Restaurant Review: Stella!

Stella’s Fish Café – 1400 West Lake Street, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55408

We had a big night planned: Four 40-ish couples, a limo, and a prime-time table in the kitchen at Stella’s Fish Café in Uptown Minneapolis. The ladies were lovely, the men large, and the energy was – well, we were the real deal. Knowing that I’d be evaluating this later, I hoped Stella’s could handle this Perfect Storm of exuberance and expectation that was about to roll up on ’em.

One of the great lessons of my middle adulthood has been a trick for dealing with the Big Event Effect. You know how the Big Event is often a disappointment due to the overboard buildup. It’s been true for me, and the same thing happens at parties, weddings, and – strangely – certain funerals.

The solution is as simple as the problem, and just as reliable. As best you can, avoid thinking about the Big Even (this is difficult if you are planning or preparing, but try anyway) and engage in some other novel treat for your consciousness leading up to it. Novelty is the key; Go for a bike ride or climb the rock wall at Gander Mountain or get a massage. Or start a fight at the mall. Something active.

It works like a charm. You go from being the guy you were on your wedding day, milling around in a tux all day waiting to being, say, Steve McQueen dropping into a hot party nattily dressed despite having spent the day racing motorcycles in the desert.

The limo – a stretch – pulled up at my house promptly at 6:30, stopping right in the middle of the intersection (I live ‘On the Grid’ in Saint Paul). The driver was a world-weary but ceremonious fellow, and he held the door with consummate patience as we waited the requisite, ain’t-no-mountain-high-enough extra ten minutes for my wife. While doing so, a bitter green Subaru pulled up close behind the limo, the beshawled lady at the helm straining her horn-honking, white-knuckled, heavily stickered little anger bus for some novel form of expression to more fully villify the atrocity idling before her. I waited uneasily for some resolution to this unfortunate scene, and when the long-suffering motorist finally managed in her Peace Coffee-fueled rage to navigate a seven-foot-wide car through a fifteen-foot-wide space, I turned my attention back to the driver, and was impressed to find the same benign gaze, the same readiness to assist in any way. In that moment, his emotional mettle proven, he became our Driver, and he would be an able guide as long as he was needed, so long as we paid up front and in cash.

I led us in, in full Walter Mitty mode, expecting the whole place in some small way to appreciate our arrival with some small sign that their wait was worth it. Did I just smile knowingly and nod at the hipster couple sitting near the bar? God help me, I think I did.

We were escorted, perfunctorily, to our table in the kitchen, where the clamor of copper and steel perfectly complemented our mildly raucous coterie. First, drinks. Stella’s offers a decent range of specialty cocktails, along with Cosmos, Mojitos and Martinis. Drinks like this run the same gamut as my favorite Hollywood starlets ’90’s. The Stella’s Sidecar is high-spirited and romantic, a club-night Drew Barrymore. A couple jiggling rocks in a sturdy glass round out this classic jewel. I loved the subversive, not-too-sweet Bootlegger Mojito, my Winona Ryder. I could have stuck with that drink all night and not tired of it. But they all dimmed a little in the gleaming splendor of the Grey Goose Cosmo Blanco, the Gwyneth Paltrow of Stella’s cocktails. This cosmo is simple, elegant, with a classy distinction true to its pedigree. As with Ms. Paltrow, I could be happy just looking at this drink. We started with a round of Ruby Red Martinis that even raised a long-furrowed eyebrow of Prince Van Slick, my dear friend and expert mixologist. Understand, Prince knows his cocktails, and when he tastes one he can tell me whether the fruit was muddled using wood or ceramic.

The best way to handle the food order in a situation like this is to casually order a Buchler. Be patient with your puzzled waiter as he asks you to repeat yourself since he’ll have no idea what you’re asking for. As many patrons of the finer restaurants in San Francisco (and remarkably few around here) are aware, ordering a Buchler is simply handing the reins over to the chef. Ideally, he will visit your table and learn a little about you to inform the culinary direction he chooses. As a true artist, he or she will happily oblige, and you’ll get the best specialties, if anything prepared with extra care.

In this case, Chef Chad first calmed us with some forgettable crab legs, then really let us have it with a round of scallops that were simple, succulent, and remarkably large. Now, I’ll usually one-hit a scallop, even if it’s a stretch, but not this time. Those babies were the size of White Castle sliders. The Bananas Foster was a dividend, finishing off a solid A- dining experience.

We strolled out the front door, and there was the Driver, not ten feet away, the disinterested chaperone at the junior high dance. This is when I felt the peace of that particular logic that I rarely feel outside Vegas: Whatever cash I have in my pocket – and it’s a lot – I’m going to spend tonight. The only decisions left to make are what I buy and for whom I buy it. Thus predisposed, we saddled up and headed out for Lee’s Liquor Lounge. How I went from that circumstance to broke and laryngitic within 90 minutes is a story worth telling sometime.

I recommend you do it, the whole deal. Email seven friends with this article attached and let them know that the night, if you’re thirsty, will cost about fifteen hundred bucks. Call Stella’s at 612-824-8862 and City Limo at 651 641-1946, and get it on the books.

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