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Published August 05, 2009, 12:00 AM

Stella’s steeped in home-style Italian

The menu at Stella’s says the Pappardella alla Bolognese ($16) is “special.” It’s “Anthony’s great-grandma Josephine’s recipe.”

By: Eric Daeuber, Special to The Forum, INFORUM

The menu at Stella’s says the Pappardella alla Bolognese ($16) is “special.” It’s “Anthony’s great-grandma Josephine’s recipe.”

I don’t know the woman, but a quick look around Stella’s and you might very well be in Anthony’s great-grandma Josephine’s dining room. It’s decked out in that marvelous octogenarian kitsch that seems to show up in grandparental homes.

The pictures on the wall are old masterpieces printed on faux canvas. Photos of celebrities with tangential connections to Italy cover the walls near the entrance. It’s actually quite charming. I’ve had Bolognese sauces in Bologna more than once, and I think I might have run into great-grandma Josephine’s recipe. The prosciutto gives her away.

My point is, Stella’s, which was previously called Isabella, is authentic in that it looks like and feels like someone’s overdone pre-deco dining room. The dishes have the ring of authenticity. Sauces, such as the tomato sauce that goes with the fresh mozzarella sticks ($7), are made with fresh herbs. The Bolognese sauce really does taste like it’s been on Josephine’s stove for five hours, and the bread that comes before the meals is warm, crisp and fresh. By the way, fans of Grand Junction may recognize it.

What differentiates Stella’s from other European-style restaurants in Fargo, such as Toscana or Silver Spoon, are the simple flavors of the dishes.

The salad that comes with dinner is a basic iceberg lettuce salad with a basic vinaigrette dressing. Cheese sauces such as the cream parmigiano served with shrimp and mushrooms in the Gamberone alla Romana ($21) are not dull but better thought of as straightforward.

This is certainly a style that many appreciate. It allows basic ingredients to be themselves. Others may find themselves asking for a salt shaker. The style fares very well in big meat dishes such as the Filetto Originato ($25), where the sautéed beef can stand on its own but it can mean a less-than-inspiring pasta dish, the Bolognese notwithstanding.

Service is good but, once again, it’s basic. Servers are attentive, friendly and timely, and their approach is in keeping with the casual, family atmosphere. But most restaurants in Fargo struggle to find people genuinely excited by the food they serve, and Stella’s is no different.

The requisite tiramisu ($7) is served in a mug, so it sacrifices beauty for simplicity. The wine list is short but complete and gets expensive quickly. With that in mind, here’s something you might want to try; the Bellagio Chianti, complete with wicker basket, can be had for $18. It’s exactly the sort of thing great-grandma Josephine might have put on the table.

Restaurant review

Stella’s

612 1st Ave. N.

Fargo

Cuisine: Italian

Ratings:

  • Food: Three stars
  • Service: Three stars
  • Ambiance: Three stars

Dining details

  • Where: Stella’s, 612 1st Ave. N., Fargo
  • Phone: (701) 365-0608
  • Reservations accepted: Recommended
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Alcohol: Full bar
  • Dress: As you like
  • Credit cards accepted: Visa, MasterCard, Discover
  • Hours: 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday

Eric Daeuber is an instructor at Minnesota State Community and Technical College. Readers can reach him at food@daeuber.com.

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