Top

dining

Stories

 

Stellar Stella

This spectacular restaurant is already a Heights institution.

 Want to get your own glimpse into Stella Sola's fast-paced kitchen? Check out our slideshow.

Some dishes stick fast in my memory without even being deliberately placed there. In lieu of remembering important things like my father's birthday or what time to show up to my cousin's wedding, I remember things like this: a poached egg's bright-orange yolk trickling with a viscous energy over freshly baked brioche and house-cured prosciutto. It was a yard egg from Hatterman's, served for brunch in a Texan twist on "egg in the basket," that I sopped up with stray pieces of brioche until no trace of yolk remained. I ate this in June 2010, nearly a year ago, and remember it as if it were yesterday.

This is the kind of food that Stella Sola is serving, under the somewhat cumbersome but apt description "Texas Tuscan." Food that excites you, food that makes memories, food that you want to tell everyone about while simultaneously keeping it selfishly to yourself, for fear that some Tuesday night in the future you will be greeted by a packed restaurant and no chance of simply walking into one of the city's best restaurants without a reservation booked two weeks in advance. We're spoiled like that in Houston.

Stella Sola serves food that makes you want to return, time and again. Like the wild boar ragu served with creamy ricotta cheese over tender pappardelle that's house-made and wholly toothsome, with just that right amount of coy resistance in the al dente noodles. Or the immense pork rib I shared with friends last week, served with local polenta and bacon-braised mustard greens. The polenta could have been gritty or runny; it was rich and downy. The greens could have been bitter and tart; they were musky and earthy, with a bright twang of vinegar. The pork could have been tough and over-seasoned; it was perfect.

Texan, Tuscan, delicious: a dal giardino salad and the Meatballs XL.
Troy Fields
Texan, Tuscan, delicious: a dal giardino salad and the Meatballs XL.

Location Info

Map

Stella Sola

1001 Studewood
Houston, TX 77008

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Heights

Details

5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 5 p..m to 11 p.m. Fridays through Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
• Dal giardino salad: $9
• Venison tartara: $14
• Meatballs XL: $18
• Wild boar ragu: $18
• Pork rib: $23
• Lamb T-bone: $28
• Roasted suckling pig: $25 per person
• Santos Cruz: $10


READ MORE:
• Get a glimpse into Stella Sola's fast-paced kitchen.
• Stella Sola: Behind the Review.

Stella Sola

1001 Studewood, 713-880-1001.

That's not to say that there aren't occasional stumbles: a slightly rubbery lamb chop served with an aggressively minty pesto sauce that slipped and slid around the plate on one night, or a blue crab carbonara that was just barely oversalted.

But they're so minor in and of themselves, and seem even smaller by comparison when viewed through the lens of all the amazing meals I've eaten at Stella Sola in the past. Curling tendrils of watercress in a bright Meyer lemon vinaigrette over pickled carrots and beets in the dal giardino salad; a Gulf seafood stew with the bright, sweet aroma of roasted tomatoes and fennel; a Texan version of grillades and grits made with fatty pork; a crackling-coated suckling pig that feeds two people surrounded by plump Brussels sprouts roasted almost as if they were intended to break down any final walls people may have against enjoying the maligned vegetable; all resonate as if they weren't meals consumed in the past but enjoyed this very afternoon.
_____________________

That a restaurant as phenomenal as Stella Sola should rise from the failed ashes of the much-hyped Bedford — temperamental chef Robert Gadsby's last project before he departed Houston for good — is remarkable in and of itself. But what's even more remarkable is how the kitchen has fired on all cylinders from day one and continues to do so to this day. Sea legs? Stella Sola never even had any seasickness.

