Family Recipe

Stella's Cucina Brings the Spirit of Italy to Boulder

Article by Paul Cure

Photography by Poppy & Co. by Kelsey Huffer

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

You would be forgiven if you thought there was a secret handshake, a wink and a nod, or a pattern of knocking on the nonchalant solid steel door with emblazoned "S" on the handle to let you into the newest downtown restaurant, which has arrived with such excitement. (One friend exclaimed, “You NEED to go!”). Yet, no such bravado is needed, simply open the door and arrive at the enchanting Stella's Cucina. 

Stella’s is a discreet, intimate and warm take on the traditional Trattoria that namesake Stella Spanu has lovingly curated. “This is really an embodiment of my heart and soul,” says the ebullient Stella, “so every detail is something that I chose. The lush tones, the low banquette; I'm 5 feet, so I want to be able to put my arm up!” Partnering with Spanish architect Miguel Quismondo, the room is an immersive gastronomic experience. Velvet navy blue walls with gold trim, a magnificent centerpiece bar with an illuminating dramatic skylight, and a full wall visual display of what you may think are possibly amoebas but which are actually “a 118-minute loop of AI distortions of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling.” 

“I wanted to do something completely different than what Boulder has had before,” says Stella. A native New Yorker via Rome and Paris with restaurateur parents, the essence and heritage of those stylish locales have been infused throughout. “I grew up dining out often and believe that food is the center of everything, so I put everything I know into the space.” 

The lighting is perfectly muted via globe sconces, the chairs dangerously comfortable (“I sat in over 100 chairs,” Stella says), and the ambiance is a relaxed sophistication via the nightly live jazz or DJ.

“A full sensory experience is what we have created. People are hungry for something new, and post-Covid, they want to dance and enjoy the night.” Come 10 pm, the space can and does accommodate a dance floor per the enthusiasm of that evening's guests, “We move the cocktail tables, and suddenly we have a discotheque,” Stella says giddily. 

Chef Filippo Piccini, a native Tuscan, is emboldened by the Rocky Mountain agricultural offerings such as Colorado lamb and local spicy greens. His approach to the classics of Italian cooking is one of adding the “hidden twist.” As the famed Italian historian Luigi Barzini famously stated, “The definitive recipe of any Italian dish has not yet appeared. We are still creating.” Thus there is Beef Carpaccio with Parmigiano foam, Lamb Tagliolini with Cherry and Pomegranate reduction and multiple vegan and gluten-free options. The Eggplant “filet” has more than once been tried by myself to make sure it really is that delicious; it is.

The desserts are just as inventive with saffron-infused Panna Cotta, a “Terra” Misu served in a requisite flower pot, and for the chocoholic, Montenevoso with Torrone parfait. Don’t think about calories; just enjoy. 

The Espresso Martini, complete with Ambrosia Espresso from Milan and pink peppercorn, is in extremely high demand. The Golden Gin and Tonic with cardamom, orange and rose have many dedicated acolytes. For the mocktail devotee, the Spiced Tonic with clove, ginger, cinnamon and sage is a refreshing delight, and with such ingenuity in constant display around the bar, you will more than likely want to volunteer as a repeat taste tester.

As Stella shares, “We couldn’t be happier to be here. We live here and are excited to welcome so many guests to be part of what we have created.”

As the multiple guests line up in the hallway waiting to enter sans password, it’s clear Boulder is so happy to have them. Cin Cin.


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