When St. Lawrence opened on North Peters Street, the restaurant was one of a handful of local eateries that followed the gastropub format, offering quality late-night meals and craft frozen daiquiris in a casual bar setting.
On the other end of the French Quarter, Saint Cecilia, which Saint Lawrence's owners opened this spring on the edge of the French Market, follows a similar concept, although in recent years, the model has become more common. What's different at Saint Cecilia is that the restaurant is open all day — a smart choice given its location.
The long list of appetizers is the restaurant's sweet spot, where casual bar standbys get creative twists and feel most appropriate to the barlike setting. Cucumbers are pickled so they carry a fresh crunch, and the spears are panko-battered and fried. The accompanying roasted garlic and chili aioli has soft heat that doesn't overpower the pickles.
Deviled eggs are loaded with crispy bits of bacon and fried capers, which add an acidic pop. The eggs are filled to the brim and placed on dollops of lemon aioli, and the dish also has a small mound of crunchy cabbage salad that contrasts well with the other elements.
It's hard to go wrong with a dozen raw oysters on the half shell — which are a big draw here during the restaurant's daily oyster happy hour — but diners shouldn't skip the char-grilled versions. They're served bubbling under melted Parmesan caps with garlic butter and fresh lemon juice.
As at Saint Lawrence, comfort fare is king here, and larger dishes include a fried chicken and waffles plate and a poutine po-boy, with fried cheese curds drenched with gravy. Smoky Gouda is folded into a three-cheese Mornay sauce and served with cavatelli pasta sprinkled with green onions — a decadent take on macaroni and cheese.
Appetizers are generously portioned relative to their price (most cost $7 to $12), but lunch and dinner items approach fine-dining prices, with sandwiches ranging from $14 to $17 and some entrees climbing to $23 to $28, which seems high for a casual restaurant of this caliber.
The hanger steak ($28) was a disappointment. It had too much char, which rendered the meat and sauce pooled under it bitter. The accompanying mushroom risotto was not without flavor, but it was overcooked.
A better bet is Creole shrimp bordelaise pasta ($24), which bursts with gently roasted cherry tomatoes. Plump Gulf shrimp sit atop linguine coated in a silky Champagne, garlic and butter sauce with herbs and arugula. Served with garlic toast and sharp cheese shavings, the dish has a strong Italian accent.
Dining at unconventional hours can be a tricky situation to navigate in the city, especially if one is trying to avoid tourist pitfalls in the Quarter. Saint Cecilia, like its sister restaurant, is helping to mitigate that, and it's a good option any time of day.