July 2011 - Stella's has reopened. This review is from my experience in 2004 at the old location.
1012 Lafayette Street
Stella's New Website
The address may read Richmond, Virginia, but the vibes are
pure Greenwich Village. Stella's is ensconced in a diminutive storefront
replete with cozy banquettes, candlelit tables, romantically-imbued lighting,
two huge murals by local artist Ed Trask on the wall opposite the comfy bar
(see photograph), and a list of daily specials inscribed on a blackboard
dangling from the high pressed-tin ceiling.
The eatery is best known for its Greek cuisine, but the menu
also does a bit of globetrotting. To wit: grilled filet mignon with sherry
Dijon crab sauce ($27.95); shrimp and scallops with roasted tomato pesto over
penne pasta ($23.95); sautéed rockfish with prosciutto, spinach, and Gorgonzola
($23.95); seared duck breast with cabernet-balsamic reduction ($22.95).
The compact little wine list matches up quite nicely with
the food. The restaurant also features several interesting Greek vintages, so
be certain to query your server, as these are not listed on the printed agenda.
We started things off with tabbouleh accompanied by
triangles of pita bread ($5.95) . The bulghur wheat was more coarsely textured than most
representatives sampled over the years, but still quite excellent in every
respect; indeed, it tasted absolutely fresh, as if it had just been whipped up
in the kitchen moments before hitting the table. And the ingredients -- chopped
tomatoes, onions, parsley, mint, olive oil -- were all in proper proportion,
including the lemon juice, a surfeit of which usually spells the death knell of
this particular recipe.
We also tried our luck with the calamari ($7.95), which
proved to be exceedingly tender and a most fortuitous choice. Rather than being
breaded, the squid was sautéed au naturel in white wine with capers,
sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and finished with, of all things, a
homemade raspberry vinaigrette... Yes, an odd accompaniment, but the vinaigrette
-- subtle yet persuasive -- made the dish.
Unfortunately, it did not have the same effect on the
complimentary Greek salad -- mixed greens, black olives, sliced cucumbers,
cherry tomatoes, and stinky morsels of feta cheese -- where it completely
bombed. The kitchen's culinary creativity had obviously overstepped it bounds;
raspberry vinaigrette adorning Greek salad is an oxymoron if ever there was
As is the case with many eateries, after a series of
spectacular opening moves, entrées turned out to be something of a letdown. My
wife's shrimp à la Greek ($22.95) was presented en casserole in
the company of tomatoes, capers, and the same exceedingly pungent feta cheese,
which, of course, tended to obliterate all flavors but its own. The dish simply
didn't work on a number of levels, including accompaniments of an overly salty
vegetable medley and somewhat ill-conceived Grecian-style risotto embellished
with avgolemono, a sauce of chicken broth, egg yolks, and lemon juice.
My moussaka ($13.95) was a solid representative of this
Mediterranean classic -- eggplant very tender, ground beef properly cooked -- but
hardly exceptional. The real culprit here proved to be the topping of béchamel
sauce. Rather than being rich and creamy of countenance, as one would have
expected, it exhibited the consistency of bland mashed potatoes.
Desserts were a mixed bag. The rice pudding ($4.95) was
benchmark. The baklava ($5.95), on the other hand, lacked finesse. I've tasted
infinitely better embodiments of this particular genre in any one of a number
of other restaurants -- the version produced by chef Kevin LaCivita's mother at Pomegranate,
for example, comes immediately to mind.
As noted above, the food at Stella's is quite good --
at times, bordering on the very good -- but not AS GOOD as had been
expected. Would we return...? Since the bottom line -- with tax, tip, and a $30.00
bottle of Greek Chardonnay -- came to $130... and we spent approximately the same
amount of long green at Dogwood Grill & Spirits just a few
blocks away for infinitely superior cuisine... I honestly have my doubts.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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