Ella's in Westerly is an exemplary eatery
When we recently visited Ella’s Fine Food & Drink, chef Jeanie Roland not only helped to deliver our dinners, but the seven-time James Beard Foundation semi-finalist also briefly stopped by our table three additional times to ask how we were enjoying our food.
When I commented that the Brussel-Apple salad — a luscious concoction of thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, gala apples, currents, and finely-shaved shaved Pecorino Romano cheese gently dressed with a lemon balsamic vinaigrette and pine nuts (half $7/full $10) — was delicious, she smiled and answered, “Yes, isn’t the Brussel-Apple incredible?”
Roland can easily vouch for her food because she knows that everything that comes out of her kitchen is made with expertise, care and the freshest ingredients possible, most all-natural or organic.
Like the Braised Spiced Wild Boar ($32) that is served with cocoa pasta, chanterelle mushrooms, a braising sauce, and Mimolette cheese. My dining companion had the boar on another recent visit to Ella’s (OK, truth be told, we’ve been there three times in the past six weeks) and raved about the tenderness, flavor and lip-smacking goodness.
The waitress on one of our visits told us Roland gets the boar from a place in New Jersey called D’Artagnan, a self-described leading purveyor of humanely raised, all-natural and organic free-range meats, game, poultry, pates, sausages, and smoked delicacies that are sold to both professional and home chefs.
The grits served with Momma’s Chicken ($24) hail from the Carolinas and are no comparison to those sold in a box at the grocery store. The poultry in the dish — a bone-in chicken quarter — is soaked in buttermilk, fried in duck fat, and comes sitting on a pile of the yellow corn antebellum grits with cheddar cheese, kale and sweet corn butter. It’s really good.
The menu at Ella’s is seasonal and subject to change, but for as long as we can remember and I imagine since the restaurant opened in 2012, the Mamma's Chicken has been on the menu.
Another staple is the Crabby Scallop ($36) that features three perfectly grilled jumbo scallops topped with lump crabmeat, on coconut-cilantro-infused black rice, with bok choy, and a mirin-yuzu apricot beurre blanc. There may not be adequate words to describe a dish this delicious. The scallops are sweet, tender and flavorful, and with the crabmeat on top, they are doubly good. And the black rice, with the sauce and all the flavors blending together, forces a diner to slow down to savor every single bite.
Yes, the food is exceptionally good at Ella’s, and the menu is varied, with multiple options and price points. The Moroccan Lamb is on the high end, at $54, while the Ella’s Burger is a more affordable $17. If you add foie gras to the burger, that’s an additional $12.
Customers also have the choice of having their meal in the formal dining room or the more casual bar, where patrons dine not only at the bar but also at tables and high-tops.
For the most part, the waitstaff at Ella’s is excellent, comfortable in making recommendations because the chef has had them taste the food, and knowledgeable about ingredients, specials, and even the flowers on the tables. But on two occasions I know of, friends have complained about slow or inadequate service, which is a shame because, in both cases, they raved about the food.
We did splurge on one of our visits and tried the lamb. It’s a 16-ounce spiced and harissa rubbed domestic rack that was served with fingerling potatoes, snap peas, cured olives, and beurre verte, or green butter.
The portion was generous, and we shared it, and our party of four agreed it was the best dish we ordered that night.
Another very good choice was the Shrimp Tempura ($26), served with mixed greens with miso vinaigrette and pickled ginger. There were a lot of shrimp, very lightly battered, served in a separate dish from the salad. Our only complaint was the sauce — a miso dip — lacked flavor.
Over our visits with various friends and family, we have tried much of what is on the Ella’s menu and have rarely been disappointed. The Salsiccia Rigatoncini (half $18/full $24) was good-sized and served with house-made sausage, ricotta, and a pink sauce. The Shortrib Gnocchi ($30) came with braised ribs, hen of the wood mushrooms, house-made gnocchi, and parmesan.
Once you are settle in at Ella’s, the waiter individually serves each customer a chunk of warm rosemary and Kalamata olive focaccia and places a small dish of olive oil on the table for everyone to share for dipping. At the end of the meal, chef Roland sends out complimentary miniature chocolate peanut butter bites that we always look forward to.
But if you want more, the Ella’s desserts are very good. We have tried a few, including the Apple Tart ($14), the Red Wine Crème Caramel ($12), and the hands-down best — Just Chocolate ($14), which is layers of chocolate torte, chocolate ganache, and white chocolate cheesecake with chocolate sauce. Three of us tried but couldn’t finish it.
Ella’s is not your typical restaurant. Roland and her husband and business partner, James Roland, own and operate not just Ella’s but also another highly rated eatery, The Perfect Caper in Punta Gorda, Florida.
She is an exceptional host and chef who has bested celebrity Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay,” won numerous honors and accolades, and just published a cookbook, “Butter Love & Cream.” Taylor Swift, who has a home in Watch Hill, is a big fan of Ella’s and dines there when she’s in town and has even taken a cooking class with friend Lorde taught by Roland.
If you haven’t been, find an occasion to dine at Ella’s. Roland, typically in black chef’s attire and red clogs, is sure to stop by your table to make sure you are satisfied.
Ella’s Fine Food & Drink
2 Tower St., Westerly
Cuisine: Chef Roland uses refined French technique and Asian influences to create her dishes. She’s traveled extensively and leans on those experiences to cultivate a globally and culturally inspired view of food, according to Ella’s website.
Service: We have had exceptional service but know of others who have had to wait far too long to get water and a menu, and in another case, had long gaps between drink, appetizer and entrée service.
Hours: Monday to Thursday, 5 to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 10 p.m.; closed on Sundays.
Atmosphere: Ella’s dining room is more formal, although we’ve seen customers in casual attire dining there. The bar is more low-key, but serves the same great food and cocktails.
Prices: There is a wide range. Starters go from $5 for a bowl of Warm Olives to $20 for the Tuscan Picnic, a charcuterie board loaded with cheeses, meats, olives, and more. Pastas are $18 to $30, and other entrees as low as $23 for the Miso Salmon to $38 for the Steak Frites and $56 or the Moroccan Lamb.
Credit cards: Accepted
Reservations: Yes, they take them, and I would recommend, especially for the dining room.
Handicapped access: There’s only one small step down into the bar; otherwise, it’s all one level into the restaurant and dining room.
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