Italian Comfort Food (Plus Small Plates and Craft Cocktails) at Stella Van Buren
The best of all worlds can be found on the third floor of the newly opened Westin Hotel located Downtown. Stella Van Buren, the hotel’s Italian American steak house, is warm and cozy, yet trendy and sleek. It has the kind of Italian American comfort food you would find at a red-and-white-checkered tablecloth restaurant, but also small plates and outstanding steaks menu found at an upscale, big city steakhouse.
Stella Van Buren
550 N. Van Buren St.
Handicapped access: Yes
CC, FB, RS, GF, V
Hours: Open daily; coffee bar 6-10 a.m., breakfast 6:30-11 a.m., lunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m., dinner 5-10 p.m., bar 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
The seating is cozy, the music gives off a good vibe, and the décor is light and spacious not at all like the heavy red velvet and dark wood steak houses you would expect. The kitchen is a semi-open concept, and the modern yet comfortable couches and chairs can seat all different size parties. Large windows that reach to the ceiling give a panoramic view of the city to complete the ambiance. The bar area alone is worth the destination, whether it’s the extensive bourbon selection (that the bartender has to shinny up the library ladder to obtain) or the craft cocktails, some with an Italian flare, but all made with fresh ingredients. The deliciously, refreshing Italian Paloma ($12), made with Altos Silver tequila and house-made rosemary grapefruit soda, is one of the more popular cocktails and really hit the spot on a hot, sunny day. They also have a good selection of beer and wine. The bar area is open from 11 a.m. until 1 a.m.
The menu starts with small plates meant for sharing with such creative takes on classics as the calamari “fries” ($11), tender long strips cut from a calamari steak, breaded and fried crisp with a side of lemon aioli and red sauce for dipping. The arancini ($9) are made from cauliflower risotto and paired well with the smoked mozzarella. The burrata ($11) with heirloom tomatoes perched high on top of crusty bread with white balsamic reminded us of everything we love about summer, as did the spicy tuna tartare ($13), a combination of creamy avocado, tang of citrus and crunch from the pistachio.
The salad that won my heart was the shredded kale and Brussels sprouts ($11). Just when you thought that you have tried every kale salad there is to try, Stella Van Buren’s delightful version surprises with roasted grapes lightly dressed with Parmesan vinaigrette.
All of the pastas on the menu are made in house daily. The cheese ravioli ($14) was bathed in a pesto butter and the baked rigatoni carbonara ($17) was reinvented with fennel sausage, Parmesan cream, a perfect egg yolk to mix in to the sauce to make it even more decadent and snap peas for an exciting texture. If decadence is what you’re after, the red wine-braised short rib ($28) served over hand-cut fettuccine with black truffle alfredo is a culinary European Union reminiscent of a well-executed Beef Bourguignon.
All the steaks are USDA Prime from Midwest cattle and cuts range from an 8-ounce filet or 12-ounce bone-in, 10-ounce skirt steak, 14-ounce NY strip and a 22-ounce dry-aged bone-in ribeye ($29-$49). All of the steaks come à la carte with the option to add a number of sauces ($2-$3) or add one of their sides ($8), which are enough for two to four people to share. The smashed Yukon potatoes and the caramelized cauliflower with golden raisins, capers and smoked almond were both outstanding choices.
The menu also has choices of fresh seafood like Mediterranean Branzino ($28), roasted and baked items like eggplant rollatini ($14) and of course, Italian classics like Mama Lucia’s Spaghetti and Meatballs, baked lasagna and chicken Parmesan ($16-$19). For a great end to the meal, try an Italian dessert. The zeppoles are fried doughnuts served with Nutella and strawberry preserves. The cannoli is another perfect little bite of pleasure.
Stella Van Buren is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner.