If you’re a fan of upscale Italian, a pair of recent restaurant openings should have captured your attention. You’ve likely read of Carbone, the red-sauce Italian import from New York that might be the hottest seat in town over in the Design District. But if it is authentic Italian you seek, then La Stella Cucina Verace in the Arts District is for you.
La Stella shrewdly opened a few weeks ahead of Carbone in the space that formerly housed Flora Street Café, but it’s Carbone that has gathered the most attention, with a reservation list more jammed than Central Expressway on a Friday afternoon. Meanwhile, we were able to nab a table for two at La Stella on a Saturday night at 7:15 p.m. on just a few days’ notice.
Elegant oysters with caviar from La Stella.
At the helm of La Stella is chef Luigi Iannuario, who was born and raised in Italy and whose career has spanned everywhere from private chef to Michelin-starred restaurants. “Verace” means “authentic” in Italian, and La Stella Cucina Verace interprets “verace” as “a way of life and an appreciation for good food, good wine, and the good life,” according to its marketing.
La Stella fits in with their Arts District address, with an interior steeped in bold colors, splashes of neon and modern decor. A white piano sits just inside, and live music kicked in about halfway through our visit. Servers are sharply attired in shirts, ties and La Stella branded aprons, and ours was quick to offer a bit of Iannuario’s background, as well as suggestions as we navigated the menu.
Plating of dishes at La Stella, like this rigatoni in an oxtail sauce, is an art form.
La Stella’s menu breaks down into four sections: antipasti (appetizers), primi (pastas), secondi (entrées) and contorni (sides). Naturally, our waiter recommended two of us share a few appetizers and pastas, then settle on an entrée and sides for each. Even with reasonable portion sizes, it would be a lot of food. Instead, we opened with a half-dozen of the elegant raw oysters ($26), served chilled with a portion of caviar and a Champagne-cucumber granita, along with the daily bread service ($11 per person) that came with two types of bread, a sampling of olives and chunks of Parmesan and pecorino cheeses.
We stuck with a pair of pasta dishes for our main courses; La Coda ($27) was a rich oxtail tomato and white wine sauce served with rigatoni that was hearty and complex, and Genovese di Mamma ($26) that offered a Neapolitan style braised short-rib sugo. The Genovese was a solid, albeit an interesting choice, as Iannuario once told us a decade ago
that short ribs were an overdone choice of the Dallas restaurant scene. Plating on all of our dishes elevated the food to near artistic levels.
By choosing pasta as our entrées, we left some room to sample La Stella’s dessert menu. There’s a delicious-sounding Nutella semifreddo and a selection of gelatos and sorbets, but we settled on the tiramisu ($15), which had a mascarpone mousse and espresso and cocoa-soaked ladyfingers, served in a chilled stainless steel martini glass, and flute of house-made limoncello ($14) to wash it down.
La Stella's tiramisu makes for an indulgent end to an evening meal.
Of course, upscale Italian dining comes with an upscale price tag, and a quick tally of the food above put our tab over $130, and that’s before sampling anything from La Stella’s impressive wine list or a cocktail from the bar. Perusing the entrées portion of the menu, the range starts with a sous-vide and charred octopus for $44, and stretches to a 28-day dry-aged 36-ounce steak Florentine for $178.
As we noted last year,
the bounty of higher-end restaurants coming to Dallas isn’t new, as big ventures come with big price tags. Many of these restaurants have been in the works for years, and there’s a healthy appetite for upscale dining in Dallas. La Stella’s exquisite flavors come at an equally exquisite cost, but this is nothing new for the city, and a truly diverse dining scene such as ours allows for a variety of experiences at all price points. After all, indulgences, if you can afford them, are what makes life worth living, are they not?
La Stella Cucina Verace, 2330 Flora St., No. 130, 4:30-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 4:30 p.m. to 12 a.m. Friday-Saturday