Friday, February 26, 2010

Stella Sola, or how I learned to love food again and start blogging

9:30pm. 9:45pm. Those were my options.

I sat in my Dallas hotel room last Thursday night, attempting to book a table at Stella Sola for Saturday night. I originally put in an 8pm request to Open Table and I assumed 48 hours was enough time to get my pick of times. Wrong.

My vegetarian sister visited for Christmas, and I was tempted by a tweet from Alison Cook that pronounced their gnocchi as one of the best vegetarian dishes in Houston. The rest of the menu appeared to be an herbivore’s worst nightmare, and after a twitter exchange with @tastybitz, I wimped out and we ended up at Beaver’s. Stella Sola would have to wait.

I could list a dozen reasons why it took me so long to finally visit Stella Sola. Even without visiting, it was obvious that Stella Sola was THE restaurant story of the year in the Heights. So yes, I’m blaming my unplanned blog sabbatical on Stella Sola. I’m only half kidding.

“Oh my god, that’s incredible.”

The first bite of suckling pig just fell apart in my mouth. The pork meat was insanely moist and tender, complimented by a crispy, oh-so-thin pork skin. My wife and I ran into two friends sharing the suckling pig for two at the bar and they were nice enough to share a small sample with us. Offered as a special (call ahead for availability), the suckling pig not only equals, but exceeds, my recollections of the version served at the venerable Cochon Restaurant in New Orleans.

Our other dishes were equally impressive. Polenta and Shrimp (their version of shrimp and grits) was small in size but huge in flavor, with a 1 square inch hunk of fork tender pork belly plopped right in the middle. The meat market plate was a fantastic display of thinly sliced piggy parts and shows off the kitchen’s strength with charcuterie. Wide and thick handmade pappardelle pasta with wild boar meat sauce was large enough to share, and was nicely paired with a very mild house made ricotta.

Meat Market Plate | Photo: houston_foodie |flickr

Have you noticed a pig/pork theme? If REEF is Caswell and Co’s temple to gulf coast seafood, Stella Sola is their house of pig. With Feast and Catalan, can Houston support three pig focused restaurants? My take: YES. All three restaurants have completely different concepts and don’t really overlap. Plus, the pig is probably the greatest culinary animal ever. I say it deserves all three.

My criticisms with Stella Sola are minor: most of the pappardelle was pleasantly al dente, but a few areas of the large pasta sheets clumped during cooking and were unpleasantly tough. Towards the end of the night, someone changed the in house music to 94.5 and we were all treated to some angst ridden mid-90s gems. Lastly (a question directed at the previous tenants), who designed and signed off on the floor plan of this place? The footprint of the place takes up an entire city block, but the usable space is surprisingly small. There appears to be a lot of outdoor space that will probably be used for al fresco dining for the 7-10 days of nice weather we have coming this Spring.

I must admit I was skeptical of the Texas/Tuscan concept, as I imagined some ill-conceived higher end version of Spaghetti Western. After my visit, all doubts are gone. The icing on the cake: the top notch house cocktails and a wine list to make the cork dorks weep for joy.

Pistachio Pound Cake | Photo: houston_foodie |flickr

1001 Studewood, Houston, TX
Dinner Tue-Sun, Brunch Sunday