Stella’s: a seductive taste of Greek cuisine
– BY DAVID L. ROBBINS AND SHERRIE PAGE NAJARIAN –
STELLA’S: 1012 LAFAYETTE ST., RICHMOND.
While waiting for our table at Stella’s, we couldn’t peel our eyes from the town harlot.
It’s a charming, surprising and irreducible part of Stella’s, these black and white classic Greek films beamed on an empty wall. This evening, we follow a woman’s exploits in cars with men, on dance floors with other men, in the town square ogled by still more men.
This helps him get through the long minutes before being seated at Stella’s. She, by contrast, is glad for anything that distracts him from grumbling, even the village hussy.
THE WAIT IS WORTH IT
If you don’t have a reservation, waiting is part and parcel of getting a table at Stella’s. That’s because the food is amazing, not secret. Once seated, however, a diner is greeted by a procession of knowledgeable and doting servers who work in an efficient ensemble.
The seating in Stella’s is generous enough to permit easy conversation. The wide-open room has three separate zones: the bar, the most animated section; a high, marble-topped communal table where you’ll be seated next to folks you may not know; and the surrounding tables, filled by families, dates and, tonight, one distractingly cute 2-year-old boy who seems to be watching the movie, too.
She orders for them both. He dives into the breadbasket and fresh pressed olive oil – keeping an eye on the Greek strumpet’s cinematic philandering.
She intends to order meatless dishes tonight. Judging by the large portions carried by the wait staff all around them, she’s confident that anything she orders will make him happy. She selects an appetizer of sautéed calamari, a kale salad, a small beet salad and an entrée of artichoke moussaka.
SINFULLY SUBLIME CALAMARI
By now, the celluloid tart’s dress is dangling alluringly low. His attention is riveted, but her gratitude for the distraction is waning. The salads arrive and she digs a fork into the beets and kale – plus an elbow into his ribs.
With his focus relocated, he joins her for the first course and quickly – for several reasons – understands this to be the wise decision. The kale is richly dark, perfectly oiled and adorned with chunks of kasseri, a sheep’s milk cheese, and slivered almonds. The beets, though, while simple, earthy and fresh, pale by comparison.
When the calamari arrives, he moans approvingly at the first taste. She kicks him under the table, thinking he’s sneaking more peeks at the film (indeed, the vixen is finally in the clenches with her true love) but moments later joins him in a satisfied sigh. The calamari is perfectly cooked and seasoned with artichoke hearts, capers and sun-dried tomatoes, all drenched in an oil-based lemony broth.
The moussaka arrives. The baked marvel wins all his attention, no matter what the trollop is doing now over his head. It’s grand in size, browned to perfection and wonderfully aromatic.
THE MARVEL THAT IS STELLA
While he scoops it in, she learns from a waiter that the eponymous Stella herself prepared this, sometime before sunup that day. The 70-year-old powerhouse Stella spends 12-hour days in the kitchen, preparing the foods she learned as a child in her small community near Mount Olympus. After the death of her mother, 3-year-old Stella was taken in by a sisterhood of local women. From them, she learned the secrets of Greek village cooking, including a deft touch with vegetarian recipes because meat was a rare luxury.
Done with her research, she finds him halfway through their moussaka. She grabs her silverware to catch up and is mesmerized by the sweet undertones of nutmeg, fennel and sautéed caramelized onion.
For dessert, they choose another Stella-made dish, the Galaktoboureko, a light lemon custard wrapped in phyllo dough, drizzled with honey. Nothing about the finish of the evening is a letdown, including the tab below 60 bucks.
They leave Stella’s well satisfied. Big plates, good parking, comfortable seating, fine prices, plus splendid flavors, ingredients and preparations – a complete gastronomical night out for both their tastes.
And the poor woman in the film? She’s finally been stabbed to death by her lover. She collapses into his arms in the town square while disapproving women creep close to cluck their tongues at her fallen ways.
If she’d learneId to cook like Stella, that knife would have been put to better use.