I’m not gonna lie, when I walked into Stella Barra on a Friday night, I assumed it would be a ghost town.
Not anything against the restaurant… just the location. It’s kind of cursed. I’ve been to some of the prior attempts (the ghosts of restaurants past), and they didn’t exactly stick. I’m surprised by this, since it’s a prime location: right next to the Arclight Theater on Sunset Blvd. Apparently, moviegoers will pay $15 for a tub of popcorn but are more discerning when it comes to pre-movie eats.
Instead of a barren wasteland of desperately bored servers, I walked into a bustling, happening place! There were actual butts in the seats. The very comfortable seats, I might add. Why is comfy seating so rare? Why must every restaurant not only force me to love kale but also make me sit on a rock hard communal bench?
When I spoke to the Chef/Partner/Heartthrob Jeff Mahin (27 years old, recent contestant on the competition-reality show The Taste), I completely forgot to thank him for the seating and instead grilled him on a much more important issue: what he thought of me. More specifically, what he thought of food bloggers in general.
“I think bloggers are important for the masses,” Mahin explained. “I find myself looking at blogs more than the food section, there is just more information than a few news companies can produce. With that said, newspapers do have the advantage over bloggers with expertise. Anyone can start a blog.”
Having a few restaurants already under his belt (M Street Kitchen, Stella Barra in Santa Monica) Mahin and his team clearly know what they’re doing. None of the typical, new-opening mishaps to be had.
“Each day we focus on trying to make each dish better,” Mahin explained when asked what sets him apart from the insurgence of gourmet pizza places popping up. “Every day I am trying something new or trying to find a better product or technique.”
Mahin’s thin-crust pizzas are divided into two categories. The red varieties include the Rossa (charred cherry tomato and roasted garlic) and the Porchetta & Fennel (with Calabrian chilis and smoked paprika oil), and the white varieties include my favorite Shaved Mushroom (with gruyère, melted onions and black truffle) and Spring Onion & Smoked Bacon (the table’s favorite).
While the following statement may be a bold one, I stand by it: Stella Barra is now my favorite gourmet pizza spot. Move over, Olio Pizzeria!
What stood out most was the crust. Every pie purveyor in town whips out their ovens, boasting hotter temperatures and shorter cooking times, in a sort of pizza pissing contest. This often results in chewy, undercooked crust covered in tiny burn marks. Granted, I still eat the heck out of those.
Here, the crust was simple and perfect. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside.
You must finish your meal with one of M Street Bakery’s famous cookies-on-steroids. If you’re not feeling the obligatory Chocolate Chip Bacon, try the Chocolate Rice Crispy cookie. Decadent and necessary.
I have a feeling Stella Barra has broken the curse and is here to stay, if the positive online reviews have anything to say about it. However, if they serve you a burned pizza or wilted salad, say something to your server. Mahin says, “[Online reviews] can empower people to hold their frustrations in and then express their dismay at home, when it is out of our reach.”
Good advice for Menuism readers.
Bun Boy has been obsessed with the LA restaurant scene since he moved here 12 years ago. He visits about 4 restaurants a week, mostly never repeating any. Even in these wavering economic times, he absolutely refuses to give up one of his favorite pastimes.