Daily execution of such exceptional and extraordinary dishes is only one of the restaurant's noteworthy qualities. Noticeably fresh produce, much of it local and always seasonal, highlights every plate. First-class house-made charcuterie that even incorporates its very own lardo back into the salumi is featured prominently. A menu of cleverly blended Texan classics and Tuscan standards has something for any diner to love, like the tangy, caper-loaded venison tartara that's a smart take on vitello tonnato, or the Lone Star State-size "Meatballs XL." The dining room is upscale yet intimately cozy. The wine list is broad and more reasonably priced than it has to be, with dozens of great bottles under $40. The service is kind, casual and attentive.

Simply put, Stella Sola is one of Houston's most impeccable restaurants. And its youth makes that determination even more striking.

The kitchen's youth, too, is reflected in the food. Chef de cuisine Justin Basye just turned 30 years old last year. Stella Sola's owners, Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd, were determined to leave Basye alone in the kitchen, despite his being largely untested. Basye received a James Beard Foundation Award nomination for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2010, only a few months after Stella Sola opened.

It's safe to say that fewer cooks in a kitchen really is a good thing.

As fate would have it, however, Basye put in his resignation the day after my final review visit to Stella Sola, citing a desire to take time off and stage in other kitchens for a while. While it might be a smart move for a young chef with a strong desire to learn and develop, it was a blow to discover.

On the other hand, Adam Dorris — the young chef responsible for the wildly popular Ghetto Dinner supper clubs at Grand Prize Bar — has been promoted to chef de cuisine. I expect him to do just as well as Basye, although it's a bittersweet end to this chapter in the restaurant's short history. On the other hand, it's an excellent opportunity to see if Caswell and Floyd can duplicate their successful strategy of leaving a young new talent in charge of a very big kitchen.
_____________________

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
11 comments
JodieE
JodieE

We go pretty often and dine at the bar. The spaghetti and meatballs in a mainstay for us (we share) as are all of the salads (except the Cesar, which I don't love). There are some other delicious pastas on the menu right now including a Taglierini with super-fresh gulf shrimp and crab. The greens they are serving right now (mentioned above) are so damn good, they are reason enough to go. I was sad to her of Justin's departure but thrilled to hear that another young, talented chef will be at the helm.

Sara
Sara

Maybe that is why you didn't like it, Andre. I love Stella Sola and Reef is very disappointing to me.

Andre
Andre

Wow - I'm amazed this critic loved the food. I went on a Tuesday night in a party of 10. We were celebrating the birthday of a chef that works with Monica Pope. We are all foodies and were expecting a lot more. I initially ordered one of their pizzas as a starter and the skirt steak as an entree. The pizza was simply crispy pizza crust with spinash and green olives. Tasteless and really was not what I was expecting. I sent it back and ordered the cesar salad. All that came on that dish was one piece of romaine lettuce that was soaked in dressing. Very disappointing. My main course was worse. The skirt steak overly salty and just overwhelmed the plate. The cornmeal gnocci was tasteless. It was a huge letdown. I've enjoyed eating at reef and was expecting so much more from this place. It's a shame.

Neighthundred
Neighthundred

Adam will do an awesome job. He's an amazing cook and I don't know anyone better to fill the very large shoes of Justin.

Innerloopdiner
Innerloopdiner

I wish i could say i feel as strongly positive about this place, I have given it a shot 4 times now and everytime the service is not great to poor, and the food has not been able to compensate. One thing is for sure though, as with Reef, I love the fair wine prices!

Rina
Rina

Katharine, any idea when Justin's last day is? Were hoping to get in there one last time before he goes...

Hugh Ramsey
Hugh Ramsey

glad to hear it is still going strong, I need to get back here

Ryamorris62
Ryamorris62

So, you like Stella Sola.

Actually I do too. Great food, reasonable prices for the quality.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I don't precisely know. When I talked to Caswell last week, it sounded as if Basye had put in a standard two weeks. I think this might be the last weekend to catch him, though.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I've always liked Stella, despite some bizarrely persistent rumors to the contrary.

Rina
Rina

We got reservations for tomorrow night, so hopefully we should be good. Thanks!

 
Loading...