The latest endeavor by the Reef Guys, Stella Sola occupies the space formerly (and briefly) known as Bedford. Located on Studewood, next door to the Glass Wall, this new Houston restaurant has been buzzing since shortly after it opened. This despite the rocky start caused by the dismissal of its well-known chef, Jason Gould (formerly of Gravitas), just days before the opening. The sous chef, Justin Bayse, stepped in and the restaurant opened just a couple months before the publication of a New York Times article about Houston restaurants featuring Reef and Stella Solla (among others). On a weekend (which starts on Thursday on the Houston restaurant scene), reservations are essential; make them at least a week in advance.
Thankfully, the Reef Guys did some remodeling to cozy up the minimalist interior of Bedford. Banquette seating was added along one side of the restaurant, and the warmer colors go with the “Texas Tuscan” theme of the restaurant. No, we didn’t make that up. That’s how the restaurant was originally presented by the Reef Guys and, after dining there, we suppose that characterization is apt, if not slightly gimmicky. We didn’t spend any time in the bar, but the cocktail menu was designed by Bobby Huegel (Anvil Bar), the artisanal cocktail master of Houston. Since we’d actually been at Anvil (highly recommended) before heading to dinner, we just had a glass of wine and didn’t get a sense of the wine list. Our service was friendly and attentive.
Chef Bayse is touted for his homemade cured meats, so we had to start with the Meat Market Platter. Graced by six different cured meats, primarily with a pork emphasis, we particularly enjoyed the pancetta, lardo (don’t ask, just eat), and the pork shoulder offerings. We were horribly disappointed to find that the restaurant had just run out of the roasted half suckling pig (served for two persons). We settled for the country style pork rib (a hunk of pork shoulder) that was a little dry on the outside but tender and moist closer to the bone. (Having tried cooking country style pork ribs, we have to give credit to the chef; that’s a tricky piece of meat to cook right.) The pork was sided with delicious (i.e., bacon strewn) sautéed kale. We also tried the rock shrimp and bay scallop risotto. The risotto was properly cooked and quite tasty, tinged with lemon, but, for $24, we expected more shrimp and scallops. The shrimp were cut in small pieces, about the size of the bay scallops, and not particularly plentiful.
This restaurant will likely continue its popularity. The Chronicle’s Allison Cook just gave it two stars. We plan to venture back soon, but we’re calling first to make sure the suckling pig is on the menu that night.