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May 18, 2013 12:42 PM

Stella Nonna, Berkeley

It is opening (soft opening this weekend). San Pablo near Camelia. Eclectic menu - at least the initial menu. Haven't tried it yet.

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  1. Huh, funny mix of American comfort food, Mexican, and Italian. Everything sounds good. Apparently they've been operating as a catering business for 15 years.

    First time I've seen wine from Wisconsin on a list.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      And so, we took a stroll after a "what's for dinner?" question to each other, and ended up at Stella Nonna.

      The verdict, then the details:

      It is going to be a welcome addition to the neighborhood.

      Permanent hours are not yet fixed, but expect regular dinner service (5 days?) then an addition of weekend brunch, and then lunch.

      Our food was very good. We shared the KFC wings, which were very tasty, with a nice but not overpowering amount of heat.

      We then had:
      (1) The pork shoulder with mac & cheese stuffed poblano (in a red enchilada-ish sauce). I enjoyed this dish, and I'm not sure why. It was unusual, and as much as it didn't work, it did work. Accordingly, this might be exactly what the chef intended.

      (2) The fried chicken over a bed of butter beans and bacon braised beans. I tasted this, and it was a solid, if not "home run" dish. The beans were great. The chicken was good.

      We took a piece of carrot cake home. No verdict yet.

      The space is a comfortable place - 3 areas. The main dining room, a bar area, and an outside patio. Speaking of bar, they have a full liquor license, which surprised me, and is a welcome addition to the area, as it seems like it will be a nice place to go and have a drink with or without a bite without a lot of crazy noise, etc.

      The owners (I assume that was who we spoke with) as well as the staff are eager to please, no attitudes, and seem to have experience in the food business.

      We shared a tasty bottle of Nero d'Avola. Price was a couple of bucks over 2x the K&L price, which was fair. Corkage is $15, waived with purchase of a bottle.

      We came home pleased.

      1. re: lmnopm

        Second dinner there - hardly seems like it has been a month and a half.

        We shared the potato chips and onion dip, as well as an arugula salad to start. They were both delicious.

        My pork chop with spƤtzle was the best chop I've had in awhile.

        Wine list is interesting with very reasonable markups.

      2. re: Robert Lauriston

        the online menu says "American Comfort Food, Regionally Inspired" - so, that made more sense to me.

      3. They're open for weekend brunch now, and I stopped by today. Limited breakfast dishes, the standard pancakes, waffle (Belgian), meat-and-eggs, but also chilaquiles and some salads and sandwiches. Their chilaquiles are served with scrambled eggs on the side, not mixed in with the chips, and the add-on chorizo came in two good-sized patties. I've only had this dish as a melange of all three ingredients, but this was decent enough. I got a strange look from the server when I asked for some salt for the eggs.

        Stella Nonna, if you're reading this, offer fried chicken with that waffle and I'll love you forever.

        1. Really liked it.

          The "carnitas" didn't feel like carnitas to me, but who cares? It was good.

          I liked the fried chicken too, but I wish it were a little more heavily seasoned. On the good side, the crust was exactly the kind of crisp I go for.

          Sides were tasty. We had the greens with bacon, the mac and cheese, and a salad.

          Space is beautiful.

          2 Replies
          1. re: UglyPlate

            "Carnitas" is used for a fairly wide range of dishes made from small pieces of pork.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Well, yeah.

              But it's a Spanish word and ancho sauce or not, to me carnitas denoted something different than what I got. In other words, the Mexican elements felt like afterthoughts and not very Mexican in execution.

              As I said, I didn't mind one bit, since the pork (and the dish generally) was really good anyway.

