Stella! Meets Stanley
Scott Boswell gilds the lily in the same way that Fabergé did with his jeweled eggs: with panâche and an over-the-top style. The dishes at his flagship restaurant Stella! typically feature ornate arrangements of luxurious and unusual ingredients, many seldom seen elsewhere in the city, making a visit a special occasion. And now that his casual diner Stanley has reopened in its new location fronting Jackson Square, there are two places to enjoy his rococo style of cooking.
As Stella! is synonymous with luxury, it’s fitting that a recent visit featured not one but two amuse-bouches. The first was a spiced gulf shrimp resting in a mango-champagne sauce and garnished with a taro chip; very tasty. The second was a goat cheese and jalapeño wonton dressed up with a cilantro and coconut jus. For appetizers, a tempting custard made from Canadian Lobster and an organic egg came served in an upright eggshell garnished with truffle shavings. The dish was sufficiently decadent, though not much more substantial than the preceding amuse. A more filling choice would be the Hudson Valley Foie Gras BLT. Between two layers of squared-off, toasted brioche was a meltingly delicious puck of foie gras accompanied by truffle mayonnaise, crisp chips of bacon and an incongruous slice of tomato. Referencing some more traditional foie gras accompaniments were the sweet Persian pickle slices (akin to bread and butter chips). Miniature house-made potato chips rounded it out, layered between pipings of tangy crème fraiche.
At most restaurants, the more daring stuff is typically on the appetizer menu while the main courses tend to be more subdued. Not so at Stella!. The entrées are where Scott Boswell uses all the tools in his kit, and it shows. A filet of Mero Seabass was glazed with miso and sake, garnished with microgreens then served atop a tangle of mixed noodles including soba, udon and green tea-flavored. Around the noodles was ladled a broth enriched by shark’s fin and studded with hunks of lobster and crabmeat. When tackled with a fork, the lean seabass flaked easily into large, sweetly lacquered pieces. Other bits tumbled down into the broth, augmenting the fragrant brew.
Strangely, Boswell’s descriptive menu made no mention of the most notable quality of his seared Saddle of Millbrook Venison – that it was cooked sous-vide. This method, a favorite of practitioners of molecular gastronomy, doesn’t see much employ here in New Orleans; this is one of the reasons why Stella! stands out. The venison boasted a ruby-red color, the hue of quality tuna. Yet it was fully cooked, albeit in a vacuum-sealed pouch for such a long time and at such a low temperature that not even its natural color broke down. The first mouthful of this dish therefore makes for a genuine surprise. The venison was dressed with a sweet red onion confit, caramelized shiitake mushrooms and purple and green Brussels sprouts. A crisp potato galette contributed both texture and starch.
Note that Boswell’s menu is always changing, so what you read about here may not be available later. But he does keep legacy dishes on the menu such as his Duck Five Ways – a popular choice that breaks down the tasty bird in myriad preparations: spicy seared breast, lacquered leg and thigh (think “Peking”), stir-fry “moo-shoo” served with a pancake, a broth rounded out with miso, and foie gras wontons drizzled with a currant and cassis reduction. Like the Native Americans with a fresh buffalo, Boswell uses every part of the duck for this one.
Desserts included a trio of crème brûlée – star anise, green tea and ginger and Grand Marnier – served in eggshells and topped with flavor-infused “air”. At one point an order of ice creams went past our table, trailing smoke from a quick dash of liquid nitrogen. Bells and whistles, unique ingredients and creative tricks are what a person comes to Stella! for, and guests are typically hugely rewarded.
Stella! is a splurge, ranking among the priciest places in town. Guests with a bit of time might consider the seven course tasting menu (2 courses are desserts) which stacks up well against the a la cart menu in terms of price. Valet parking is available at the hotel for just $5 – a good thing. Few people leave Stella! disappointed, but some might leave broke.
Stanley, Boswell’s more casual restaurant, puts the focus on breakfast and diner-type food. It reopened in mid-December, having staked out the power-corner space fronting Jackson Square formerly occupied by La Madeleine. The renovation has resulted in a handsome restaurant, a hybridized diner whose semi-open kitchen is decked out in white porcelain subway tile and stainless steel cladding. Counter and tabletops are marble, but the feel of the place is softened by the dark wood wainscoting fronting the lunch counter. Overall it is an attractive, airy space.
Stanley was conceived as an all-day breakfast place, diner and soda stand, though many of the breakfast dishes and sandwiches are a bit more highbrow than what you would find at, say, Bluebird (Korean BBQ beef tenderloin poor boy with house-made Kim Chee, anyone?). But by and large, his basic premise is to take a traditional breakfast dish and dress it up a bit rather than starting from scratch. My Eggs Stanley, perfectly poached eggs perched atop an English muffin with Canadian bacon and a terrific, pale-yellow Creole hollandaise, received a generous double-handful of cornmeal-crusted and fried oysters. Eggs Stella is a similar dish, swapping out the fried oysters for a soft-shell crab. An order of onion rings that went past my table looked very tasty. A cup of gumbo featured a chocolate-brown roux coloring a broth that was flavorful but quite thin. There were, however, at least four shrimp and two oysters – added at the last minute so they plumped up nicely – a good haul for a small bowl of soup, rounded out with chunks of spicy andouille.
If you don’t want breakfast, there are plenty of poor boy options such as the aforementioned Korean BBQ, an eggs Benedict poor boy (!), classic burgers and a New Orleans Reuben. In lieu of a default iced tea or water, try one of the Italian sodas or ice cream freezes.
Milkshakes, malts and sundaes are available as well, along with some neat ice cream flavors like green apple sorbet and blueberry cheesecake, which also appear on Stella!’s dessert menu. Bloody Marys, beer and wine are available to round out the traditional New Orleans breakfast experience. Good stuff. Welcome back, Stanley!