I dined at the most fabulous pizza bar in Santa Monica this evening - Stella Rossa. It is owned and operated by LEYE (Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises) which is a Chicago-based corporation that owns about 80 restaurants nationwide.
After valet parkin we stepped inside. It was urban and masculine; white tile, red brick, exposed wood, and ambient mood lighting. A large boxy bar in the middle of the room with high rectangular tables and stools scattered around the edges of the space. Wooden beam-like shelves support what looked like the entire inventory of their wine list in long rows up high on the walls. The music was somewhere between moderate and loud but I could have sworn it continued to grow louder over the hour and a half we were there.
A simple craft paper menu listed their hand-crafted cocktails; we loved the Honey Badger which was served on the rocks with tequila, honey, chamomile. and lime ($13). It also listed their beers (a handful of draft options and lots by the bottle), bottled craft sodas, and an array of wines by the glass; I had a wonderful glass of Albarino ($9.50) that paired perfectly with our starter: fresh local burrata drizzled in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and then served alongside wood grilled grapes and crusty housemade bread ($10.95).
Next we moved onto more family-style selections including farmers market vegetable plates (brussels sprouts and mushrooms), Italian Chopped Salad (tossed in a super light vinaigrette), and four pizzas.
Before I get into the details about their pizza let me fill you in on the crust. According to that simple craft paper menu that I mentioned, they handcraft the dough each day using locally milled flours, sea salt, filtered water, and fresh yeast. Then they allow it to ferment for at least 18 hours to ensure a crisp golden crust, chewy center, and unique artisan flavor. The part with the toppings is super duper thin and then it plumps up at the crustline - a magical combination.
Each pizza is 12 inches diameter in size and is cut into 8 slices. They range from $12.95 to $16.95 and then you are invited to add extras like white anchovy, calabria chilies, or wild arugula for another couple bucks.
We asked our server what the most popular pizza was and she quickly answered, "the sausage", meaning their housemade organic italian sausage pizza made with tomato, fresh mozzarella, hand-picked oregano, and fennel pollen.
We also ordered the shaved mushroom pizza (one of their "white pizza" selections) that was topped with gruyere, melted onions, black truffle, torn parsley, rosemary, and thyme. Next, their goat cheese and applewood smoked bacon pizza with scallions, roasted tomato oil, fresh parsley, and hand-picked oregano.
And just to add a bit more variety - the oven roasted tomato pizza with fresh mozzarella, roasted garlic, sweet basil, and oregano.
There was a group consensus that these pizzas were some of the best we'd had and there were even a few comparisons to the pizza from Tom Douglas' Serious Pie (which, if you are familiar, should tell you a whole lot about Stella Rossa's pizza.)
We finished dinner with this little glass jar - a sort of pot de creme - laced with butterscotch and sprinkled with sea salt.
2000 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA