Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Stella Star

From today's Courier-Mail.
There have been innumerable failed shops and corner stores on that little patch of Lota dirt. Every time we drove past, Mum would say: "Someone should put a restaurant there".
And someone eventually did. Well done, psychic Mum. We'll see now what happens to Stella Star: hopefully the locals will take advantage of what looks to be a good thing.

Stella Star
Alison Cotes

THE media release says that this cafe is in up-and-coming Lota, but the only sign of life around Stella Star was the ambulances at the hospital on the other corner.
So spunky young Italian owner Louie Stella, who used to have a cafe in Dublin, knows there's not likely to be much passing trade, unless it's from the hospital. And if I were an ambulant patient or a staff member I'd be over there like a shot, for the food is the real McCoy, or whatever the Italian equivalent is.
Veramente Ricci, perhaps?
Anyone who has ever eaten in a small-town Italian trattoria will know what to expect. Informality, casual service, low prices, modest but plentiful food, and definitely no frills or silver service. Stella Star wins on all counts, and here you won't find your eggplant parmigiana ($11.95) tarted up with sprigs of parsley or tricked out with inedible alfalfa sprouts.
What you get is a deep soup bowl with a circular stack of breaded eggplant slices baked almost to a pulp, layered with fresh tomato sauce and cheese, and nothing else. Forget a side salad – this is a traditional Italian meal and it needs no accompaniment. Besides,you'll be lucky if you can get through it, especially if you've just shared a plate of Antipasto Misto ($23.50), which is suggested for two people but could easily feed four.
One plate is of paper-thin salami and a delicate mortadella, with slices of a soft Italian cheese. The other plate contained some hot bread and about six little dishes of antipasto, most of it made by Louie himself. The lightly cured capsicum and artichoke slices were particularly good, and hadn't been drowned in vinegar. Nor had the baby pickled onions, about as big as a Jaffa, and tasting of soft oil rather than any kind of tart acetic acid.
As everything is made fresh every day on the premises, some of the ingredients may vary. If there aren't any clams to be had you can forget about Vongole sauce on your handmade fresh pasta ($13.50), and you've never tasted puttanesca until you've tried Louie's version, for he uses fresh chopped tomatoes with plenty of flavour, more anchovies, olives, garlic and capers than most chefs, and finishes it with butter, which is used in Italian cooking more than many people realise.
You don't get a choice of 10 different kinds of pasta. In fact, you don't get a choice at all, because what's been made that day is what you get. My friend found that her Quattro Formaggi (four cheeses – $12.50) filled the nooks and crannies of the orecchiette, or little ears, perfectly.
But it was another hearty dish, and she had to take half of it home in a doggy bag, accompanied by at least a third of my eggplant parmigiana, because we had to leave room for cake, of which we had heard rave notices, especially the tiramisu.
We all know about this traditional Italian pick-me-up, but how often do we get a really good one? Too dry, too much custard, too sloppy, not enough alcohol. Although recipes vary and there seems to be no one authentic version, you can tell a good one when it hits your palate, and I haven't often found a perfect one in Brisbane.
Louie's version is served straight from the bowl in which it's been sitting, for it's too liquid to be cut or even dolloped out, and again the quantity was so large that we shared one bowl between two.
He'd only just finished making it, so it hadn't firmed up properly, but it didn't matter for the layers of cream, creme anglaise, cake, madeira and espresso coffee could just as easily be eaten with a spoon, like a kind of sweet soup, which is how it is served in some households. Incidentally, if you ever have some left over in the fridge, it makes the perfect hangover cure.
We took home some chocolate rum balls that seemed to contain butter and pure chocolate and nothing else except the cocoa powder they were rolled in. We also picked up some cannelloni shells dry-fried and filled with a coffee-flavoured creme anglaise. What can I say except that our respective housemates swore eternal gratitude and promised us the world, or at least to do the washing up. We shall see!
We finished with a long black coffee ($2.50) made from Di Bella beans, which was the only disappointment in a memorable meal. It wasn't nearly strong enough and had almost no crema. Perhaps I should have ordered a double espresso.
This part of Lota is quite a way from the other bayside suburbs, but word is getting around and, like a real village trattoria, it has already attracted its own local clientele. I'd say it's almost worth the trip from the city just to taste the tiramisu, but you'd better not go swimming afterwards, because you'd be sure to sink.

Address: Corner of Whites Road and Hindes Street, Lota
Ph: 07 3393 6188
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 7am-6pm, dinner Thursday-Sunday to 9pm, closed Sunday, Monday and public holidays
Liquor status: BYO only, corkage $2 per bottle
Prices: breakfast around $9, lunch $7.95-$13.50, mains (dinner only) to $24.70; Chefs platter $65 (four courses plus coffee) evenings only
Owner/chef: Louie Stella
Parking: On and off street
Wheelchair access: To outside tables, but not to toilets
Other: Seats 30 inside, up to 100 outside; all credit cards except Diners; table service; vegetarian and gluten-free; airconditioned plus ceiling fans; toilets at the back; noise level low

Food: 16
Service: 15
Ambience: 11
Value for money: 15

About the score: 0-5 don't bother: 6-9 needs serious improvement: 10-12 reasonable: 13-14 good: 15-17 very good: 18-19 exceptional: 20 perfection

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