Every time I visit New Orleans, I visit old favorites – and then try something new. This trip, I finally made it to Restaurant Stella!, the French Quarter restaurant by Chef Scott Boswell.
Stella opened right before I left in 2001, and I never got to try it. I have to admit that the exclamation point at the end of the name turned me off. But in subsequent years, I kept reading rave reviews about Stella! from serious foodies. When Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson gave it his highest honor of five beans, I knew I had to go.
The exclamation point in the name seems to represent Scott Boswell’s energy. He’s become a culinary force in the city, especially in the years since Hurricane Katrina. He’s opened a casual restaurant, Stanley, right on Jackson Square, that has lines out the door most days. He’s also an avid tweeter, sending photos from the kitchen and behind the scenes (follow him as @ChefScottB).
We arrived for our Saturday night reservation a little early (my fault). We sauntered into the small bar, and Boswell was there, chatting up guests. I introduced myself and my friend Stephanie Grace (a well-known political columnist for the Times-Picayune).
Boswell chatted with us for quite a while, showing us photos that he took that day about his latest project, the Stanley Service Bar, which serves up sandwiches and drinks for people waiting in line at Stanley. This week, he’s developing a special fried chicken dinner. The man never sleeps.
Stella’s dining room was much more elegant than I thought it would be. White and gold walls, fresh flowers, creamy upholstered chairs – it all set the scene for a luxurious dining experience (with a price tag to match; our friends warned us that Stella! is one of the more expensive restaurants in the city). Despite the formality of the room, the servers were friendly and down to earth, with great timing.
OK, OK, on to the food. The meal started with an amuse bouche of foie gras wonton, served in an adorable oyster dish. Delish.
That wasn’t nearly enough foie gras for me, so I ordered the seared foie gras on brioche with carmelized bananas as an appetizer. I almost died when I saw the size of the foie gras cut that came out. “It looks like a filet!” my husband exclaimed. Oh yeah. It was amazing.
He couldn’t complain too much, though. His Gulf shrimp and andouille risotto tasted just the way you’d want it to be, rich and creamy. He didn’t want to share, but I made him give me a taste.
My sister is not a seafood eater, but she came away happy with her choice: beef tenderloin cooked to perfection. She even liked her broccoli (dipped in tempura batter. Who wouldn’t like that?)
My Stella! meal proved to be one of those lucky coincidences where I ordered perfectly. While my sister’s boyfriend devoured a seafood entree that looked quite tasty….those scallops and shrimp are sitting atop truffled andouille potato hash and caviar butter!…
….it couldn’t touch my Duck Five Ways. This plate has to be one of the best array of duck preparations that I’ve ever had. From the bottom left, clockwise: duck in currant cassis reduction, duck miso broth, duck moo shoo pancake, lacquered duck leg and thigh and….yes, more foie gras! I can’t tell you how happy this dish made my mouth feel.
You’d think that we’d be full by now. But you underestimate the foodie capacity of my friends and family. After much deliberation, my sister chose the German chocolate cake that came with a touch of molecular gastronomy – a milk chocolate nitro mousse.
Again, I think I made the best choice. Imagine a grilled cheese sandwich made with triple creme cheese. Then imagine that caloric concoction dipped in a dark chocolate ganache. Yum. Don’t you wish you were eating it now?
At this point, we were full. But Stella! had one final surprise for us. A tray of sweets came out that included a homemade marshmallow, a chocolate peanut butter cup, and a truffle. We all managed to finish our “lines.”
So what’s the damage for a meal like this? With tax and tip (and a bottle of wine), our bill came to $110 per person. Expensive, yes, but not outrageous for a special night out. We felt it was well worth it. I want to go back and have the tasting menu (although then I’d miss the duck….hmm….)
And it turns out that we would have gotten a show with our money, had we come the night before. Nicholas Cage had to be escorted from Stella! after causing a disturbance and breaking one of the restaurant’s windows. Maybe he was taking inspiration from Marlon Brando?