4291 S. 900 East, East Millcreek ; 801-288-0051
Favorites from Desert Edge Brewery and Red Butte Cafe are standard. The real interest are dinner's appetizers, entrees and wine list.
Cuisine: Eclectic, American
Hours: M-Th, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; F-S, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Liquor: Full Service
Corkage: $ 7.50
Reservations: For large parties only
Recommended Dishes: Crispy duck rolls, spinach fettuccine, rib-eye steak.
April 30, 2008
She's sleek, she's modern, and yes, she's one hip suburbanite
By Vanessa Chang
EAST MILLCREEK -- It's always refreshing to see a restaurant somewhere you'd never suspect: strip malls, sandwiched between two ridiculous shops, and areas thick with houses. Such is the case with Stella Grill. Decamped on a quiet stretch of 900 East in East Millcreek, it's the latest offering from the somewhat prolific Pub Group, which has brought to Salt Lake City the Desert Edge Brewery, Red Butte Café and Martine. Refreshing location, yes. But like so many restaurateurs who have struggled with nondowntown locales, can they make it work?
The building -- with on-site parking -- was long vacant. Once the home of a barbecue joint, the restaurant group breathed new life into the clean industrial lines. Clever garage door/windows double as walls and security covers for the bar. Readers of Dwell magazine would find virtue in the subdued, earth tone-saturated, reclaimed material look of Stella. She's sleek, she's modern and yes, she's suburban.
Oh, but what a hip suburbanite. She's got wine savvy, even by the glass. A California Acacia Chardonnay ($6 glass, $28 bottle) makes an appearance on the well-conceived list. But so do an Austrian Hopler Grüner Veltliner ($6 glass, $28) and a Spanish Burgans Albarińo (same price).
So, style and wine are in check. And the service team, with a mix of newbies and Pub Group veterans, has neither offended nor wowed me. Which, in such places, is just fine.
The food is another matter. The lunch menu and half of the dinner menu are inherited from Stella's casual cousins. The Pub Club sandwich ($6.75 half, $7.95 whole) is a carbon copy from Desert Edge, complete with the thin potato chips that always made me long for a French fry. Familiar flour tortillas in the enchiladas ($7.50 to $9.50) are generous but never interesting. Fans of either venue will love the food; those expecting something different may be disappointed.
Stella's real flair comes out at dinner. Crispy duck rolls ($8) have tender chunks of fowl in a shattering, fried shell. Three sauces accompany it, but go for green -- mint chimichurri is vibrant, wonderfully acidic against the fatty meat and not too sweet. That option and the crunchy fried calamari ($8) make you think Stella is different from other members of her family, a trait inherited more from Martine. But if you order the chicken quesadillas ($6) that arrive, perplexingly, with a mesclun salad and the group's ubiquitous corn and black bean succotash, you may get a different impression.
Such were the ups and downs of the grilled Morgan Valley Lamb sirloin entree ($17). It was medium-rare, juicy and ruby pink. But we couldn't detect a trace of the listed mint tea glaze. And the orzo-artichoke salad was glorified pasta salad, laced, again, with that same mesclun green mix.
The lamb, or any cut of meat, would've been better off had it been paired with the potato roulade that came with the pork entree. It's one of the best incarnations of spud around. A filling of mashed potatoes, barely cooked baby spinach and roasted red pepper gets rolled into a crust of hash brown potatoes. Cook it in hot, hot fat and you've a golden, crunchy shell with a creamy mixture inside. I devoured it, along with the pork chop entree's ($15) well-cooked broccolini, but couldn't muster myself to finish the pork. So tender, but so flavorless.
In my encounters, spinach fettucine with any sort of creamy sauce has always been suspect. But at Stella, it was one of the high points when paired with roasted chicken ($15). Thanks to a punch of Gorgonzola cheese, there's depth and nuance of flavor, not just fat. And the amber-crusted serving of dark leg meat proved you can get a decent roasted bird in this town.
A rib-eye steak ($19), generous and juicy, was a glorious sight with a cloud of Yukon gold mashers and an onion ring corona. Simple food, done with a twist. And the under-$20 price tag doesn't hurt.
Which, in the end, may be the biggest determining factor in Stella's life cycle. This neighborhood cosmos has always been a difficult place to have a restaurant (rest in peace, Pine and Bubba's). But with Stella's play-it-safe menu and abundant parking, it may sparkle just enough to attract some hungry gazers.
Tribune's rating system
1 star Good
2 stars Very good
3 stars Excellent
4 stars Extraordinary
$ Entree under $10
$$$$ Above $25
1 bell Quiet (under 65 decibles)
2 bells Can talk easily (65-70)
3 bells Talking somewhat difficult (70-75)
4 bells Raised voices (75-80)
A bomb Too noisy for normal conversation (80+)
The Tribune covers the cost of all meals at reviewed restaurants. Star ratings are based on a minimum of two visits. Ratings are updated continually based on at least one revisit. There is no connection between reviews and advertising.