          2. Great dinner here tonight. A wonderful addition to the area - midrange prices, beautiful space, really well prepared food - it just all felt right, and so un-Berkeley, but it's a great neighborhood place.

            we had the special heirloom tomato salad with fresh mozz and arugula (only fault of the evening - needed a bit of crunchy salt, which we got and which improved the already fantastic dish) - fresh, sweet, delicious; the lamb bolognese with mint and fresh ricotta - absolutely fantastic. my old dad couldn't have chewed on the penne, so they subbed spaghetti for us - wonderful deep lamby flavor, perfectly offset by the mint (of course) with the added richness of the ricotta - which i would have thought would have been too
            rich, but it was perfect. my father, who at times barely finishes a half a sandwich, ate the whole bowl. I had the pulled pork sandwich - excellent smokey bbq sauce, a tad tangy, pork was tender and juicy. one of the better pulled pork sandwiches i've had, with a great zippy coleslaw, and really good hand cut fries. my sister had the Loch Duart Salmon with meyer lemon risotto and asparagus, in a beurre blanc. perfectly cooked salmon, the risotto was super lemony, the whole thing a great combination. She had a glass of prosecco that came in an old fashioned (to me) coupe - took me right back - and i had a Fisticuffs Napa Valley cab - fruity and smooth. We took home for a friend the Hampshire Pork carnitas - mac-n-cheese-stuffed pepper with carnitas on the side - i didn't get to taste it as i was stuffed myself, but it looked wonderful and was deemed "great" and, as lmnopm said, the sauce was "like an enchilada sauce. Not quite the right thing but a great sauce"

            What a great new gem in the neighborhood. we were saying that, after two recent really disappointing visits to Nizza la Bella, after years of staying away because of very mediocre meals, Berkeley really needed a place like this.

            6 Replies
            1. re: mariacarmen

              Glad you enjoyed SN. Hopefully they took our suggestion from back in June and cut the salt in the lamb Bolognese sauce. It was literally so salty none of us could eat it, which was a shame because as you say, the mint really went well with the gamy rich lamb.

              Beet salad was more greens than beets and a little too many ingredients. My spouse did not care for the mac'n'cheese stuffed pepper, only because he didn't like SN's cheese blend (he's a keep-it-Gruyere-or-nothing purist, LOL).

              The KFC are the goopy-sauce/hard batter-fried style, so if you enjoy that then SN's version will definitely please you. Could not discern any anchovies in the Caesar but a bright hit of lemon and a snowfall of excellent Parmigiano-Reggiano made it a success nonetheless.

              We loved the chicken livers. Great Jewish style with schmaltz on top. SN offers fresh untoasted French bread, which I prefer to the usual toasts offered with pate.

              1. re: jaiko

                didn't find the lamb salty at all. i'm planning on going back next week and trying the mac-n-cheese chili relleno and the chicken liver pate. i'm afraid of trying the KF chicken wings for fear they'll be too sweet. i prefer heat to sweet.

                1. re: mariacarmen

                  The wings aren't very spicy, but they also aren't sweet -- it's a gochujang-based sauce, not especially "goopy".

                  They're really good, with a great crunch -- a proper double-fry. Maybe better than any of the Korean restaurants in the area.

                    1. re: mariacarmen

                      Forgot to report, we had the wings, and loved them. Could have been spicier but at least they were not too sweet. And i loved the carnitas and mac-stuffed chili, even with the odd sauce. Nice and smokey. tasted the fried chicken - great - loved the greens in with the beans - and pork chop and spaetzle - really nice and juicy chop. love this place.

                      1. re: mariacarmen

                        Glad to hear it! I'm not a fan of that carnitas/stuffed chile/mac+cheese creation, but other than that I've enjoyed everything else I've tried. Those greens with the Rancho Gordo beans are great.

            2. Lunch menu is more standard with soups, sandwiches (& burger), salads, & two pastas one of which is mac & cheese. No carnitas. No KFC. No mac & cheese stuffed chili relleno.

              I also had the Pulled Pork sandwich which was very good. Moist meat, nice smokiness, a few crisp edge bits. The sauce was tasty, but completely devoid of any heat. An option for a hotter sauce would be nice, though I guess they aren't really BBQ focused.

              1 Reply
              1. re: drewskiSF

                The owners/chefs are from the Midwest -- it doesn't seem like spicy food is their thang. =)