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Jfood at Stella - Not a Good Experience

jfood Apr 30, 2008 04:13 AM

There was a thread recently about speaking against the trend about a restaurant that is a darling of the boards. And Jfood mentioned then that it is important to hear numerous sides if that is what the poster believes. So Jfood will buck the trend of a favorite in NOLA, Stella. The Jfoods ate there this past weekend and it was less than a fond memory.

Stella is a really pretty restaurant with old world elegance. Tables are far enough apart for conversation and there is a nice feel to the room. The Jfoods and friends were seated and the server asked for drink orders, brought the wine list and filled their glasses promptly. Wine was ordered for several at the table and the server brought over two copies of the Tasting menu for the four of them to review. He went through the theory of the Tasting, very well done. Seven courses, looked very nice, but there was no way after a long flight, an afternoon at JazzFest and an 830 start to dinner was 7-courses a good choice. The server returned and he was a little too forceful in pushing the Tasting. In fact Mrs. Jfood mentioned to Jfood that the server bordered on obnoxious in pushing the Tasting. After the third polite “not really” the table had to ask for the a la carte menu. The server was a little too upselling.

The a la carte menu included all of the choices from the Tasting in regular proportion, plus others. Jfood settled on the Seafood Risotto for an appetizer and the Sea Bass for an entrée. Mrs. Jfood chose the Caesar Salad and Grilled Shrimp on Sweet Potato/Andouille Hash.

The Risotto had a great flavor, very complex and very satisfying. Chunks of andouille, seafood and vegetables were the main event with the risotto itself taking almost a back seat. And it was a good thing as the Risotto was overcooked and mushy. But the flavors were so good and the Risotto itself such a minor part, it was very enjoyable, but not as great as expected.

The Sea Bass was next. Jfood took one bite and knew something was wrong. The fish did not taste like fish at all. Whatever it was marinated in completely overwhelmed the flavor of the fish and it was horrible and was almost burning his tongue (hopefully that was the issue). He called the server over and told him. Server brought over a menu for another choice. Mrs. Jfood whispered in his ear that she did not like her dish either. So Jfood ordered the King Salmon for Mrs. Jfood and took her dish as his. Jfood started to eat the shrimp and came upon Mr. Mushy as his third of 8 shrimp. How this shrimp ever left the kitchen is beyond him. He had to spit it out. He mentioned this to a runner and no acknowledgement from anyone. At that point Jfood was forks down on entrees. When the server arrived he did not mention anything about the shrimp to Jfood, so Jfood mentioned it to him. His reaction. “You already told the young lady.” Very condescending since Jfood did not know whether the young lady had told him.

Then Mrs. Jfood's King Salmon was delivered and Jfood could only stare. In was a deep dark brown, obviously placed as close to the broiler element as possible. Mrs. Jfood cut it open and it was absolutely raw. The Chef had obviously taken a hissy fit and sent this dish out in protest. Jfood walked over to the server and told him that the Chef’s antics were not funny in the least. He asked to speak with the manager. No manager came to the table.

The server returned and told us “the manger has decided to remove the two entrees you did not eat from the bill.” One had a bad shrimp and the other was raw. He spoke this as if this was a gracious offer. The entire staff acted as if it was an honor eating in their restaurant.

The server then asked if the table wanted dessert. Since neither of the Jfoods had eaten, they were somewhat hungry. They ordered a Bananas Foster to split. This was actually very good. The French toast piece that was included was a very nice touch and the sauce was very well done. Hey it’s NOLA, the dish was invented here. The final bill arrived and, you guessed it, the Bananas Foster was right there. Jfood told the waiter that it was very inhospitable not to have comped the single dessert.

So for all the great reviews and kudos for Stella, Jfood can only stare in envy. He was so looking forward to this meal and the food was horrible and the handling of the unfortunate situation was about as unprofessional for both FOH and BOH as ever experienced.

  1. bgut1 May 16, 2008 11:48 PM

    jfood - I had the exact opposite experience at Stella. In fact, the wife and I were all ready to order the 7 course tasting when the waiter recommended that we order ala carte as several of what he deemed to be the "best" dishes were not on the tasting menu. I was very impressed with the "reverse sell" and put myself in the waiter's hands for the evening. But for the grilled cheese dessert, I was blown away by the food as well as the service. One of the best meals I've ever enjoyed. Sorry about your disappointing experience.BTW, we too had the risotto, the sea bass as well as the bananas foster dessert (as well as the gnocchi, the crab and avocado salad, the painted plate spearfish tataki and the veal entree) and all were fabulous.

