By Emily Broat
Looking around at white, architectural walls and an artfully deconstructed ceiling, the décor at Stella’s Restaurant, Bar and Café could easily be considered a distraction, but somehow the restaurant makes it work. Asymmetrical, glossy mahogany tables create a fun contrast with patterned tile floors, adding quirky sophistication and reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously.
When you enter Stella’s, located in the heart of Ithaca’s Collegetown, it is pretty clear that you are in for a treat. The restaurant’s most effective tool by far is its undeniable charm; however, the ambiance is the most enjoyable part of your dining experience at Stella’s.
Having enjoyed a delicious brunch at Stella’s last year, I walked into the establishment with high expectations. Stella’s seems to have something for everyone, and it’s easy to get lost in the perfectly sized dinner menu. Local sausage and penne, a healthy tuna wrap and five different types of grass-fed burgers are just a few of the options. Appetizer choices range from a classic shrimp cocktail to the restaurant’s own truffle Parmesan fries. The decision is a tough one, but there doesn’t seem to be a wrong answer, as each dish sounds more deliciously elegant than the last. Peppercorn-encrusted steak with rosemary mashed potatoes never sounded so appealing. There are a fair number of vegetarian options, most of which are appetizers. This is disappointing, especially considering the unnecessarily high percentage of the long menu that contains meat.
The restaurant’s pricing is right on target, charging around $10 for a sandwich and no more than $20 for an entrée. Stella’s does, however, charge $1 extra for a side of sweet potato fries with a burger and $2 extra with a sandwich. The logic behind this eludes me.
After ordering the spicy crab bisque to start, noted as the restaurant’s “best seller for 10 years straight,” followed by the turkey and Brie sandwich, I hunkered down to wait. I had heard the restaurant was open until 1 a.m., so dining at 7:30 p.m. seemed perfectly reasonable; but, once seated, it wasn’t hard to notice the restaurant’s lack of patrons. A couple of well-dressed women in their mid-20s sat at the bar, while a few seats down, a single man glanced around every couple of minutes to see if the scenery had changed. I felt his pain.
The meal was delivered in a timely manner, with the crab bisque arriving around 10 minutes after ordering. As soon as the spoon made contact with the soup, it was clear I was in for a disappointment. The soup was thin and watery, and the crab that was detectable was so small it felt unnatural and accidental. The restaurant did offer a few pieces of French bread to accompany the soup, and dipping the baguette into the bisque helped to improve the experience. Still, it was difficult to shake the promise of “spice,” and adding a large amount of pepper is a must if you hope to achieve some sizzle.
Next up was the main course. My plate looked promising, a nicely sized sandwich accompanied by crisp golden french fries. Upon further inspection, however, the entrée was not much of an improvement from the first course. The turkey and Brie sandwich was indecisive in temperature, the result being a lukewarm pile of lunchmeat and French bread that sagged with the weight of a once-buttery cheese. The fries didn’t fare much better, feeling rubbery between my teeth. The menu claimed the accompanying farmstand salad would have fresh strawberries and blueberries on a bed of arugula, adorned with goat cheese and pecans, but when the dish arrived there was only one strawberry to be found. The salad’s size would have been underwhelming if not for the additional grilled chicken we had requested, and the dressing was inconveniently located underneath the greens, resulting in a tussle between eater and intended meal.
Although we opted to forgo drinks, the bar at Stella’s is quite impressive. It makes up a majority of the café’s scenery, and fortunately, it’s easy on the eyes. This pleasantry was lost, however, due to a photographer obliviously snapping away at a trio of martini glasses to my left. This caused a blinding flash to illuminate the entire establishment every one to two minutes. The irritation of other diners was evident in their blatant scowls, but the wait staff appeared completely unaware. Ironically, the photoshoot was probably to drum up publicity, which will no doubt be needed after tonight’s sub-par meal. At Stella’s, the modern décor lures you in, and a surprisingly cozy atmosphere asks you to stay. The food, however, quietly whispers, “Get out while you still can.”
Emily Broat is a junior CMD major who resisted the urge to pull a Marlon Brando and scream, “Stella!” at the end of her meal. E-mail her at [email protected].