Connoisseurs of good food from Bucks County and beyond were on the watch after it was announced that award-winning Iron Chef Jose Garces would be in charge of the kitchen at Stella, New Hope’s newest restaurant.
They began making reservations as soon as the website opened in June for the riverside restaurant located adjacent to the Ghost Light Inn and next to the Bucks County Playhouse. The Ghost Light/Stella project was the latest by Kevin and Sherri Daugherty, who also are responsible for the renovation of the Playhouse, the nearby Ferry Market and Lambertville Hall across the river in Lambertville, N.J.
Garces, who owns a farm in Bucks County, made his name and reputation with his win on “The Next Iron Chef” Food Network show, and has since opened restaurants throughout the country including Philadelphia, New York, and Atlantic City. He was named best chef, mid-Atlantic region by the James Beard Foundation.
For Stella, Garces created a New American menu, which he defines as influenced by cuisines from around the world.
The influences may come from elsewhere, but the interpretations are his own. His spaghetti pie for two may sound like an Italian dish, but he winds the spaghetti into the shape of a nest, then fills it with an emulsion of white cheddar cream, black truffles and wild mushrooms.
An order of spreads offers the diner an international choice of three of four: smoked eggplant, duck liver mousse, green garlic butter and cacio e pepe butter. They are accompanied by a generous serving of freshly griddled sourdough rounds, served warm, and are plenty to share as an appetizer.
His American-style pork chops get a lift to a higher power with a crust of flax seed and parmesan, and an accompanying scoop of heirloom grits. Meanwhile, his interpretation of chicken and dumplings is braised chicken breast with “dumplings” of spinach gnocchi finished with celery root cream. A Wagyu steak is flavored with black pepper caramel, salsa verde and roasted strawberries.
Desserts at Stella are unique; cheesecake is topped with rhubarb, charred plums, pistachio biscotti and bits of red velvet cake, while ricotta fritters are served with orange blossom honey and mint.
The feel of Stella is casually upscale, with lovely views of the Delaware River. In a news release Ralph C. Fey, lead architect of the inn, said the design “harkens back to the Playhouse, with an industrial feel elevated by high-quality materials.”
If you visit the restaurant, be sure to make your reservation well in advance as Stella became the hottest restaurant in town as soon as it opened. Valet parking is available in the lot that also serves the Playhouse and inn for $20; all parking proceeds go directly to the nonprofit Bridge Street Foundation, which supports the Playhouse.