    1. s
      Sunfish44 May 7, 2008 11:17 AM

      Just a point to raise about the salmon at Stella! It is covered in tandoori spices: curry, cumin, coriander, etc. that give it a "deep dark brown" color before it is even cooked. Perhaps this was the source of the confusion between the disparity between the exterior and interior colors.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sunfish44
        TexasToast May 13, 2008 03:42 PM

        Gordon just did a similar spice rub on some monkfish and it looked amazing! The dark, mahogany lacquer, with the pure white flesh.

        TT

        1. re: TexasToast
          jfood May 13, 2008 04:07 PM

          Yeah Double-T it would have been a nice data point for the jfoods to have.

      2. jfood May 6, 2008 01:40 PM

        jfood just had a very nice conversation with the Manager of Stella and discussed the events of the evening. They both agreed it sorta got away from the steady path and there was difficulties in uprighting the bicycle.

        That being said, jfood will give this place another try after both the other positive reviews and the discussion with the MOD. A little dicussion goes a long way, clearing the air about unfortunate events and finding food that everyone enjoys is a great thing.

        7 Replies
        1. re: jfood
          h
          Hungry Celeste May 6, 2008 01:53 PM

          Thanks for posting the follow-up. Kudos to you for persisting in your pursuit of the manager. At least he acknowledged that you'd been served a sub-standard meal. After one bad entree, I like to cut my losses and bail out--I'd never order dessert!

          1. re: Hungry Celeste
            jfood May 6, 2008 01:58 PM

            Actually jfood and MOD agreed to disagree on the food, but that's history and differing of opinions. He was surprised that they ordered dessert as well.

            What they did agree on is improvements to the process a server takes when the dominos begin to fall in the wrong direction.

            And jfood is glad he ordered the dessert, it was really good.

          2. re: jfood
            b
            Blumie May 6, 2008 01:54 PM

            Good for you. Thanks for reporting back.

            We all have to remember how many things, other than the quality of the food, go into our enjoyment of it. Among the factors I'm most conscious of are the environment, including not just the decor but whole big picture setting of the restaurant (one of the reasons, I believe, Lousiana cuisine is so difficult to replicate outside of Louisiana), and my mood. In this case, a bad experience was made worse by how the restaurant handled it, which had to negatively affect jfood's entire experience. Hopefully when jfood returns, he will have in mind the positive conversation with the restaurant manager, as opposed to the negative experience of his prior visit.

            1. re: Blumie
              jfood May 6, 2008 02:00 PM

              Absolutely. jfood normally receives criticism here for going back too many times before saying "no mas."

              As he stated the restaurant is very pretty and the flavor complex. So it is on the "return" list with an open mind and anticipation of a great meal.

              1. re: jfood
                Bill Hunt May 6, 2008 07:40 PM

                Ah, just like Roberto Duran, "no mas, no mas... "

                I'm glad that you finally made contact with the management. Based on my recent experience, I feel that they do care, and should step up to make the experience worthwhile to the diner.

                Still, I'm sorry that my experience was so great, and your was not. I'd have been happy to "split the difference" with you. Two goods is better than a great and a bad!

                Let us know how the next visit goes, as "little Jfood" is still in NOLA, right? Is it Tulane, or Loyola?

                Hope that visit #2 goes better, than #1.

                Hunt

            2. re: jfood
              m
              mikek May 6, 2008 03:23 PM

              Glad to see you were able to clear the air. I went to Tulane and the meals out were one thing my parents always looked forward to. We actually had a rough experience at Stella for my graduation, though in all fairness it was a couple of months after reopening post-K. They did not have a pastry chef at the time and one waiter actually told my mom it was not the appropriate point in the meal for the bread when my brother was ravenous due to our 945 seating time and additional wait of 30 minutes before seating. I have returned three times now and each time has been unreal.

              Out of curiosity, what did the manager say in response to your opinion of the food that evening? How did he defend the piece of salmon they sent out after? It seems a strange thing for the manager to not just say perhaps the customer is right.

              1. re: mikek
                jfood May 6, 2008 04:02 PM

                If you have read jfood's other posts you would know that he is not a believer in either "I am THE customer" or "the customer is always right." Both of those statements are just lame, argumentative, self-centered My Way or the Highway puerile statements.

                It was a very good conversation about food, service and responsibilities of the customer the FOH and the BOH. Enough said other than jfood gained respect over the openness and understanding by the Manager, and jfood thinks he did as well.

                More important is that jfood is now looking forward to another restaurant in NOLA that he expects will achieve the status that he expected on the first visit.

            3. DarthEater May 5, 2008 02:15 AM

              I give you kudos for even ordering dessert. I would be paranoid of anything they serve to me at that point.

              Did you leave a tip?

              2 Replies
              1. re: DarthEater
                TexasToast May 5, 2008 03:18 PM

                Oh dear, jfood. Where did it all go wrong? TT has never been to Stella! and will likely be weary, even though the menu reads very well.

                I'm guessing no tip?

                TT

                1. re: TexasToast
                  dkpdfa May 5, 2008 07:06 PM

                  I have just returned from Jazz Fest and ate dinner at Cochon, Luke, HerbSaint, August, and Stella (last night), and I have to report that the Sea Bass I ate last night was one of the most elegantly presented and prepared dished I had during all of the festival. Not only did I eat the entire entree, but the broth left over in the dish was shared by the six other guest at the table. The service was topnotch, but the food, and specifically the Sea Bass and the Grilled Cheese sandwich with ganache are two dishes I will rave about for years to come. In fact, of all the meals consumed during JF, this was the 5-Star experience!

              2. Bill Hunt May 4, 2008 06:53 PM

                I am so sorry to hear of your experiences. They were just the opposite of what we encountered. I do strongly agree that all reviews should be posted - the good, the bad AND the ugly.

                Our experience elevated Stella! up to Brigtsen's and almost everyone on this board knows how I feel about Brigtsen's. Matter of fact, my wife gave Stella! the nod for "the best."

                Now that I'm back from London, I will have time to finish my Stella! (and Bayona, et al) review and finally get it posted here.

                Man, I must have hit them on the perfect night, and you their worst. It sounds like two, totally different restaurants.

                Thanks for sharing, even if it was unfavorable,

                Hunt

                4 Replies
                1. re: Bill Hunt
                  jfood May 5, 2008 09:42 AM

                  Bill,

                  Jfood was so looking forward to this meal and he was in charge of the restaurant choosing for all 6 of us during JazzFest. As you know, jfood loves NOLA and the food is just a great part of the trips he makes. Good news is that all the other food was fantastic.

                  He thinks he just had a bit of bad luck on the food side that turned into a bad mood BOH. But what is somewhat unforgiveable is the attitude of management. Noone came to the table and noone has returned calls to the restaurant after the fact.

                  C'est la vie.

                  BTW - Windsor Court makes a great Brie/Chicken Quesadilla for a nice indoor mid-afternoon snack when the skies open up.

                  1. re: jfood
                    Bill Hunt May 5, 2008 08:21 PM

                    I am speechless, regarding the lack of concern by the management. They impressed me as a group that really, really cares.

                    As for Windsor Court, we still have a fully comped meal awaiting us, due to similar service and food, to what you described at Stella! Others have raved about it, The Grill Room, but we raved AT it. However, with one letter, the management offered a fully comped meal for two. It's been too many years to take them up, but we passed over the Grill Room a dozen times, because of the horrible service and mediocre food. Because there are so very many great restaurants in NOLA, we have not missed that one, one bit. It also happened to be my wife's birthday and they were informed. Still, we were treated like "poor relations," and nothing went well from the hostess to the kitchen to the sommlier. They got an F on the whole experience. I have not argued once, with the folk, who have had wonderful service and meals there, but doubt that we'll ever bother to go back. "Never say never... " but I have to say that I feel your pain. I almost feel guilty, that we had such a spectacular meal at Stella! and you did not.

                    Thinking back a bit, we had a lovely meal at Cuvée, but the kitchen dropped the ball on two dishes for my lovely wife. Even when the chef came out to deliver the replacement, it was horrible! Now, I am in a totally different line of business, but understand that assignments can go wrong, regardless of the expertise and effort involved - they just go bad! I have had instances where a great client's job could not be done properly, regardless of how much I tried, and how much I flogged my suppliers. I wish that I had an answer for these instances, but do not.

                    The sign of a great restaurant is how they handle the dinners that go bad. In this case, I am almost ashamed of Stella!, as they should step up to the plate and take their licks. It happens, and it's then about how one handles the problems.

                    Sorry,
                    Hunt

                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                      r
                      Rum Runner May 8, 2008 04:11 PM

                      You're absolutely right. A dining experience is more than simply eating. A restaurant by definition should provide its customers with a sense of well being, of being appreciated for having chosen this particular place out of the dozens of others they could have patronized. When managers and owners don't have the common courtesy--and common sense--to make up for the kitchen's or the floor staff's incompetence or indifference, they're not only being inhospitable. They're proving they're not very good business people.

                      1. re: Rum Runner
                        Bill Hunt May 8, 2008 07:39 PM

                        Rum Runner,

                        I could not agree with you more. A couple of years ago, wife and I dined at a North Shore, O`ahu, restaurant. Her crab cakes were two cakes with some interesting garnishes. We always share our dishes, so she gave me one. It was absolutely wonderful, probably the best crab cake I have ever had - bar none. Just as I was commenting on how great it was, she made a horrible face, and blurted out, "this is bad. It is inedible!" Wow, how different these two reactions to the same dish. Well, her's was a bit darker, than mine. I did not even need to taste her's, as I could smell it, when I stuck my fork into it. It was BAD! I signaled the server, and whispered to him about the problem. I explained that mine was perfect and was completely eaten. He whisked her's away, and returned with the story - there were two pans of crab cakes, and I had gotten one from one pan, while she got one from the other. He quickly replaced the bad crab cake with a double-order of great ones, took all the crab cakes off of the bill, and insisted on comp'ing dessert, as well. He promised that the offending pan of crab cakes would be disposed of (Has-Mat crew?), and apologized profusely for the inconvenience. Well handled, in my estimation.

                        The same, or similar should have taken place with Jfood. We had similar problems with one entrée at Cuvée. Even the chef could not seem to get my poor wife's entrée correct and done correctly. Again, apologies and comp'ing took place.

                        Hunt

                2. b
                  Blumie May 4, 2008 09:55 AM

                  I didn't read the OP's review because, quite frankly, I find the first-person-third-person thing to be irritating, but I will report that a friend ate at Stella this week and raved about it. I'm not trying to suggest that the OP's review should be disregarded -- as others have mentioned his reviews generally are respected on this board (style points aside) -- but I do think his experience is not the norm. The only reason I didn't eat at Stella this week was because I couldn't get in, but my past experience, and my friend's experience, suggests that Stella should not be missed.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Blumie
                    t
                    Tonto May 4, 2008 03:31 PM

                    I think JFood you should write them a letter just the way you posted here and see what they do about it.

                  2. m
                    moh May 2, 2008 06:24 PM

                    Jfood, I hesitate to ask, as you do seem to know your food and I have great respect for your opinion. The sea bass and shrimp sound like they were a real problem. But is it possible the King Salmon was meant to be raw in the middle? I have had salmon served in this manner before, and I actually like it a little rare in the middle. I know it is not to your taste from reading your posts in other threads. But it is possible that this was not done out of spite, but was the style of the dish. Anyhow, just a thought.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: moh
                      jfood May 2, 2008 07:09 PM

                      No please ask, no problem.

                      Jfood actually likes his salmon on the rare side. The salmon itself was a nice thick piece. The top outside was a mahogony color and was only cooked on one side and layered on the other parts of the dish with the cooked side up. the inside was not "a little rare" but raw. Others at the table were floored as well.

                      If this is how it is supposed to be then when it was shown to the server he would have said something to the effect of "that's how the chef prepares it", or something to allay the issue. He said "Oh." and took it away without even suggesting that maybe it should be cooked more.

                      If you read jfood's other post on another Stella thread he mentioned that his dinner companions thought the sunfish and the steak were very good, so he is trying to be fair.

                      But the MOD did not come over when asked and jfood has tried a couple of times this week to contact him to discuss and no return phone call. So the inhospitality continues and only confirms jfood impression that it was a "hissy fit" and the MOD does not even have the common courtesy to return a phone call.

                      C'est la vie.

                      1. re: jfood
                        m
                        moh May 2, 2008 09:46 PM

                        Oops Jfood, I obviously remembered wrongly about your preferences for the doneness of salmon, my apologies!

                        Salmon cooked on one side is not a very typical cooking technique, so yes, I'd have to agree this was either a "hissy fit" or a serious mistake on the part of the kitchen or whoever let the dish go through. At any rate, this should not have happened in a high end restaurant and should have been taken care of properly and courteously.

                        Oh well, many more great restaurants in New Orleans to enjoy. Shame about your experience in this one though.

                    2. a
                      Awal May 2, 2008 02:31 PM

                      I've had three outstanding meals at Stella during my travels to New Orleans and am truly sorry that you missed out on what, when it's "on", has been a tremendous dining experience for me and everyone I've been there with.

                      That said, your anecdote about the undercooked salmon rings true. I'd say, however, that it is more likely a result of them wanting to get your food out quickly to you (i.e. so you don't have to wait any longer) than having a "hissy fit." A hissy fit is not entirely out of the question, however.

                      I'd encourage you to try Stella again. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. I still believe it's the best fine dining restaurant in New Orleans right now.

