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Spring has sprung new menu items at Stella
By Dave Cathey
| Published: April 12, 2012
When chef Jonathan Krell left Philadelphia to visit his brother, he was dubious about the destination: Oklahoma.
It only took the former audio engineer a week to call his girlfriend to let him know he was moving to Oklahoma, and that she was invited to join him.
She didn't. But Krell fell so hard for the red-dirt state that he followed through on his plans to move, leaving behind a girlfriend and his hometown.
Now, Krell is chef at one of the city's most beautiful restaurants, Stella Modern Italian, 1201 N Walker Ave., replacing Brian McGrew who took over the kitchen at Cheever's Cafe. Krell recently turned over the menu at Stella for spring.
Owner Lori Tyler explained certain menu items, like the Osso Bucco, are permanent items but the restaurant makes seasonal changes to complement the foundation.
Krell's spring menu fling includes a lot less of something you wouldn't expect at an Italian restaurant: starch. His Lamb Shank with Asparagus and Pea Salad is the perfect example.
“You've got this huge, beautiful lamb shank with a sauce made from veal stock and this salad, which is just some really nice fresh asparagus mixed with peas,” he explained. “If I throw down a potato or some pasta with that, you're not going to make it half way through the lamb shank.”
Which would be a shame. The lamb is tender, the sauce rich and delicious. The pea and asparagus salad tasted like the picture I have in my head of a perfect spring afternoon. Thank goodness there was bread to whisk away any remaining sauce.
Then there is Mussels and Brussels, a beautiful combination of mussels and small Brussels sprouts tossed in a little oil before an interlude with a white-hot skillet in the Stella's pizza oven. Flavors found and brought to the surface, the mussels and Brussels are then combined with fresh spinach, saffron aioli, red onions and bits of bacon — nom, nom, nom, nom.
The grilled cheese sandwich Krell added to the menu was a team effort.
“I thought about a lot of different cheeses,” he said. “I thought it was gonna be blue cheese with bacon and green apples.”
But after taste-testing with Tyler and getting her feedback, Krell made some adjustments.
“I love sharp cheddar, and we have this extra sharp Vermont white cheddar,” he said.
Strong, but not as strong as the blue cheese. And to balance, he dropped bacon in favor of prosciutto.
“I took one bite, and told Jonathan that was the one,” Tyler said.
Lunch is an underappreciated gem at Stella. Brimming with natural light, the restaurant is a sight to behold. Lunch at Stella can be an ultracasual two-hour affair over a bottle of wine, or a quick grilled cheese at the bar, which is set up like a lunch counter for the noon crowd.
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Apr 10Stella's new chef, Jonathan Krell, springs some new menu...