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Sep 16, 2011 10:34 AM

Stella! Good meal but with some significant missteps (sadly)

So yesterday was my birthday, and what I wanted to do more than anything was go to Stella!. I made our reservation weeks ago, and couldn't wait!

The verdict: Good, but not as good as it could be due to some jarring missteps.

We got there a little before our reservation time of 8:30 and were directed to the bar, as our table wasn't ready yet. After much dithering over their excellent looking cocktail menu (and getting called out by the bartender as being cocktail nerds) I settled on a Bijou, since I'd never had it before. It had gin, chartreuse, and Carpano Antica sweet vermouth. Since I love Carpano Antica, I was pleased to find that the Bijou really highlighted the vermouth flavor - it was a very enjoyable cocktail.

We started with an amuse of 4 different summer vegetable/fruit salads: cherry tomato with scallion & olive oil; red pepper and cucumber with sesame oil; radish and cucumber with some sort of vinaigrette, and a watermelon "kimchee." Very nice.

For appetizers, Tom had the "Roasted Potato and Parmesan Gnocchi with Fennel Fronds, Grilled Corn, Asparagus, Scallions, Lemon Zest and Tomato Confit" which I didn't get a picture of, but he liked it. According to him, it was good, but not mind-blowing. I had the "Foie Gras ”BLT” with Duck Paté, Truffle Mayo, Plaquemines Figs and Australian Black Winter Truffles" which was, as our waiter said, LIFE CHANGING. Highly recommended.

I decided to have a salad course, although Tom declined. But how could one resist a salad course described thusly: "Soup, Salad and Sandwich ~ Iberico Bellota Ham Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Truffle Potato Puree, Arugula Salad with Baby Beets and Balsamic Reduction"? The grilled cheese sandwich was divine, the soup and the beets were really delicious, and the arugula salad was... oversalted to the point of inedibility. I didn't make a fuss, because everything else was so good, though I did mention it (in an understated fashion) to the waiter when he cleared our plates (with the arugula still on mine), but it was really the thing that Tom remembered the most from the entire meal, which is really, really unfortunate. Because in a town like New Orleans, where there are so many wonderful choices, something like that will impact our dining decisions in the future.

Entrees: I had the famous Duck Five Ways: "Duck Five Ways ~ Szechwan Seared Breast, Lacquered Leg and Thigh, Moo Shoo Pancake Stir-Fry, Duck Miso Broth, Crisp Foie Gras Won Tons and Currant Cassis Reduction " The laquered leg and thigh was excellent- my favorite of the five. The soup, breast, and wontons were also really good. I didn't love the Moo Shoo pancake thing though. It was awkward to eat and didn't really add anything flavor-wise to the overall dish.

Tom had the "Tandoori Roasted Tasmanian King Salmon and Coconut Shrimp Basmati Fried Rice with Crisp Vegetable Spring Rolls, Indian Flatbread and Spicy Mango Cashew Butter" which sounded Indian in flavor profile but was actually more Chinese in execution. He did not love the salmon. I had a bite, and the texture was off-putting to me (very... wet.), but then again, I'm not a huge salmon fan. Tom finished his, and he really liked the fried rice and spring rolls, though. Also the bok choi. According to him, the salmon was very weak. The fish itself was bland and the rest of the dish, while tasty, was basically American-Chinese food. The flavor profile definitely differed from what he was expecting from the menu description which, again, unfortunate, because while I loved my food, it's not looking good that I'll be able to tempt Tom into coming back to try again and drop another $250-$300 in doing so.

For dessert, we had the Plaquemines Parish peaches with lemon verbana semifreddo, raspberry "caviar," local honey, and some sort of almond "paper." They brought out the dish with a birthday sparkler which was very sweet of them. The peaches were divine. I loved this dessert. After that, I sipped on a cappuccino and enjoyed the lagniappe mignardise: strawberry marshmallow, ginger chocolate truffle, meyer lemon mousse in dark chocolate cup, pistachio puff , and a salted caramel/nut/toffee thing. Mmm.

Service- top notch. Cocktails, beers, non-alcoholic beverages, wines by the glass- excellent. I want to go back and do the tasting menu, but don't know if I'll be able to talk Tom into it...

Stella Restaurant
1032 Chartres Street, New Orleans, LA 70116

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  1. It's funny, if I hadn't read your post's title beforehand, I'd never have concluded that you didn't have a wonderful experience. Best as I can tell, the main beef was a little mound of arugula with too much salt, and a salmon dish that your husband wasn't thrilled with. I had that same dish last wek and loved it, no textural "wet" issues that you described. Anyway, your hubbie has insanely high standards if those minor mis-steps will keep you and he from returning.

    7 Replies
    1. re: sanglier

      Well, of course it's a Your Mileage May Vary type of situation. He cops to ordering poorly re: the salmon. The arugula was really just puzzlingly awful, though. I think a restaurant of Stella!'s caliber invites insanely high expectations. Also, the significant cost of a meal that could send out inedibly salty greens as part of a salad course certainly also invites some high standards as well.

      My criticism stems from the fact that I think, with the arugula salad specifically, it's really unfortunate that such an error will, yes, overshadow what was mostly a really excellent experience.

      1. re: noradeirdre

        Oh, I know what you mean Deirdre. At Stella's price point, if they're going to charge that much, they are implicitly saying, Yes, you are paying for a supreme dining experience, and we will deliver the goods on all fronts. Too much salt in a salad course, to the point of ruining it, is a sin, no doubt. I guess my thought was, they are so good with so many other details, I wouldn't let that be the linchpin for not going back. Now, you mess up my foie gras, you're done!

        I stirred the pot on the Chicago Chowhound board over just what you're talking about. Mega-fancy Everest had indifferent service and abysmal wine service, in the face of a world class wine list, that left me fuming. But when you spend 7 Ben Franklin's for 2 people, you want what that's supposed to deliver, and I didn't get it. My dining companion disagreed, but that's another story. Love your posts, give 'em hell!

        1. re: sanglier

          I totally agree. A too-salty-to-eat salad is ok for a $25 lunch but when the prices are around $100 per person, there should be NO mistakes and no average food.

          1. re: sanglier

            I do want to go back for the tasting menu. And DAMN that foie gras BLT was something special.

            1. re: noradeirdre

              Belated happy birthday, and yes, the tasting menu is the first way I ever dined at Stella and still my favorite way to go.

              1. re: sanglier

                We have dined at Stella MANY times. The food has typically been very good but when we recently dined there in late August, things were "off." To start we were asked to wait at least 20 minutes in the bar area. Moreover, the risotto was inferior and sticky. On the other hand, Tenderlion was well cooked and the sea bass and duck were very good. HOWEVER, the service was simply terrible for a restaurant of this caliber! My husband sat for at least 15 minutes with the wine list in hand waiting for ANYONE to come back and take our order and then a second round of drinks came that we had NOT ordered. Many servers were running around the restaurant but none was warm, friendly, or attentive. Don't get me worng, the food at !Stella is very good----but poor and unfriendly service is simply intolerable at such high prices.

                1. re: Debbie

                  Oof, Debbie. I will say that the service on this particular evening was pretty fantastic- we did have to wait for our table,but the hostess was very communicative and the bartender was awesome. And the service once seated was really good. I agree that service makes or breaks the restaurant experience, especially of that caliber.

      2. I didn't know peach trees grew in Plaquemines Parish, hmmm

        2 Replies
          1. re: noradeirdre

            figs grow everywhere down here, I have a tree in my backyard

        1. IMO, many times when something is so close to perfect but it's not, that simple, foolish gap is just incredibly frustrating. An example on the other end of the dining spectrum, a burger cooked to your definition of perfection, with impeccable condiments -- on a cold bun.

          Low end dining example instead of high, but just how exasperating it is when just one little thing isn't right in an otherwise ideal experience.

          Let's face it, if it weren't really good to begin with there would be no frustration -- it would simply be chalked up to oh well, it wasn't all that good.

          2 Replies
          1. re: rouxdauphine

            YES!!! That's EXACTLY it. Thanks for articulating it so perfectly, rouxdauphine.

            1. re: noradeirdre

              Thank you, noradeirdre, I am so glad you understood. I was just trying to explain that idea to some people this morning who looked at me as though I had just grown antlers.