Word is trickling out about the incoming Stella in West Hollywood from Rob Gentile, a veteran chef from Toronto who has relocated to Los Angeles for this two-story Italian restaurant in partnership with Janet Zuccarini. Zuccarini already has a successful empire of 11 restaurants in Canada and a massive hit at Felix in Venice with chef Evan Funke.
Now Zuccarini and Gentile look to light up this quieter section of West Hollywood’s Beverly Boulevard with a flashy Italian menu operating on two levels. Locals might recognize the location as the former Madeo, which has since been redeveloped into a luxury condominium tower, including one of the city’s most expensive penthouses. Here’s what to expect from the incoming Stella before it opens in early February.
On the chef
Gentile comes to Los Angeles after decades of cooking in Toronto, most recently as the chef-partner Buca Group of restaurants, a part of King Street Food Company. He was the chef of Buca Osteria & Bar in Yorkville when it was the number two restaurant in Canada in 2016. His time at King Street Food Company ended in controversy as his partners, detailed in a lengthy investigation in Toronto Life, failed to pay its vendors and took on millions of dollars in debt from a private equity company.
The article alleges that Gentile was involved in King Street Food Company’s financial mismanagement and questionable kitchen culture at Buca. The report alleges numerous vendors were unpaid hundreds of thousands of dollars while King Street Food Company brought on private equity that greatly diluted his ownership interest. “I wasn’t okay with how it was handled,” Gentile says, regarding the financial issues of the company. “I was always fighting to get people paid. Over the years, I’ve worked on how to become a better leader.” Gentile tells Eater that the article framed him as the scapegoat, but claims he didn’t have any say or transparency with the company’s finances. The article also mentions alleged inappropriate behavior from a former subordinate at Buca, whom Gentile says was dismissed due to his behavior.
Zuccarini reached out to partner with Gentile for Stella even after the allegations at Buca, echoing what happened with Evan Funke, whose Culver City restaurant Bucato left him in financial ruin. “Rob chose not to go public, but I asked him the hard questions,” says Zuccarini.
On the food
Zuccarini and Gentile’s vision for Stella draws from their shared Italian backgrounds. “I know Rob’s cooking. He’s incredible with fish, seafood, crudo. He’s into the quality of ingredients, relationships with farmers, and excited with the produce in LA, which is much better [than Toronto’s],” says Zuccarini.
Gentile’s fairly strict approach to Italian cooking is best exemplified by the su filendeu or “threads of God” pasta he learned to make in Sicily. Made with woven strands placed upon a flat basket, Gentile serves it with a rich lamb and chicken broth topped optionally with white truffles. He’s also preparing a bluefin tuna carpaccio topped with sea grapes and doused liberally with olive oil from British Columbia. It’s one of the only olive oils made in Canada and priced at a fairly exorbitant $95 a bottle. Robust and spicy, it adds a heady dimension to the Puglia burrata topped with Astrea caviar. To finish, Gentile will serve his take on tiramisu served in an elegant coupe glass.
On the location
The Stella build-out took the renovated Madeo space and tore it out completely. Madeo’s subterranean location was legendary for its clubby, old-school New York feel, but the layout and design were incompatible with Zuccarini and Gentile’s vision of a modern Italian restaurant. Madeo closed in 2018 and was planning to reopen in 2021 but moved to a new location on Sunset Boulevard instead. (It also occupied a space in Beverly Hills for a brief period.) Madeo’s original staircase off Beverly Boulevard will serve as a pass-through between Stella’s two levels, though a door that opens to the street is available as an alternate entrance.
On the layout and design
Stella is in the final stages of construction and is slated to open in February if all inspections pass on time. The lower floor will feature private dining rooms and an accompanying cocktail bar, while the upstairs features a bar, banquettes, and high ceilings. The space is conceived in part by Felix designer Wendy Haworth, who imbues a colorful, modern Deco aesthetic with bold contrast colors and tasteful natural finishes.
Gentile’s partnership with Zuccarini began as a fresh start for the seasoned chef, who was still exploring opportunities in Toronto but felt drawn to LA for the people and its ingredients “It’s a chance to do my thing, my way,” he says. For Stella, Zuccarini and Gentile are equal partners. “I won’t be in a position where I don’t have a say over the operations or conceptual creativity, where you’re perceived to be in control but the business side isn’t under your control, especially when things don’t go right,” says Gentile. He was pleasantly surprised when he saw the operations at Gusto 54, Zuccarini’s company that also runs Felix in Venice. “You see the way Felix operates, it’s an amazing place with an amazing culture.”
Zuccarini opened her first restaurant, Trattoria Nervosa, in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood in 1996, expanding with Gusto 101, PAI Northern Thai, and Chubby’s Jamaican in later years. Her first project in Los Angeles, Felix, opened in 2017 garnering wide acclaim, though Gusto Green in Downtown was short-lived, mostly due to the pandemic and a challenging location. Zuccarini says most of her places achieve a 17 percent profit margin and never below 14 percent. Stella is Zuccarini’s first restaurant opening since the passing of her late husband, Robbie Robertson of the iconic rock group The Band.