It’s pretty rare to find a cabernet sauvignon from Caymus Vineyards by the glass. The much-lauded premium Napa wine is coveted by oenophiles, and the most recent vintage retails for about $82 a bottle.
Yet there it sits on the by-the-glass list at Stella’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, a new spot in Salem. At $22, it’s not for everyone, but people who have been longing to try it without springing for a bottle will be well pleased with its luscious intensity.
Not interested in dropping more than $20 for a glass of wine? No problem. Thoughtful offerings start at just $8 a glass, with many in the $10 range, from regions around the world. The by-the-bottle list, nearly 200 wines strong, eschews typical markups in favor of ensuring a wine at every level, starting under $30 for the charming Rickshaw pinot noir from California and stretching all the way to $1,375 for a 2014 Chateau Margaux from Bordeaux.
Owner Peter Mikedis is a wine collector himself, and he’s excited to share his hobby with customers, backed by a menu intended to appeal to both special-occasion diners wanting a big steak and neighborhood guests looking for a burger or a bowl of handmade pasta.
Ingredients are carefully sourced, from local vendors wherever possible, starting with the breadbasket. Bread from A&J King Artisan Bakers—a Salem favorite—is paired with Lidrivio olive oil, from a small-production farm in Greece that presses the olives a mere three hours after picking.
This attention to detail is evidenced throughout the menu, which Mikedis developed personally, working with executive chef Patrick Lord. Mikedis has spent his entire career in food service, which includes involvement in everything from corporate dining to founding Sidekim Foods, a from-scratch food service company in Lynn that he sold in 2017.
With such care devoted to sourcing, it’s easy to find winners on the menu. The appetizer list draws on global cuisine, including Korean barbeque, Mexican street tacos, and Mediterranean-style grilled octopus. The tender tentacles are a showstopper, perfectly charred and curving around fingerling potatoes brightened by a romesco sauce. Or try the Duo Beet Salad—golden and red beets are perfectly dressed with an herb vinaigrette and tossed with baby arugula and watercress, as well as rich hazelnuts, for a balanced, peppery bite. Dotted with marble-sized bites of goat cheese, it is a satisfying start to a meal.
The kitchen is outfitted with all the latest technology, including sous vide cooking and a CVap cook-and-hold oven that maintains temperature without drying food out. All operating behind the scenes, these toys are not intended to awe and impress, but rather to ensure that every item is perfectly cooked and diners get a consistently seamless experience.
This technology is put to good use with the one-pound grilled cowboy pork chop. Brined overnight, the thick cut is then cooked sous vide and finished on the grill, leaving it tender and flavorful. Paired nicely with a sweet potato puree, at $23 it’s a bargain. Even the most expensive item on the menu, the $36 dry rub rib eye, is a good value for a pound of tender Black Canyon Angus beef accompanied by a house-made steak sauce. Unless you are a very ambitious eater, you’ll have some for lunch the next day as well.
The large space, most recently home to Smokin’ Betty’s BBQ, and before that Red Lulu Cocina, has enough room for live music and dancing—something owner Mikedis is taking full advantage of, offering a small plates menu on weekends after the kitchen closes, along with live bands and a piano. Spring will also bring a heated outdoor patio.
Don’t miss dessert; the restaurant has a rotating roster of specials, like a double chocolate cake, lightened with hazelnut cream. It goes surprisingly well with a dark, indulgent glass of Caymus cabernet.