5/17/2013 03:14:00 PM

Best Thing We Ate Last Night: Meatballs at Stella Barra

Hollywood's new Stella Barra is certainly a step in the right direction for the ArcLight crowd. Situated on the corner of Sunset and Ivar, right between The Dome and Amoeba Records, the space is so much better than Boho was, now wide open with the bar centered in the middle of the room, an open kitchen toward the back and plenty of seating (comfortably spaced, we might add) throughout. This is the second outpost for the Lettuce Entertain You group, which opened Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica, and Stella Barra serves basically the same simple menu that includes a few apps, salads and pizzas, plus cocktails, craft beers and wines. And goodness, check out those cookies to your left when you walk in the door (!!).

Of course you'll find meatballs on the menu, and if anyone puts meatballs on a menu, be prepared to be judged - that's sort of a barometer for us, especially at a pizza joint. We can happily report, chef Jeff Mahin's version is spot-on terrific.

Mahin is known for his pizza, especially the dough, made by a process he's perfected, which has just enough char and crackle on the crust. The one we tried last night was good, with great flavor from the caciocavallo and Parmesan cheeses and thin slices of porchetta. The arugula salad was nice, albeit a bit too overdressed - as our friend said, if you're touting the market-fresh greens, why mask them with too much vinaigrette? But the meatballs were really our winner. They had great texture, soft and tender, probably a combination of pork and beef (we didn't ask but that's what it tastes like), smothered in a rich tomato sauce. Sheets of lardo melt on top, and the fresh basil leaves were a nice touch. They were just great.

P.S. Per reps today, Stella Rossa Pizza Bar in Santa Monica is now called Stella Barra, the group's effort to streamline the concept, which probably means we can expect to see a lot more of these around LA and the country.

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