BY MARTHA JEONG
The best thing about dining in the South End is that you don’t have to make up your mind on what you feel like eating until you get there. You can let your stomach be your guide on whether you’re fancying Thai, Italian, Ethiopian, Southwestern, or French. If you wander just a few steps beyond the main Tremont drag, which is host to most of the South End’s newest restaurants and bars, you can find yourself being welcomed by the delicious Italian aroma of Stella.
Stella has all the fixings of a trendy, chic hotspot with an ambience and crowd that transports you away from student life in Cambridge, and yet the restaurant manages to keep you well fed at a surprisingly reasonable price. A spacious patio, the largest in the South End actually, beckons with promising heat lamps and also poses as a nice alternative to the very noisy main dining room. Evan Deluty, owner and executive chef of Stella, was previously executive chef of Upstairs at the Pudding. Deluty also runs Bistro 5 and Torch in Beacon Hill; Stella, his third and newest restaurant, is named after his daughter born last year.
The dinner menu is fresh and simple: antipasti selections include four types of salad, crudo misto (raw, marinated fish), spicy mussels, and beef carpaccio. The grilled Italian sausage ($10) was perfect for sharing; it was accompanied by broccoli rabe and sweet roasted tomatoes. A variety of grilled pizzas are tempting either as an appetizer to share or for your own main entree, ranging from your standard Margherita ($15) with oven cured tomatoes and fresh basil to a little mix of the exotic such as the Quattro Funghi ($15) brimming with shitake, crimini, oyster mushrooms, and perfected with white truffle oil. For those of you craving the carbs, hearty portions of pasta will not disappoint; for the traditionalists, spaghetti with tasty and plentiful meatballs, pomodoro, and parmesan ($16) get the job done, although they are not particularly inspiring, while the foodies may want to try the linguine with asparagus cream, thyme and truffle oil, garnished with a poached egg ($17).
A few seafood offerings are available, the most eye-catching being the spicy cioppino ($23), both on the menu description and in live presentation form. I saw my neighbor’s cioppino arrive steaming in a beautiful copper pot and even before the lid was lifted to reveal a stew chockfull of squid, mussels, swordfish, cod, shrimp and potatoes, I wanted one of my very own. Cioppino is the San Francisco take on French boullibaise; the tomato based seafood stew is credited to the Italian immigrants in the Bay Area. I have had some amazing cioppino in my life, all of it being in San Francisco, and unfortunately this one was not among the best. As much as I am a fan of all things spicy, the stew was so fiery it masked any other possible flavor, including the saffron which is crucial to a great cioppino; the shrimp was alarmingly rubbery, as was the fish.
So be forewarned, don’t be distracted by the bright and shiny copper pot, order some wine, some grilled pizza and pasta to share, absorb the vibrant atmosphere of the crowd-pleasingly sleek dining room or the heat of the lamps if you’re sitting outside, and toast to another good dining trip to the South End.
Stella1525 Washington Street (617-247-7747)Open for Dinner 5:30-11:00 and Late night dining until 1:30; Bar stays open until 2; Sunday Brunch 10:00-3:00Orange Line (Mass Ave.) or Green Line (Copley)