If you look at my rating scale and even previous posts, I rarely write bad reviews. The times I have written bad reviews, I have tried to find redeeming value in the restaurant. Folks, this post will be my most scathing ever, as the restaurant failed at so many levels that the public deserves to know. The offending restaurant is called “Stella’s – Serious Italian Cuisine” in Monarch Beach.
Here is a quick run-down on the failings before I go into details, so I don’t sound like a bitchy food blogger:
1) Poor Service
2) Poorly executed dishes = Bad recipe, flavor, ingredients, preparation and presentation
4) Questionable freshness of seafood
5) Absent Management
Before I go into my tirade, let me tell you what they did well:
1) Nice view from the patio
2) Good garlic bread
3) Saxophone player
4) Nice wine list
My wife and I visited Stella’s recently, during a weekday, as we were craving some good Italian food. We made the trip to Monarch Beach and had good expectations for this restaurant, but we came in with a smile and left with a frown and upset stomachs. We were seated promptly on the patio with a view of the ocean . . . things were shaping up. We then proceeded to wait at our table for the next 25 minutes before we were acknowledged by the server or busboy. While we sat there like lost children, I watched the other table’s waiter spouting it up with his Italian(?) accent. I tried to get his attention and even made eye contact once, but he looked away from me quickly. After twenty- five minutes, our waiter comes by to tell us, “ I’ll be right with you guys”, and skates away before I can saw a word. All I wanted was a bottle of wine to drink away my sorrows from the miserable experience. Finally he shows up and skips the formal greetings and says “Sorry, I was slammed with a big order, what would you like to eat?” What, no foreplay? Aren’t you going to ask me if I wanted a beverage first? I told him that we would like to place drink orders and then he gave me the “ohhh yeah” face. We also ordered their garlic bread since we hadn’t received a basket of bread yet….and I was getting doubtful it would ever arrive. After things started to get better, we received our wine and garlic bread and things were shaping up. That was until our main courses arrived.
Here is what we ordered and here is went wrong….
Fettuccini Con Scampi Pentangeli-Fettuccini surrounded by jumbo prawns sautéed with garlic and saffron and tossed with Cognac cream sauce $26. (Exact description from menu). When I looked and smelled my dish, I instantly knew it was bad.
Presentation: The color of the sauce was a little off, I know the cognac and saffron should make the sauce a little yellow, but even this yellow was off . . . something was not right. Second, the sauce appeared viscous and it clung to the pasta instead of draping over the pasta. They also used an orchid on top of the pasta as decoration. If you are furrowing your eyebrows right now, that was my reaction as well. Placing edible flowers on your food went out of style 15 years ago and last time I checked I wasn’t in Hawaii either . . . bad form for an Italian restaurant. Give me a rosemary sprig instead.
Aroma: Foul. Either they used a very smelly cheese, or used unfresh cheese/cream to provide the extremely unpleasant odor. Trust me, I am a big fan of stinky cheese to eat with my wine, so I don’t mind the smell of a particulary ripe cheese. But in this application, the chef either selected an inappropriate cheese for the dish or used unfresh ingredients. If it was the latter, I will call the health department myself, because I did get serious gut pain for the next couple hours and an unpleasant experience with the porcelain edifice.
Taste: The flavor was overly intense of cheese, cognac and saffron such that it was distracting to eat and I was not able to taste the linguini in the dish. The texture of the linguini told me that they used dry pasta and that they did not season the boiling water properly and did not cook it long enough. I don’t mind al dente, but the pasta was more chewy and bland. Although the shrimp were large, they were not fresh in terms of smell and texture. Perhaps the shrimp were a day or two past their prime, not unsafe, but they were losing their flavor and freshness. The texture of the noodles and sauce in my mouth was actually very bothersome. The sauce was extremely thick, almost a pasty texture. The result was that the sauce stuck in my mouth, even after I swallowed, leaving a mildly unpleasant flavor in my mouth that only wine could cure.
My wife’s had the same experience with her dish: mediocre shrimp, bad sauce, bland presentation, and bad aroma. The only difference between her dish and mine was that her pasta was overcooked and mushy. Nothing redeeming in either dish. Literally we barely took five bites of our dishes and stopped, I really tried to like the dish, but stopped in fear that I would get sick. No one ever stopped to ask how our food tasted and if we were enjoying ourselves, the manager never came out to check either. You may ask, why didn’t you send the food back? Well folks, I kept hearing other customers grumbling about their dishes as well, so I didn’t think the restaurant could do much better. Sometimes you have to call it a loss and move on.
Aside: They use an old bar station on the patio as a bus boy station to get glasses, utensils and to pack up left overs. I will be honest, this station should be kept out of the customer’s perview, nothing is more gross than watching other people’s half-eaten food being packed up in front of you. Plus, bus boy stations are noisy with clinks and crashes. Lucky me . . . my chair faced their station the whole time.
My Final Thoughts
This restaurant needs a serious makeover, from the recipes, to training their staff, to a review of their food quality/rotation. I developed an upset stomach that lasted the next 7 hours, while the food passed though my intestinal track. Sorry to get that descriptive folks, but at $28 for this dish I would expect much better quality of ingredients and preparation. For $28 I would expect house-made pasta, fresh ingredients and a well-trained staff. If I paid $7 for this dish at Pasta Bravo, I would have just thrown the dish away and call it a day. At $28 for very mediocre pasta and shrimp dish, the restaurant is taking advantage of the community or is not aware that their quality has slipped.
I wanted to make sure that my experience was not a bad night for the restaurant, so I asked fellow foodies and average restaurant goers about their experience at Stellas, and it turns out that my experiences are not unique. I recently interviewed three separate recent customers and they all gave me similar feedback: bad service, bad tasting dishes, high prices, and less than fresh seafood. To my readers, I personally do not like writing bad reviews and will always write the restaurant manager first with opportunities for improvement. Although this time I think Stella’s needs to hear the bad music in a public forum, so they can do some serious soul searching about what kind of restaurant they want to be. If you are the owner/manager of this restaurant, please change; we deserve better.
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