative in freshness and in the care with which they're prepared.
Among the fish dishes, the broiled swordfish, cooked to the proper split-second combination of firmness, tenderness and succulence, gets top marks. Norway salmon with shrimp, just as good, is a big, flaky-firm slab of fresh filet in an unobtrusive sauce. Baby salmon with crabmeat is unexpected, though; the thin piece of salmon filet all but overwhelmed by an immense mound of what amounts to crab imperial. If you like crab imperial, note that this is a wonderful version, but don't expect much from the salmon. The only disappointment in the fish department has been the grilled tuna, a bit dry.
The shellfish combinations are all good, so it's really a matter of how you're going to have your shrimp, scallops, mussels, etc. One of the nicest ways is in seafood en papilotte, a combination of shellfish and fish chunks served steamed under aluminum foil in a garlicky, tomato-based sauce. Another option is bouillabaisse, the broth tasting of saffron and just a hint of garlic -- nice, if without zip. Or, for shellfish unadorned, there's a good broiled brochette. Soft-shelled crabs have been admirably delicate, but overwhelmed by too much of an assertive sauce that tastes of anchovies.
The weakest aspect of Chef's Secret continues to be the desserts. The safest bet is the fresh berries with sabayon sauce.