Rated highly by the local paper and magazines, we had high hopes. The hostess at the front was wonderful and attentive - if she was the standard for their service, the evening would have been wonderful. Sadly, she wasn't.
From Wikipedia, "Osteria" in Italian literally means a place where the owner "hosts" people.
Food is generally regional and prepared with local recipes, and often served at shared tables. We've been to Mozza Osteria in Los Angeles - that felt exactly as described above. I'm not sure if the owners of Stella truly have that in mind, because the experience didn't hit that tone at all.
First off, the portions are very large. It would be enough to only have three appetizers for a table of four. It was impossible to put all four plates on the table and still eat comfortably. We started with appetizers. The Caesar salad was over-acidic and served in the equivalent of a kitchen bowl. The "Stella special" fried zucchini is an interesting spin on an old roadhouse classic, using wide thin slices rather than sticks but otherwise was nothing new. The seafood platter wasn't very good - with the batter appearing sickly white instead of a golden brown. One exception was the prosciutto di parma platter which was wonderful. It combined aged prosciutto with fig, pecans and parmigiana.
Because the platters are so large, it would have been enough to stop there. Instead we opted for something a little smaller, some light pasta.
The pasta isn't fresh or home-made - which for an Italian restaurant should be considered a crime. The spaghetti bolognese comes with a single large meatball, made with breadcrumbs and extremely dry. The carbonara was very heavy with garlic, to the point where one of our companions felt it was burnt. The egg on top was done well but when placed in the large bowl, it was lost. The vegetable ziti featured a whipped goat cheese which brought a unique taste, although not quite becoming to the dish. Both the bolognese and ziti had a layer of oil at the bottom of the bowl. I didn't have the black cod but it wasn't received with great enthusiasm.
The service was pretty poor. The waiter was indifferent and inattentive. He was somewhat friendly when he was there but didn't make us feel welcome. Initial drink orders took forever to arrive and when they did, they were wrong (gin and soda, really?!?!?). The selection of beers on top isn't huge but not impressive. With two choices of Nero d'Avola, the waiter didn't offer the choice but immediately assumed the most expensive. If the basic service to that point had been great, I could have appreciated it - but it wasn't. At times, I felt they wanted to rush us out of the restaurant because they were getting busier, but the slowness of the actual service contradicted that impression. Even getting the bill was a chore.
Dinner for four with two bottles of wine came to $269.
In your own city, heading into the Byward Market should be a special occasion, coming away with the feeling of getting away from your regular day with an exceptional evening. Stella's didn't hit that mark; in fact, it fell way off the mark.