"When I was a general manager, I treated the restaurants like they were mine," she said. "But they weren't mine in reality. We just felt like the time was right to finally make it happen."
With a name picked out and a location in mind, there was the matter of having a head chef.
"Kurt Fleischfresser was an enormous help," she said. "Not only in giving me a list of names of people to contact but in helping us design the kitchen."
One of the names the Coach House owner-chef and Western Concepts partner gave her was that of one of his former apprentices, Brian McGrew.
McGrew was living in the chef's playground that is Napa Valley and loving it when he and his wife decided it was time to start a family. "We wanted to be somewhere closer to family," he said. "So, I started sending feelers back to Oklahoma."
McGrew was invited to cater a dinner party for the Tylers and some hand-picked guests at their home in Heritage Hills. Tyler said, "About halfway through the meal, one of our guests said to me, 'You are going to hire him aren't you?'"
McGrew, a 1999 graduate of The Coach House apprenticeship program who was working at AKA in St. Helena, Calif., brings a simple stylistic approach to food and the kitchen at Stella.
"I ask a lot of the staff," McGrew said. "I want them to be patient with the food and to really look at it, make sure it passes the eye test before you get started. When we cook, I tell them not to look at the clock but look at the food."
McGrew believes in keeping things simple but demands fresh ingredients that are local and organic as often as possible. With help from fellow Coach House grad Kevin Ward, he's producing elegant fare that highlights the natural flavors of the ingredients.
And McGrew and Ward use the oven as often as possible.
"We do a Roman-style pizza," McGrew said. "It's a lot different from the pizza you'll get other places; the crust is really thin and crispy. But I use the oven for everything I can, like our salmon salad, which is really popular."
The simple menu also includes five salads and appetizers, a couple of soups, five sandwiches and four entrees on the lunch menu, and nine entrees on the dinner menu.
As eye-catching and artful as the food is at Stella, the atmosphere is its equal. Tyler reached back to her hometown of Dallas to task designer Alice Cottrell to come up with the look for Stella. The result is a casual, elegant setting bathed in natural light muted by curtains made of Italian fabric by day and made aglow by Venetian glass fixtures by night. Knoll and Eames chairs, Plyboo floors, artsy Italian wallpaper and cashmere curtains hide a giant flat-screen television in a room that can be converted into a party room. At the granite-top bar, you can choose from 73 bottles of wine and 23 by the glass.
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Stella Modern Italian Cuisine
• Where: 1201 N Walker Ave.
• Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.
• Reservations: Call 235-2200 or go to www.
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