As I follow @cheffordfry on “the Twitter”, when I saw the tweet at the end of December that that they were looking for folks to test the kitchen at St. Cecilia, I jumped on the opportunity. He specifically said, “no critic, por favor”, and I mentioned that I was an amateur blogger in my e-mail. We mentioned my blogging to the server, and then spoke with the General Manager as we finished our meal, and, best as we could gather, he gave us his blessing to write about the experience, so here goes.
Note: This was a preview meal, provided at no cost to us (or to everyone else that responded to the twitter call, or was invited as “friends and family”.) They didn’t ask for a review, although I feel the meal was definitely worth sharing about.
Opening on January 13, in the former Bluepointe space, across from Phipps, they were hosting a preview over the two weekends prior to opening. The space has been designed by Meyer Davis Studio, who also created the space at King + Duke, in addition to dozens of other restaurants, retail and hotel spaces around the world. They’ve managed to come up with an atmosphere that is casual and comfortable with clean lines, giant columns and a three story bar that serves as the dividing wall between the entrance level and the primary dining area on the level below. There are also three chef’s tables on the lower level and a private dining area upstairs.
The menu was their likely opening lunch menu, although they may make a few tweaks over the coming weeks. We started with the salumi (from top left – proscsiutto de parma, a house-made rabbit terrine, soppressata, guancile and calabrese, with quince mostarda and warm piadini).
The guancile, made from cured pork cheek, salt sugar and spices ,was excellent, as was the calabrese (a salami made with hot pepper and paprika). But the favorites were the prosciutto and the soppressata (a coppa salami). But nothing was left on the tray at the end of the meal but a bite of rabbit terrine, with what appeared to be a conspicuous bite of olive (why tempt fate?) The quince mostarda (a fruit condiment made with mustard and quince) was stunning, particularly when spread on the piadini. I could easily have filled up on the bread and quince spread.
Executive chef Brian Horn, along with chef-proprietor Ford Fry seem to have a knack for opening great restaurants. With a string beginning at JCT, through (not in order) King + Duke, No. 246 and the Optimist, they seem to continually take dining in this town “up a notch”. For the meal, Jo ordered the wood grilled chicken salad with lettuces, marcona, manchego, olives, artichokes in a creamy oregano dressing.
I was tempted by this dish as well, but when she ordered it I was free to try something else. There was a generous amount of chicken in this salad. And this appeared to be the standard as, when the guy at the table closest to us proclaimed (loudly) to his date, “you’ve got to try this octopus!”, I looked at his plate, and there was a copious amount of mollusk there. The chicken was grilled perfectly and the manchego mixed well with the other elements. The odd thing about the dish was the amount of dressing – this was one of the few occasions where there was no inkling of a need to ask for more.
I ordered the wood roasted skirt steak with punched potatoes, romesco (nut and red pepper sauce) and cacio di pepe aioli (an aioli made with pasta and pecorino Romano cheese).
The meat was cooked to a true medium and was almost fork tender. The potatoes had just the right amount of crunch (we asked the GM when we spoke about the process and Jo guessed it correctly – boiled, then punched, then roasted). A very well put together dish.
Other lunch features that intrigued us included the three toasts (beet & gorgonzola, apple & ricotta and basil pesto & almond) – described as “like bruschetta, without the tomatoes”, the pansotti (a roasted beet and ricotta pasta with walnuts) and the swordfish. As you can see in the picture at the right, although a large part of the restaurant is banquette + a chair seating at two and four tops, they haven’t tried to squeeze too many seats into too small of a space. The service was timely and courteous. And the servers were being closely observed by all of the executives and the chefs – I saw Ford Fry come out and speak to the couple dining at the end of the row across from us as they were finishing their meal.
As we were splitting a dessert, we chose the bomboloni (doughnuts filled with house made ricotta), served with honey syrup and blood orange.
They were sweet and if you weren’t careful (lesson learned the hard way) when you went to cut into them, ricotta went flying.
I read an article in Atlanta Magazine’s Covered Dish blog where chef Ford Fry said that St Cecilia could become the new flagship for the Rocket Farm restaurants. If this preview meal was any indication, they’re definitely heading in the right direction.