It is no secret that you don’t have to search hard for a delicious meal in New Orleans. It doesn’t really matter how long the place has been there or what price point it falls into. The majority of the meals I have eaten in New Orleans I have loved which is what makes this next experience so upsetting…
Because we would be in New Orleans for five full days, I wanted to really experience as much as possible, especially when it came to the food. I did a lot of research and loosely mapped out the destinations I thought were must trys. Although I had never heard of it before hand, I kept reading about this eclectic and fantastic dining experience that a relatively young restaurant was producing. Almost all the blogs and reviewers labeled August and Stella as the front runners of the city. Boasting a wordly influenced menu along with elegance and intimacy, Restaurant Stella would be our first dinner in New Orleans and we couldn’t wait….now I wish we had.
We were unable to get reservations before 9:45 but we don’t mind eating late. In fact 9:45 doesn’t seem all that late anymore having lived in New York for a while. We had explored a bit during the day but were fairly close to the restaurant around 9 and decided to stop in a bit early. At the very worst we would sit at the bar and have a drink or two but sometimes you get lucky and tables are available earlier. As we walked in, I was really impressed with the ambience. The restaurant felt cozy and intimate; a touch of modern but still rather classic. It was an inviting dining room. Unfortunately the hostess wasn’t so inviting. When I told her we were there for our reservaion and we were a bit early (first day of vacation, most likely the nicest I’ve ever been) her response was cold. “Yeah, a bit early” she replied a bit scathingly. No big deal. Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she expected us to be needy. I’m not quite sure but I’ve worked in and been to enough restaurants to know that you only get one chance at a first impression. Either way, we weren’t going to let her effect us. We sat at the bar sipping some champagne and chatting with the bartender who was friendly without being a bit annoying (a tough balance for sure). The time seemed to pass quickly as we drank and watched the delicious offerings coming out of the pristine kitchen. Every time the doors opened we were enamored with what must be an extremely efficient assembly line cooking and plating some rather appetizing food. We couldn’t wait to dig in and when our table was ready (9:45 on the dot) we were excited for what was to come. Excitement would be a theme for the rest of the night, but not necessarily in a positive way.
We ordered our wine through the Sommelier and our waitress Holly, who was really great, was telling us a bit about the menu. We had decided on a pair of appetizers and entrees and we began to give our order. Except we didn’t get very far. The Sommelier, attempting to deliver the glass of delicious Riesling (I wish I remembered the bottle) accidentally knocked the glass of red over. This wasn’t a typical red wine spill however. This was a two foot pour which happened to occur directly over my girlfriend. Not exactly the excitement you want to start the meal. Luckily, our waitress Holly ran to the back to grab a cleaning solvent (“wine away” I think it was called) that really did a great job of getting the red wine out, surprisingly enough. She was so apologetic and after the shock was over, the whole situation was a bit comical. Accidents happen and we would never act unreasonable but something just didn’t seem right. The Sommelier didn’t seem all that upset nor did he react. I chalked it up to the shock and embarrassment he must have been feeling but either way a simple “I’m so sorry” would have been nice.
We moved tables and got re-situated. Our food would be on its way soon and hopefully we would forget and laugh about the incident the rest of the night. Except disaster struck again. As our complimentary amouse-bouche was delivered another server, lost their steady hand and proceeded to pour the shrimp in mango sauce all over my girlfriend, this time on my blazer keeping her warm. Accidents happen, but this was some serious bad luck. How could this have really happened, at a place like this, twice!? Again more than anything we were shocked. There isn’t much you can do but laugh and try and move past it, but once again I was held up by the reaction of the Sommelier. Complete indifference would be the best explanation of his emotions and if there is one thing I can not stand it is indifference.
Once again I’d like to really point out how wonderful our waitress handled the whole situation. She managed to make just enough light of the situation and she was certainly the bright point in the evening. Unfortunately, the rest of the staff seemed unfazed and unconcerned. The saddest thing about the story is that the food was really quite good although maybe a bit pretentious. From our beet appetizer containing “beet air” and spun beet honey, to my duck entree which plated duck in five different ways, there was nothing that seemed effortless. Unlike our dinner at August, even the best parts seemed to be forced and the attitude that was exuded from the moment we arrived truly left me wondering if Stella had deserved all the praise they had been getting. It’s easy to get a few great reviews, especially on the food, and forget that there is more to a dining experience. But as soon as you let those reviews effect you in that way, your no longer worthy of that same praise. In fact, I struggle to remember the other appetizer and entree we ordered simply because of the clouded outlook I had on our meal.
Lastly, I would just like to clarify that there is no way for me to give a review of Stella without including the spills. Again, the chances of this happening are slim to none which I fully understand but its important to realize that it wasn’t the spill that effected the dinner, it was the reaction and the outcome. Having a glass or two of wine comped and an extra amouse-bouche served is certainly a nice gesture but I can’t say enough was done to make me feel like I should go back. And quite frankly, with all the delicious options throughout the city at half the price, your better off skipping Stella and eating another plate of Crawfish Étouffée.
Restaurant Stella: 4/10 only because most of the food was great and Holly handled the situation well. Not worth the attitude, especially in New Orleans.