When thinking of Traverse City, Michigan the word “foodie” hardly came to my mind but apparently it should as there seems to be quite the movement there, focusing on true farm to table philosophies. Trattoria Stella is one restaurant that falls into this category, sourcing as many of their ingredients from as close to home as possible to create their Italian-inspired cuisine. This means a daily change in their menu (for both lunch and dinner) and once something is gone, well, you’re just out of luck.
The ambiance is great, set in the basement of building 50 in the old State Hospital Grounds now turned über cool condo development mixed with onsite coffee roaster, cheesecake bakery, wine tasting room and bread bakery not to mention quaint retail shops and other restaurants. One side of the restaurant has an open area bar that leads into dining. The other, where we were seated, is a series of small rooms down a hall that makes for a much more intimate setting.
Above photo borrowed from inflight.squarespace.com.
Because we had the late seating, they were already out of a couple of items, but the menu is extensive enough it wasn’t a problem finding something else that sounded delicious.
After a day of wine tasting in the region, we took a break from the Michigan wines and ordered a
bottle of Alexandria Nicole Cab from Washington that hit the spot and went well with the duck liver paté (11.) which was served chilled with a date and onion purée, a compote of apricots and pears, toasted crostini as well as a very large Parmesan cheese crisp.
The restaurant is very comfortable and non-pretentious with brown kraft paper covering the white linens. Jazz music, soft lighting and our server, Kelly, were all elements that contributed to the well-orchestrated evening. The appetizer was followed by warm crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic for dipping, nirvana for my husband, Devin.
For our main courses, Devin had the beef top steak (29.) that was herb crusted and served with a leek and green garlic risotto, pea shoots and crispy shiitake mushrooms. His steak was definitely cooked over the medium he had ordered, but he insisted he was fine with the doneness and that the meat was still tender. It was the mushrooms that definitely stole the show for me – crispy and earthy and delicious.
After hearing another diner rave about the veal scaloppine (28.) that’s the route I went. The veal was tender although a bit salty (and believe me, I love salt so it takes a lot for me to think something is salty) and served with a marsala sauce that made me want to lick the plate (for the record, I didn’t). Along side were gnocchetti in a smoked tomato sauce. I wonder if the smaller size yielded just too much surface area that was in direct contact with the heat as these were not the delicate little pillows that I know gnocchi can be – in fact, they were rather rubbery.
After this feast, there was no room for dessert which was unfortunate because we’d seen several being delivered to other tables and they definitely looked worth the caloric splurge.
On my last restaurant review, I gave the restaurant 8 stars but I’m realizing is that it’s hard to rate a restaurant in Chicago with a celebrity chef to one in a town that is just coming into its own as a foodie destination. It makes me wonder if all restaurants should be graded on the same scale or if city size and demographics must play a role. After all, restauranteurs and chefs create a concept with the hopes that they will have diners that appreciate and support their cuisine. In a smaller town that means a more limited demographic to pull from to start with. If I keep the same scale for both though, I’d have to give our Trattoria Stella meal 5 stars.