Our Gourmet: At Stella Blu in Nashua, big tastes come on small plates
Appetizers. Dinner. Dessert. The standard menu structure you are familiar with is thrown out the window at Stella Blu in downtown Nashua.
Stella Blu specializes in tapas, also known as small plates, or tasting portions of larger meals. Tapas originated in Spain, but this downtown fine dining establishment offers small plates from across the world including Little Italy, the Latin Quarter, Asia Town and good ol' American flavors (and there's a special gluten-free menu, too). Tapas are a great way to try a bunch of things without the entrée getting in the way. We loved being able to ditch the constraints of a traditional menu.
One of the first questions you'll ask yourself is how many plates should you order? We settled on four small plates with the thought that if we were still hungry we'd order additional plates, and of course we always like to leave room for dessert. The next question was what are we going to order? That was an even more difficult question. The variety of plates made it difficult to choose, and they all sounded delicious.
Because The Dining Companion was making a huge effort to share, I handed over the menu and left the ordering to him. Both of us were starving and quite literally could have been there all night trying to figure out what plates to choose. I didn't hear what TDC ordered, because the entertainment for the evening was a little loud, so I was indeed surprised to see what the server was bringing over.
The first two plates that the server brought to the table were Crab Dip ($8) and Asian Thai Stix ($7).
The Asian Thai Stix includes two skewered pieces of grilled chicken marinated in a sweet chile sauce. Marinating and cooking the chicken in the sauce helped balance the flavors, where the sweetness was not overly pronounced and the bite from the chile was more gradual and trailing. The chicken had that perfect balance of sweet and savory.
The crab dip, served with seasoned toast points, was good and cheesy, and not "fishy." We both liked it, but we found ourselves wishing for that sweet crab taste that we were expecting. That being said, we both kept going back for another taste. TDC so far was two-for-two in his choices.
Just as we were finishing the first two plates, the server brought over the next round: Rowdy's Zesty Chicken ($10) and the Seared Scallops ($14).
In Rowdy's case, "zesty" means get ready to feel that tingling sensation in your face as the spice takes hold and beads of sweat start to form on your brow. This chicken dish is served with rice and softened peppers that are mixed together with a spicy Middle Eastern sauce.
This dish will overwhelm your senses and either send you the running to a cold drink or will have you hunkering down to enjoy more of its fiery flavor. TDC really enjoyed this dish. While I like spicy foods and always insist on hot mustard at a Chinese restaurant, I could only have two forkfuls without feeling like I may never get my sense of taste back.
Of the four plates we ordered, the only one that disappointed us was the Seared Scallops, served with saffron rice and a roasted red pepper and Gouda sauce. While the presentation was beautiful like the other three plates, looks can be deceiving. The scallops did not taste fresh and did not have that good hard sear we thought it should have. They were also a bit rubbery. After tasting the other three plates, we were surprised at how much this dish missed the mark.
To round out the meal, we chose two sweet offerings. I decided on the Molten Chocolate Cake ($7), served with vanilla ice cream. The cake with the hot oozy chocolate fudge center was not only the perfect size, but also simply divine. I'm no stranger to this decadent dessert, and this was quite possibly the best one I've had. The vanilla ice cream that accompanied it was extra creamy. It could have stood on its own.
TDC had the Hot Fudge Sundae ($7). It's served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of a soft hot-fudge-covered brownie topped with whipped cream. He said it wasn't anything extraordinary, just a good old-fashioned favorite.
As the dining crowd thinned out, we got a good look at the the beautiful interior of Stella Blu. The bright colors, strategic lighting and modern design were a nice change from the dark, dimly lit settings we've been eating in lately. You can see your date; you can see your food.
The restaurant is smaller than we expected, but we liked the intimate setting and appreciated that the tables are set far enough apart so you don't feel like you are encroaching on other people's space. You can also ditch a table for a seat at the large bar along the wall and watch the game if the date isn't going so well.
We enjoyed Stella Blu and will no doubt go back to try another four dishes - there were many more we wanted to try. And because TDC did such a great job choosing, I think I'll let him do it again.