Chef Jeff Mahin’s impressive resume is probably one of the reasons why Stella Rossa Pizza Bar is one of the hottest tickets in Santa Monica these days. Having worked at some of the world’s most respected restaurants including The Fat Duck in England, Nobu and Arzak in Spain, Chef Mahin’s personality shines through at this vibe-y, bustling restaurant featuring some of the best pizzas outside of Italy — and a slammin’ soundtrack to boot.
A maestro when it comes to dough, he’ll be the first to tell you about this passion of his — pizza. He resembles a rock star rather than a chef but don’t let that fool you, because once you sink your teeth into a slice of these gourmet pies, you’ll never go back — to a regular one that is.
Besides pizzas, the restaurant offers some gorgeous salads and appetizers. Spinach and Purple Kale Salad ($9.95) with pecorino romano, medjool dates, shaved radishes tossed in a mustard vinaigrette is a must. Not only is it the most beautiful looking salad, but the sweet tart combination is hard to resist mouthful after mouthful.
Fresh Local Burrata ($10.95) — or burrata of any kind — makes me weak at the knees. I’m just a huge sucker for it. A drizzle of organic extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt and served with grilled bread baked on the premises bring it all together, but what really hit the spot were the oven-roasted grapes. Just that little bit of heat intensified their sweetness and brought them to a whole ‘nother level.
There was no going around it. I wanted a red pizza AND a white pizza. Chef suggested the Housemade Organic Italian Sausage ($14.95) with tomato, fresh mozzarella, hand-picked oregano and fennel pollen.
The sausage was robust in flavor and the aromas of fennel permeated throughout. This is one of those pizzas I can eat hot OR cold — and let me tell you, it was so delicious the next day! Yep, I didn’t even reheat it!
Shaved Mushroom ($13.95) is a white pizza topped with gruyere, melted onions, black truffle, torn parsley, rosemary and thyme. I’ve always found thyme to be the perfect herb accompaniment to mushrooms and this was just a flavor burst in my mouth. If I were to pick one pizza — this is the one for me. I think everyone who tried it agreed wholeheartedly.
Chef wanted us to try the special of the day — squash pizza ($14.95) — and it was surprisingly good. In fact, I thought it was better cold than hot because the squash had settled and wasn’t as soft as it was when hot, which turned out really pleasurable texturally for me.
I had actually wanted one of the three pizzas above to be a “Thin Sin” version, but naturally, Chef had to bring out a fourth pizza — Bloomsdale Spinach ($12.95) for us to try. Crispy purple kale, young pecorino, cracked black peppercorn and organic extra virgin olive oil formed an amazing flavor combo and the thin crust was more a flatbread than a pizza.
This my friends I suggest you finish right away. The thin sin crust doesn’t bode well overnight unless you pop it in the oven (I’m guessing) — we didn’t have access to an oven the following day, and it had turned limp the next day — thank goodness there only a few small pieces left — I would’ve been heartbroken if I had to toss more out.
My dining companion has a sweet tooth but I entertained the idea of dessert with Caramel Custard ($5.50) — a small glass pot of luscious custard with a light caramel topping finished with sea salt. Now THIS is a perfect sweet treat for me! The touch of savoriness in desserts always lures me to take another bite.
Of course, when our server told us of their cookie selection, I chose the one with the salt on top. Chocolate chip cookie with fleur de sel ($2.95) was again, right up my alley. The cookie itself was good enough to stand alone, but with the delicate fleur de sel embedded on top? Well, I don’t think I have to spell it out for you! It was pretty damn good!
Come for a bite, grab a drink while you’re at it — I was highly impressed by the Honey Badger ($13), a tequila-based cocktail with honey, chamomile and lime. Wines, beers and bottled craft sodas are also available if cocktails are not your thing.
The restaurant is highly energetic and a magnet for those living in the neighborhood and beyond. Parking may seem like a nuisance with metered parking few and far between, but don’t fret, there is parking within the building itself. There’s just no excuse not to visit now….. is there?
Stella Rossa Pizza Bar
2000 Main Street
Santa Monica, CA