The words “wood fired” are always a big lure for me. Pretty much like the words “comfort food,” “home made” and “rustic” make me feel like I’m being pampered. There’s something so comforting, inviting and warm about them. Stella—a bistro located in Bonifacio High Street Central—has bravely put on the “wood fired” concept as their signature style. Offering a rustic menu complemented by fine music and cozy interiors, the place embodies a kind of dining experience meant to be enjoyed when you have good company. Or, when you need a hug.
A look at Stella’s menu can whet the appetite for earthy and smoky flavors, pretty much those that hit close to home.
Their pizza selections, which are best sellers, showcase a variety of unconventional, yet brilliant, combinations. Take the Smoked Salmon and Black Caviar Pizza (P450), for example, which is a smattering of ricotta crème fraiche, fresh dill, red onions and lemon caper berries. It sounds impressive enough to pique the curiosity.
As Stella newcomers, however, the classics are a must. We try the Queso Pizza (P395), a carefully selected medley of four cheeses: emmental, mozzarella, tilamook cheddar dusted with pimenton (paprika), malagos ricotta and pecorino. Everything is also topped with ricotta crème. The outer crust is a golden brown, its inside chewy and slightly sweet—a welcome contrast to the saltiness of the cheeses.
Meant to be shared, the 8-inch Queso Pizza doesn’t scrimp on the cheese and the flavor. A bite gives you a better appreciation of the different kinds of cheese, and how they simultaneously stand out and blend in.
Such attention to making the most out of every ingredient is also evident in Stella’s real homemade iced teas. Emphasis on the “real,” their menu says. We tried the Four Red Fruits (P120) and Passion Fruit, Mango & Orange (P120).
Homemade iced teas
Passion Fruit, Mango & Orange and Four Red Fruits
Both drinks are refreshing and the tea flavors truly manifest. Clean and rejuvenated are the words to describe what these authentic iced teas can make you feel. It’s an instant boost; highly recommended for dour moods and the Manila temperature.
Slow Roasted Truffled Beef Belly
Speaking of mood enhancers, I know people who perk up at the smell of roasted beef. The Slow Roasted Truffled Beef Belly (P595) possessed such a lovely aromatic smell, it was met with ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ when brought to the table. The meat was tender, it being slow-cooked in truffled cabernet gravy and then combined with roasted mushrooms, garlic confit. As a finishing touch, the dish is topped with a picee of Jamon Serrano crisp. Utterly indulgent, the beef belly is best eaten with rice. Savor every morsel because this dish is quite small, but packs a lot of flavor.
If Stella is good at creating new dishes and making use of various ingredients, then they are even better at creating their own version of old favorites. The wood fired “Callos a la Stella” (P495) is an instant hit at our table.
“Callos a la Stella”
It contains all the requisite ingredients a proper callos dish should have: Spanish chorizo, double smoked bacon, beef tripe, garbanzos, roasted bell peppers and a roasted tomato. The olives thrown in the mix provide a welcome diversion. I indulged and paired it with the Spanish Chorizo and Garlic Fried Rice (P95), in the process, bidding adieu to the other callos dishes I’ve tried before.
Spanish Chorizo and Garlic Fried Rice
Another favorite and definitely a conversation starter is the Salt Baked Gindara Fillet (400g) (P420).
Salt-Baked Gindara Fillet
A closer observation would reveal that the fish’s covering is not bread, as we initially thought, but rock salt---lots of it. Open the lid to reveal a huge chunk of beautiful white fish topped with lemon slices. Flaky, soft and succulent—the delicately-flavored gindara is tasty enough on its own. Dipped in the light dill citrus cream, however, it is heightened to pescetarian heaven. I cannot restrain myself from finishing nearly half of the serving, given that it’s healthy and guilt-free.
Rock salt 'bowl'
We munched on some veggies to balance everything out. A good choice is the Wood-Fired Cauliflower and Broccoli (P195), which is topped with Malagos Pecorino and olive oil. The smoky flavor was very evident on the cauliflower. This kind of simple and healthy preparation of vegetables was kind of a revelation for me, and something that I made a mental note of, so I can try to recreate at home. Although, I predict it would be a poor replica, since the wood fire oven is probably the biggest contributor to its delicate, earthy taste.
Wood-Fired Cauliflower and Broccoli
For dessert, it’s a sin not to partake of Stella's Wood Fired Chocolate Almond Cookie Dough with Mantecado Ice Cream (P195)—a yummy-smelling combination of hot and soft cookie dough embedded with rosemary pistachios, and then topped with Mantecado ice cream and salted caramel. So good and comforting, it’s reason enough to give Stella a visit.
Stella's Wood Fired Chocolate Almond Cookie Dough
Stella is versatile, in a way that it can cater to big groups and intimate dates. I think great food does that. It brings a lot of different people under one roof, lures them into conversation and then settles them down with burps and satisfied smiles. It’s like a huge wave of warmth that washes over you and tides you over ‘til you get a real nice hug—or another serving of that wood fired cookie dough.