Chef Geraldine is back.
For those who remember the personable chef/general manager at the old Zucca Ristorante in downtown Ogden, there’s good news: Geraldine Sepulveda has returned to the scene of her culinary crime.
“Crime,” as in: It’s positively criminal that downtown Ogden has been without Sepulveda’s flavorful touch the last couple of years.
Fans of the now-closed Zucca may remember the eight years Sepulveda ran that Italian restaurant before leaving in 2017 to start her own place — Stella’s American & Italian Bistro, out in Syracuse. When Zucca closed this past summer, Sepulveda jumped at the chance to return to downtown Ogden.
A native of Chile, Sepulveda came to the United States 15 years ago with the idea of finishing up medical school.
“But to do that, I had to work like everybody else,” she said. “So I started working in a restaurant — it was my first experience working in restaurants, but I always had a passion for cooking because of my family and grandma.”
A few restaurant jobs later, Sepulveda found herself serving as the sous chef at Zucca. When the chef left, she stepped into the top position.
Sepulveda said she loved having her restaurant out in Syracuse and was sad to leave the diners who supported her there in Davis County. But when the opportunity came to return to downtown Ogden — and the very same location where she’d spent so many years on 25th Street — she couldn’t pass it up.
“As soon as we knew about an opportunity to go back to downtown Ogden, for us it was, like, ‘We have to do it,’” Sepulveda said. “I can’t even express what this means to me. It was like coming back home. When I got the keys and opened up my kitchen, it was exactly the way I left it. So we said, ‘Let’s open the doors and let’s get back to work.’”
Now called Stella’s on 25th, the restaurant is at 225 Historic 25th St., beneath the large neon dragon that for decades watched over the old Star Noodle Parlor.
The restaurant’s menu will include traditional Italian dishes — with Sepulveda’s own personal touch.
“I was trained for Italian … but what I did with Stella’s menu is put together a good selection for everybody to enjoy,” she said. “I would say this is like traditional Italian — with a selection of the best traditional Italian dishes — but I’m from Chile, so I try to give all my dishes that South American twist.”
Sepulveda said incorporating non-traditional ingredients into traditional Italian recipes creates “a totally new thing.”
The menu begins with appetizers such as the Calamari Fritto, Fonduta Di Formaggio, and Bolognese Stuffed Zucchini.
Artisan Flat Breads feature variations like the Margherita, the Funghi, the Carnivor, and the Quatro; and salads include light fare from Citrus Salmon to Mediterranian Salad to Apple Chicken Salad.
Entrees, which include a choice of soup or salad, include traditional favorites like Chicken Marsala or Picatta, Lasagna De Lla Nonna, Cannelloni, Shrimp Carbonara, Salmon Fillet, and three versions of Ravioli.
Stella’s also offers a selection of Panini sandwiches, including the Cubano Panini, Steak Panini, and Chicken Pesto Panini. There’s even a ½-pound Carnivore Burger.
For dessert, menu items include Italian Cheesecake, Chocolate Mousse, Tiramisu, Creme Brule, and Molten Chocolate Cake.
Sepulveda calls the setup of the restaurant “very formal” and says it will offer a fine dining option downtown. Still, she wants it to be “a place where everybody can go.”
What will stand out, Sepulveda promises, is the service.
“We want to keep the restaurant nice, but we don’t want it to be an expensive place that limits my customers,” she said. “So we’ll offer good food and serve, at an affordable price.”
Sepulveda said most meals will be in the $10 to $25 range, adding “but in between we have a lot of different options.”
Stella’s on 25th officially opened Nov. 1, with serving hours from 4-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. On Monday, Nov. 25, the restaurant will begin opening for lunch, with hours from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day but Sunday.
Sepulveda admits she worries some might think her restaurant is too expensive, but she plans to offer lunchtime specials.
“Sometimes people think they don’t want to go somewhere for lunch, thinking it will be too expensive or will take too long,” she said. “But we have a beautiful atrium, and we want to do lunches there. We’re planning to do a good, fast, affordable luncheon on our patio, designed for people who work in Ogden.”
Sepulveda said she also plans to bring back the wine pairings and cooking classes she used to lead in her old job, and Stella’s will offer catering. The owner/chef wants diners to know that she’ll be at the restaurant every day, and she encourages them to approach her with any questions, concerns or requests.
“We want to bring back the spirit of Zucca, where we were all a family, including the customers,” Sepulveda said. “It’s going to be a place where we can go out there and greet them and hug them and welcome them. Seeing so many familiar faces, it’s like seeing family again.”