We did a lot of reading about the dining scene in Traverse City and the greater Leelanlau Peninsula before our visit from Chicago. Maybe it was all the mentions of Chef Mario Batali that carried us towards Italian, or just the quantity and enthusiasm of recommendations to try Trattoria Stella: either way, this place is a gem.
Located in the basement of what was an insane asylum, and has been historically preserved, we ate at a private table, in a small, cave-like room, that used to house the asylum’s dry storage. The server assistant joked that when folks ask him what happen to the asylum’s patients, he says they are still here, working.
The menu, printed daily, highlights so many fantastic local products, meat, vegetables, cheese, wine. This restaurant is practically a reason in itself to believe a transformation to the American food ways is well underway. Many of the small plates feature parts of animals rarely used, and for only four dollars, we elected for the Chef’s Choice, which that night was small empanadas of pig’s heart enhanced by the acidity of summer’s end tomato.
Etta had a negroni-esque cocktail that was superbly made. The house-made soft cheese was fantastic and the entrees well seasoned. What really stood out for me was the best panna cotta I have ever had. The server complimented us with small (super small for me, the nondrinker, but a sucker for dessert wine) tasting portions of Moscato d’ Asti, which was the perfect pairing and really made the panna cotta, itself adorned with blackberry and adrift in lime, sing.