If I was to rank my top cuisines, Italian would be right at the top of my list. In fact almost every sunday night of my childhood, my parents brought in from our favorite Italian restaurant in Little Neck, NY. A few weeks ago my wife purchased a livingsocial deal for La Stella’s, an Italian restaurant in Boca Raton. So this past saturday night we got a sitter and it was time for date night with us and another couple. My wife and I enjoy introducing our friends to restaurants we love that they have never been to. It was also our first visit as “food bloggers”. I have to admit I felt like a New York Times food critic. With iPhone in hand I was asking questions and jotting down notes as the meal progressed (My wife rolling her eye’s, clearly meant my new persona was a turn on). I was Bob Woodward and she was Carl Bernstein or maybe we were Howard Stern and Robin Quivers. Nevertheless we were undercover!
If you are not aware, most if not all restaurants in south Florida allow you to bring your own bottle of wine, for a small corking fee (usually between $15-$25). I highly recommend it. Of course bringing your own wine only makes sense if the cost of the bottle plus the corking fee is still less than what you would pay at the restaurant, so don’t bring that bottle of two buck chuck you have been dying to break out for a special occasion. I brought a 2009 Lewis “Alec’s Blend.” I’ll get into wine’s and corking fees in a future blog.
La Stella’s is located on the north side of Palmetto Park Road, just east of Federal Hwy. There are only nine tables inside this extremely cozy restaurant, with additional seating outside. The walls, tiled with white subway tile and adorn the writing “where I come from, this is how we do it.” My wife and I love these types of restaurants, where you feel as if you are in someone’s kitchen surrounded by only locals and after the first few visits the owner knows you by name. This is the type of place you would typically find in the basement of a brownstone in lower Manahattan, not on Palmetto Park Road.
Owner Jamie Barlow opened La Stella’s over 3 1/2 years ago. Originally as a gourmet takeout shop open during the day and a side catering business at night. Jamie later turned the restaurant into dinner only along with her catering business. Everything is made fresh, from the sauces to the pasta and pizza dough. The menu items are all the work of Jamie and her Chef Omar.
We uncorked our wine and enjoyed a few starters before ordering our entrees. La Stella’s has a few unique items to a somewhat traditional italian menu. We started off with a beet salad with haricots vert tossed in a pistachio vinaigrette (delicious), along with an antipasto (sliced italian salami and prosciutto, cheeses, olives and homemade roasted red pepper), that went perfect with our wine. In addition we tried their homemade pizza special, served with a chick pea spread, grilled zucchini and gorgonzola cheese, topped with arugula. Their special are usually excellent and have very unique flavors, however I didn’t feel the flavors blended well on the pizza.
For our main dish my wife ordered the linguine with baby clams, prepared in a flavorful white wine broth with spicy calabria peppers which added an interesting but not overwhelming heat to the dish. One of La Stella’s signature dishes is their “sunday gravy”. Since it is their signature dish, I had to try it. The sauce, is a san marzano tomato base with chianti braised pork and their homemade meatball. The gravy is served over rigatoni pasta and finished with a dollup of ricotta cheese and basil. The pork was very tender and not overpowered by the chianti. The meatball was moist and bursting with flavor. The sauce was a little too sweet for me and could have used a little bit of heat, but overall a well prepared dish. A little heavy, but a must have when you visit. If there is one thing I’d suggest, order a few different dishes and share, you will not go wrong.
What often frustrates my wife and I about certain restaurants, is the inconstancy of their food from visit to visit. Not the case here. The charm, predictability and most importantly the food keep us coming back.
La Stella’s Restaurant
159 East Palmetto Park Road,
Boca Raton, FL
Telephone: (561) 544-2081
Closed on Sunday