                      1. j
                        JGrey May 2, 2008 12:48 PM

                        Sorry you had such a terrible time! Sounds like a very bad night. If I were you, I would have gotten out of there after the entrees and headed to cafe du monde. I wouldn't order something expecting in advance for it to be comped. that's just asking for disappointment, which you got in spades. At least you still have brigtsen's.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: JGrey
                          jfood May 2, 2008 12:53 PM

                          Jfood still has about a half a dozen beignets in his belly from CDM (and can now eat them with no whities on the shirt, sorta like the correct pose for eating a Philly Cheesesteak). If he had to bet after the first comment from the server he would have bet on the dessert showing up on the bill, so it was confirmation, not disappointment.

                        2. steve h. Apr 30, 2008 04:44 PM

                          i'll be back in november. sounds like stella is off the list.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: steve h.
                            r
                            Robert Peyton May 3, 2008 04:36 PM

                            You would be missing one of the best restaurants in the City if you skip it. I've had a couple of very good meals there in the last few years, and I wish I had the chance to visit more often.

                            One bad meal, post Jazz-fest at that, does not make a bad restaurant.

                            1. re: Robert Peyton
                              r
                              Rum Runner May 8, 2008 03:56 PM

                              I doubt that I'd have that level of confidence in a restaurant that I had eaten in only a couple of times in the last few years. What happened to Jfood was inexcusable for an establishment of Stella's ambitions and price points. Commander's Palace's prices are substantially lower than Stella's, and I frankly cannot imagine that a Commander's customer would be treated the way the jfoods were. I've eaten at Stella three times. Two experiences were positive and the other left me wondering how a restaurant that claims to be among the city's best could perform so badly in both its food and service. It was not as deplorable as what happened to the jfoods, but it was hardly what I would call a first-class performance. You may be right in saying, "One bad meal, post Jazz-fest at that, does not make a bad restaurant." My own experiences at Stella, and the experiences of others -- including several friends and some people who've posted on this board -- would indicate that Stella is not exactly a safe bet.

                              1. re: Rum Runner
                                steve h. May 10, 2008 06:02 PM

                                robert, rum runner:
                                you're right. i've been a visitor since 1972. i'll pop over to to stella myself and call it the way i see it.

                          2. N.O.Food Apr 30, 2008 04:35 PM

                            While we didn't have that bad of an experience, our trip there was not memorable either. There were five of us. We ordered everything at once. Apps came fairly quickly and they were delicious. Over an hour goes by and no entrees. A few apologies and finally the main dishes came. They were forgettable. That was several months after they opened and we've never been back. I'd be more inclined to return, but I see people recommending the same dishes that we ordered back then and didn't really care for - duck 5 ways, etc. It doesn't help that it's in the quarter either. I wander down there about as much as I wander in the Sahara, but I digress. Anyway, sorry you had a bad experience, and I appreciate the bad reviews as much, if not more, than I do the good ones.

                            1. l
                              LenNJ Apr 30, 2008 09:19 AM

                              Not sure if I missed something but it sounds like you're saying that in addition to having two meals that you didn't eat comped, the dessert which you did eat should have been comped too because you only ordered one?

                              Sorry if I've misunderstood.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: LenNJ
                                jfood Apr 30, 2008 10:15 AM

                                A meal that is served raw or with bad food should never have been served and therefore "comping" is not part of the equation, A restaurant that charges ~$35 for entrees is expected to serve edible food. Serving raw salmon, squishy (thereby bad) shrimp and bad seabass is unacceptable (BTW - this is unacceptable at any price point). The "bad" food was never eaten, therefore comped is not in the picture. But after failing miserably on their "high end" entrees, the least they could have done, jfood's opinion only, was comp the dessert. In fact the waiter agreed with jfood and was extremely apologetic.

                                1. re: jfood
                                  d
                                  dec111 May 5, 2008 02:58 PM

                                  Was the salmon really raw or served medium rare?
                                  Actually, I find that salmon is best medium rare and in Europe and Asia it is served that way. Americans generally overcook their fish.
                                  I recall speaking to a French chef who had a restaurant in NYC and Boston. In NYC, he serves salmon medium rare but in Boston, he serves it well done because, outside NYC , people want their fish well done apparently. So perhaps the chef was not playing games with you but rather serving salmon the way it should be served- medium rare?

                                  1. re: dec111
                                    jfood May 5, 2008 03:11 PM

                                    Mahogany on the outside and raw on the inside andonly cooked on one side.

                                    jfood eats his salmon med-rare at best and this was raw.

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