Cafe Star (see review
) was brought to us by the same people who opened Trattoria Stella six years ago. And while there's not anything wrong with Stella (in fact, there's a lot I really like about it), if I were told to pick two places on absolute opposite ends of the culinary spectrum in Denver, my first choice would be Olive Garden and Stella, and my second would be Stella and Cafe Star. The menus of Star and Stella are diametric opposites -- one an eclectic style of New American, the other a freaky, incomprehensible brand of modern, Italo-Mediterranean fusion. The spaces, too, are completely different: Star is reserved, comfortable and undeniably artsy; Stella boisterous, crowded, bright and loud. But the common genes show in several ways. Both restaurants have rustic (read: exposed brick), neighborhood (read: no one in the suburbs has heard of them) charm, and as you walk into either place, you expect to see your friends eating there (even if your friends are from the suburbs). Both boast excellent floor staffs who seem honestly happy to be taking care of their tables. And both have kitchens willing to take a few risks. At Stella, the experimentation is most aggressive: spinach spaghetti amatriciana
with pancetta, sweet onions and brown sugar; mustard-brie sauce over portobello mushrooms and pasta; handmade ravioli stuffed with bacon and white-bean purée; tiger shrimp with goat cheese, red-pepper-and-lemon aglio olio
, and sun-dried cherries. While these combinations sound weird, they work -- and like its younger sibling, Stella is a shining star on the local scene.