YXE Dining: Bar Stella

My wife, Jenny, and I have a list of restaurants that we frequent and there’s a new Italian spot in Saskatoon that we’re officially adding to the rotation.

It’s called Bar Stella and it joins some already stiff competition in hotspots like Primal Pasta and Taverna. However, there’s no need to compare any of these places, because they each have their own vibes and do different things within the realm of Italian fare/pasta. Bar Stella also brings its own special something to the table (pun intended).

Bar Stella is in the old Drift building, across from the Farmer’s Market on 19th Street in Riversdale. It shares the Drift space with the newest Junior Café location. Right now, it’s just the first floor, but they also have a few more floors and a rooftop deck that they’re slowly adding to the mix (in fact, when we were there a week or so ago, only the first floor was open, but I just saw a social media post about the second floor being pretty much ready to go).

The slogan on their website is, “unfussy Italian,” which says it well. Italian food is trickier than many people assume, because it’s so simple. That simplicity of ingredients and execution means there’s nothing to hide behind. Each ingredient needs to play the right note to strum the full chord of a great dish.

Jenny and I have been twice now and sampled a number of dishes — we’ve ordered a few winners from their menu that we’ll go through here. Though, we usually like to kick things off with a cocktail.

They have a reasonable selection of wine, beer, and bubbles, but also some signature cocktails. The first time we were there, I tried the Hugo — vodka, mint, elderflower syrup, prosecco, & lime — which hit the spot.

Jenny had the Rossini, which is gin, prosecco, strawberry puree, and lemon.

The next time, I went off menu and asked if they could make a dirty vodka martini. Let me tell you, they made the dirtiest martini I’ve had in a while. Delicious.

But onto the food!

On the appetizer menu, we’ve had the calamari a couple of times. It’s good; fresh with a crispy batter on the outside. It was also served with sides of both garlic aioli and arrabbiata. Arrabbiata is like a marinara, with garlic, tomatoes, and herbs, but spicier, with red pepper flakes giving it a bit of kick.

We also tried the house made focaccia, an airy, flat leavened Italian bread, served with aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil for dipping.

On the salad side, my wife has ordered the Garden Salad a couple of times which was straight-forward, but fresh and bright.

I tried the Caesar. It was crowned with an anchovy and let me tell you, they did not spare the garlic. The salad was crispy and light.

In terms of pasta, we shared the Pomodoro, because my wife can’t eat dairy. It’s spaghetti and red sauce, meant to be a lighter pasta dish (it also comes with Reggiano cheese, which we had on the side so I could try it). You can also add meatballs, burrata, or other items, but we ordered it as a side to the steak (more on that in a moment).

The next time we darkened the doorway at Bar Stella, I tried the Alfredo, which was also spaghetti, served with white sauce and Reggiano. I love a good rich and creamy Alfredo sauce (note that the menu calls it white sauce, which is a different thing than Alfredo sauce, but I’m reasonably certain it was indeed Alfredo sauce; it tasted like Alfredo. White sauce is another term for béchamel, a French sauce that’s just as creamy, but made with different ingredients).

One of the best things we tasted (it was so good we ordered it the second time) was the steak. The cut of the day both times we dined was a flat iron steak, known for their tenderness, flavour, and excellent marbling. They did a bang-up job on the steak; it was a beautiful and even medium rare, with amazing flavour, and a bit of tang thanks to a salsa verde sauce.

There are plenty more items we haven’t tried yet, from the gnocchi to the parms to the deli sandwich (and I love my Italian cuts). There’s also tiramisu and cannolis for dessert.

The atmosphere is down-to-Earth but picturesque, especially in the summer. That building has some beautiful balconies and windows you can open for al fresco dining. It’s the perfect blend of upscale, but casual.

Bar Stella? More like Bar Stellar.  

Craig Silliphant

Craig Silliphant is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, editor, critic, creative director, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He has written two books; a non-fiction book about Saskatoon's music scene, Exile Off Main St, and a book of short stories called Nothing You Do Matters. He's a husband and father who loves living in Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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