Speed Kills: Negotiating the dinner rush at Stella Grill. | Wine | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Speed Kills: Negotiating the dinner rush at Stella Grill. 

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My first visit to Stella Grill was a little disorienting. I couldn’t quite get my bearings although I’d eaten in this place at least a dozen times before, back when the restaurant was Bubba’s BBQ. But the layout and look of Stella Grill is so markedly different than that of Bubba’s that I couldn’t quite even recall how Bubba’s was laid out, or what it looked like. There’s not a hint of Bubba’s and its Lone Star State roadhouse vibe. The place has been radically redone in a somewhat cold, minimalist, modern style with lots of metal and wood. But the less-than-cozy look of Stella Grill sure hasn’t dissuaded customers; the joint was already mobbed when we arrived for an early Friday evening dinner a little before 6 p.m. By 7 p.m., there were folks lined up outside waiting for tables. n

Things happen rapidly at Stella. We were quickly seated, quickly given menus and a wine list, and, just as quickly, asked if we were ready to order. I hit the brakes by summoning a round of wine by the glass, hoping to buy a little time to peruse the menu. The wine showed up within a couple of minutes, and it was then that we made a critical error: We placed orders for our appetizers and entrees, along with a bottle of wine, simultaneously. Unless you’re in a rush, don’t repeat our mistake.


Appetizers landed within a few minutes of our having been seated. Two delectably zippy, fiery-spiced crab & corn cakes ($7) with green-chili salsa and jalapeño remoulade came on a bed of greens and was terrifically tasty. Just as appealing were four skewers of thin, remarkably tender ribeye steak “fingers” ($8) which had been marinated in balsamic vinegar, then grilled and presented with a delicious roasted pepper coulis and pesto “drizzle” ($8). Much like at Stella’s older sister Martine (The Pub Restaurant Group owns Stella, Martine, Desert Edge Brewery and Red Butte Café), the tapas-style starters are very solid: Crispy-crunchy fried calamari ($8) with red-chili aioli and the equally crispy duck rolls ($8) with a dipping sauce trio (mint chimichurri, roasted pepper and spicy plum) are appetizers I’d recommend without hesitation.


So there we were, just settling in and beginning to enjoy our starters, when—whammo!—the entrees arrived. We’d barely gotten started on the appetizers, and we weren’t exactly dilly-dallying. So I was nowhere near ready to tuck into my entrée, but there it was. It showed up way before the bottle of red wine we’d ordered to sip with the entrees. To say we felt hurried is an understatement. Speed killed our supper. This was not necessarily the server’s fault; perhaps I should have told him we weren’t in a rush. But it seems that the Stella kitchen fires up the food as soon as they receive a customer’s ticket from the server, even if the order contains both appetizers and entrees. Lesson learned: Hold your cards close to your vest and don’t order entrées at Stella until you’re well into your appetizers.


The herb-roasted game hen ($17) at Stella is simply superb. A butterflied, scrumptiously tender, lovingly browned hen is served with a subtle Roma tomato and Gorgonzola sauce and a ripping rustic white-bean ragout. Also on the plate were a pair of steamed asparagus spears and thin stalks of broccolini. It’s a dish I’d certainly come back to Stella for again.


At the opposite end of the spectrum, though, was Stella’s Morgan Valley Lamb osso bucco. I think Jamie Gillmor at Morgan Valley Lamb would have gone medieval on the cook who massacred his lovely lamb. The two pieces of lamb shank were as dry as British humor and cooked until not a hint of flavor remained. I suspect the lamb was cooked the day before and reheated, although not enough—it arrived lukewarm and lifeless. What a travesty. Normally, osso bucco is lamb or veal shanks braised low and slow until tender, juicy and falling off the bone, traditionally served with risotto Milanese (risotto flavored with saffron). At Stella, for reasons I can’t begin to fathom, the lamb (which, as reported, was anything but tender and juicy) came with refrigerator-temp mint tabbouleh and the same broccolini and asparagus that seems to accompany most entreés. It’s a shame that the aforementioned white-bean ragout wasn’t paired with the lamb, a much more logical choice.


Soups, salads and sandwiches at Stella are very reminiscent of the fare at Red Butte and Desert Edge—not that there’s anything wrong with that. The French onion soup ($4.50)—dripping with melted Gruyere—is top notch for sure. And both the grilled Reuben and the Italian dip—a variation on the French-dip sandwich but with grilled peppers and onion, mozzarella, spicy balsamic and roasted pepper au jus—are dependable lunchtime or light dinner choices.


Dessert? I’d say skip it, based on my experience with Stella’s pecan pie ($5). The naked slice of pie—completely unadorned by any garnish, whipped cream or other accoutrement—tasted frozen and defrosted (but not completely). The pie was very cold and the crust tasted slightly off, the result probably of spending time in the freezer and not being made onsite.


There is much to like about Stella Grill: friendly, efficient service, a pleasant enough atmosphere and some excellent dishes at very fair prices. But there were discouraging misses, too. So order carefully—and don’t plan to linger.



n4291 S. 900 East, Lunch & Dinner, Monday-Saturday, 288-0051

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