Chef Chris Watkins: Creating magic at Stella

Wood-oven-roasted Bone Marrow. | Priya Hutner

We were the first to arrive for an early dinner at Stella at Gravity Haus Truckee-Tahoe. Large steel beams and a wood interior grace the dining area to create a charming intimacy. The restaurant’s open kitchen and dining area boast a rustic, industrial vibe.

My good friends Jani Osborne, owner of Alpenglow Home Care, and her finance Tilio Lagatta made arrangements with Chef Chris Watkins to sample Stella’s menu. Osborne has been friends with Chef Watkins for more than 30 years. Paco Ruiz, manager of Stella, greeted us and sat us at a high-top table facing the large open kitchen. Watkins, who recently took the helm of Stella in late 2022, prepared for the evening with team member Anthony Olsen.

“The complexity of the crab is incredible. The sweetness of the crab and texture combined with the radish, cucumber and avocado was just delicious.”     –Jani Osborne

Lagatta brought two bottles of red wine for the occasion, a 1997 Brunello Di Montalcino and a 2000 Elvio Cogno Barolo Ravera. Chef Watkins came over to say hello and introduced the menu and specials for the evening. We bowed to him and said we were happy to try whatever he was passionate about preparing. Ruiz decanted the Brunello Di Montalcino to breathe, then poured a lovely Pouilly-Fume to start our culinary journey. Watkins came back with three different kinds of oysters on the half shell, on a bed of rock salt with seaweed and red peppercorns served with lemon and mignonette sauce.

The oysters were divine. Watkins then delivered his Dungeness Crab special with hearts of palm, fermented cucumbers and crab tamale, bathed in a yuzu butter and squid ink sauce. It was phenomenal.

“The complexity of the crab is incredible. The sweetness of the crab and texture combined with the radish, cumber and avocado was just delicious,” said Osborne.

Ruiz opened an Italian bottle of Ceretto Langhe Blange Arneis and we dined on a delicious Hamachi Crudo, seasoned with nutritional yeast and seasoned seaweed salt. Watkins also bought out his Spanish Octopus dish, prepared crispy purple potatoes from Tahoe Food Hub, charred sake cucumber and greens served with Pine Cone Kitchen black garlic aioli.

“The octopus is a nice blend of flavors. The crunchiness of the crispy potatoes with the richness of the octopus and the sweet blend of flavors, create a contrast of textures and delicious flavor profiles,” said Lagatta.

I love dining with friends who love food. Olsen came over to check on us and make sure everything was fine. Pan-seared scallop with wood-oven maitake mushroom and brown butter sabayon was next on the menu and tasted divine. The dining hall started to fill and it looked like it would be a decent crowd for a Wednesday,

Watkins brought out the Wood Oven Roasted Bone Marrow served with homemade parker house rolls and a white anchovy chimichurri sauce. It was rich, fabulous and terrific.

Watkins finished with his Flannery Beef NY served with roasted garlic potato gratin, a beet and cippolini agrodolce, topped with a Madeira herb cream sauce.

We completed our meal with homemade cheesecake topped with berries marinated in champagne and a mandarin puree over crushed graham cracker. It was a fantastic way to finish off one of the most delicious meals I’ve had in Tahoe.

“I was born to cook. I love to learn. I love to play. And I ask what can I do next. I love learning and creating,” said Watkins.

We ate, drank and enjoyed our Stella experience, made even more palatable by sharing the evening with good friends, good food, excellent service and Chef Watkin’s delicious creativity. Clearly, Stella is one of the top restaurants in Tahoe in my opinion.

The restaurant is open daily for breakfast from 7 to 11 a.m. and Wednesday to Sunday for dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. |