First Look

Stresa in West Palm Beach Serves Up Italian Cuisine That's Both Unique and Authentic

Stresa Italian Restaurant is an 18 year old, West Palm Beach landmark. But it's not on Palm Beach Island and it's a distance away from the party scene of Clematis Street. Oddly located among the big box stores along Okeechobee Boulevard, with their inconspicuous exterior, reinforced by their lack of online presence, this is an "in the know" kind of place. But, make no mistake, this restaurant is also packed on any given night.

Stresa is a true culinary oasis, that just happens to be located across the street from a Denny's in the middle of whole lot of nothing.

See Also: Ten Best Italian Restaurants in Broward and Palm Beach Counties

A savvy diner knows to go for the "signature dish," and at Stresa, you won't be disappointed. Ordering the calamari is basically a requirement. No, not the fried, crispy bits you are used to shoving in your face at happy hour. While that traditional style of calamari is available, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone ordering it over their one-of-a-kind Calamari Alla Griglia, a.k.a. Grilled Calamari ($10.95).

Light years away from any calamari you have ever tasted, Stresa's grilled incarnation is accented by cannellini beans and tomatoes before being topped off with Italian spices. As a result, the dish starts out smokey until the cannellini beans kick in and show off their natural creaminess. This house specialty was developed by the restaurant's owner Claudio Trevisan.

While on vacation in Genoa, Italy almost 20 years ago, he chowed down on a plate of grilled octopus with fava beans, olive oil, and tomatoes. Unable to find octopus tender enough to meet his standards back in the states, Caludio did what any great restauranteur would do, he made his own version. And he's proud of his unique creation and the reputation it has spawned. "People have it as a main course," he said, "Some people ask for it served on a bed of escarole or on top of pasta."

The name Stresa comes from the island of Italy that Claudio is from, and pictures of his hometown hang proudly throughout the restaurant. More than just a man with a knack for recreating dishes of palettes past, Claudio is a dedicated to the restaurant business in Palm Beach County. Along with his partner Gianni Minervini, Claudio is also part owner of Trevini Ristorante on Palm Beach Island. And while Trevini also has a very dedicated following, the customers like to follow Claudio, right on over to Stresa.

One dish that has Stresa customers talking is the Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage ($18.95). A classic Italian dish, these homemade pillows of ricotta cheese pair perfectly with crispy sage leaves that combine right as each daydream-worthy bite melts in your mouth.

Another Stresa signature meal is the rich and delicate Veal Gorgonzola ($24.95). Tender, no-knife-necessary veal scaloppine comes coated with a welcome combination of imported Gorgonzola cheese, cream, and fresh mushrooms. Served alongside escarole, cannellini beans and tomatoes, it's no wonder this entree is an all-star.

While you tour through Stresa via your tastebuds, take advantage of manager and bartender, Conor Capmbell's vast knowledge of all things beverage. It's Conor's 13th season with Claudio.

Yes, not only does Stresa boast a creative, but authentically Italian lunch and dinner menu, but their homemade desserts are not to be missed. Try the Blueberry Cheesecake ($6.95). Stresa's cheesecake is made with ricotta; no cream cheese in sight. Try it with one of their many flavored Sambucas or if you are feeling particularly brave, the Grappa; better known as "Italian Moonshine."

Looking for more information? A Google search will get you nowhere. Conor admits "We pretty much rely specifically on word of mouth. We do very little specials, very little promotions, very little advertising." They don't even have a website.

None of that seems to matter. Stressa might be a far cry from fancier restaurant's with more illustrious addresses, but Palm Beachers have long known this solid spot serves up reliably delicious dishes and their kids and grandkids are starting to catch on as well. A younger crowd is moving in for date nights and to capitalize on the new wave of younger patrons, Conor is leading the technology forefront, having finally launched created a Facebook page recently.

Stresa is open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Friday and 4:30 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. Saturday. They are closed on Sundays during season. Stressa will be closed for renovations for the first two weeks of September.

Stressa is located at 2710 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach. Call 561-615-0200.

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Dana Krangel