Stella’s on Cambie
3305 Cambie St.

Signature Drink: Fine beers by the dozens
Signature Dish: Queen Charlotte Halibut

Rating: ***1/2
Dinner & drinks for two: $90

Stella’s on Cambie proves sequels can be better

The original Stella’s on Commercial Drive is not a place of which I am overly fond. Putting aside the fact that beer is usually not my quaff of choice, the food—all tapas—never impressed or encouraged repeat visits. The recently-opened second location of Stella’s on Cambie, however, has shown me that—occasionally—sequels can outdo their predecessors.

The room itself was the first surprise. A highly unassuming storefront is graced with plastic outdoor tables and beer-emblazoned umbrellas. Step inside and an enormous bar and dark-wood high tops end with a large portrait of a stag. So far, the whole “brewery-as-diner” concept is loud and clear. But then you step around the corner through some heavily tasselled draperies into one of the nicest dining rooms I have yet to see on Cambie, with a vibe more in keeping with neighbour Pied-à-Terre than with the action out front. The large oil on the back wall, this one looking as if it’s straight out of the Folies-Bergère, looks over a comfortably upholstered and dimly-lit scene that begs for boisterous quads and maybe some intimate duos.

As for the menu, the original tapas menu from the Commercial Drive location is still in evidence, but this location seems to create more hits than misses, although a few items caused some raised eyebrows. Cauliflower “popcorn” ($5) was overly limed and under-cheesed, but panko-breaded calamari ($10) was an improvement -- light, fresh and not over-seasoned. The “Belgian” poutine ($9) with miso gravy and fresh green onion was a definite keeper.

With eight variations of moules to choose from, I figured mussels were a specialty. I went with a half-pound ($8) of the Normande ($14 for a pound), a combination of Granny Smith apples, mushrooms, bacon, shallots, brandy and cream. The apples stuck out like a sore tooth, unfortunately, but the moules themselves were plump and perfectly cooked and the sauce was just thick enough for multiple dunks of bread.

From the mains, a Queen Charlotte halibut ($17) over a pea and pancetta “risotto” made with jasmine rice was just perfect. The fish was tender and moist, and the risotto was rich and creamy without any mush. Braised pork tenderloin ($17) with baked beans in a chocolate porter sauce and hot Johnny cakes was another good find.

This location offers any three courses from the dinner menu for $28, which is excellent value for what you get. Our dessert one night, a chocolate-banana bread pudding ($7 a la carte), was deep, dark and eminently satisfying. A different night saw us enjoying a selection of cheeses ($9) from neighbouring Mount Pleasant Cheese Shop.

Overall, there’s a lot to enjoy here, in addition to the extensive list of beers. As for the not-so-bright spots on the menu, one can hope that consistency will blossom with time and keep this friendly little joint on the right track.

Going Green for the Holidays

Fetzer Vineyards in Mendocino, California, has been practicing sustainable wine growing and production since the early 1900s and currently runs on 100 per cent renewable energy, including solar, wind and thermal. The 2008 Valley Oaks Chardonnay is a medium-body, fruit-forward wine, with notes of vanilla bean, lemongrass, hazelnut and cloves. BCLS $13.99, but watch for a reduction over the holidays.

Top Shelf


Time to Head to Whistler
Whistler’s 13th Annual Cornucopia Food & Wine Extravaganza is back, starting today and running through to Sunday. With dozens of events, tastings, lectures, parties and dinners, this is a food and wine blast you won’t want to miss.

Dining Out

The Irish Heather (210 Carrall St) is continuing their popular Long Table series with a new menu for November. Enjoy a different entrée and pint of the good stuff for $15 every day. Upcoming selections include braised lamb shanks with a 16 oz pint of Grimbergen, roast turkey with onion stuffing, veal osso buco and Irish stew. Visit for details and reservations.

Society Dining Lounge (1257 Hamilton St), in honour of their grand opening, is offering a 2-for-1 deal on all food items between 11:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily, as well as a free dessert platter for every two dinner entrees ordered. Call 604-629-8800 for reservations.

Food in Brief

A second Ethical Bean Xpress is now open at Granville SkyTrain Station. Get your carbon-neutral, fair trade, organic coffee here…

Advance tickets to the 2010 Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival will go on sale Nov. 24. Public events will be on sale as of Feb. 2, 2010.

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