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Maine lobster pan roast with chili butter, garlic toast and basil

All Saints

by Austin Holt | Interior photos by Austin Holt and food photos by Andrew Thomas Lee | The Atlantan magazine | February 28, 2014

There’s something ethereal about St. Cecilia.

Grand would be too lofty a word (though certainly not unwarranted). The space retains an air of lavish elegance, however there’s something grounded about Ford Fry’s newest addition to the Buckhead restaurant scene. It’s the same effortless candor that’s made his previous homeruns—JCT. Kitchen & Bar; The Optimist; No. 246 and, most recently, King + Duke—such successes. It’s the subtle nod that lets you know that you don’t have to take an exceptional dinner too seriously for it to be… exceptional.

A $1.6 million renovation to the old Bluepointe property, courtesy of New York’s Meyer Davis Studio, was money well spent. The redesign takes full advantage of the natural light offered by the space’s two-story bank of north-facing windows. (If you want a cheery place to wait out the last dregs of winter over lunch, you’ve found your spot). Dominating features, like the sprawling, marble-topped bar and open-topped, semiprivate booths are given particular personality by the randomly distributed accoutrement inspired by the seaside villages of Europe. It’s a feast for the eyes, while remaining intrinsically comfortable.

“King + Duke and St. Cecilia—they’re like brother and sister,” says Fry, comparing his two Buckhead endeavors. “King is very meat-heavy. There’s an open hearth. There’s hardwood, and there’s fire. St. Cecilia is softer. There’s seafood. It’s a little more delicate.”

Fry loves to talk about the creative process that goes into opening a restaurant. He’s made a name for himself by shaping his eateries around his people. For instance, in the case of St. Cecilia, Executive Chef Brian Horn has been given a lot of free rein in the kitchen. Together, the two have crafted a menu that combines the best elements of Fry’s previous ventures: open hearth cooking, carefully prepared pastas, seasonal local ingredients and, of course, the freshest seafood to be found in our landlocked city.

The influence of the Italian coast is an omnipresent force through the meal. Appetizers like small cuts of tender yellowfin tuna pay complement to heartier starters like the mouth-filling roasted octopus with tangy cured tomato. A small plate of shrimp-stuffed cappelletti with pickled herbs and sea urchin froth is an excellent second step before moving on to the main plates like Block Island swordfish that has been entrusted to its own perfect simplicity, or the tart, savory whole wood-grilled loup de mer. Desserts are crafted in-house, but be prepared to be protective: You’ll want to keep the flaky Nutella torta with burnt milk gelato all to yourself.

Laura Creasy makes a return in developing St. Cecilia’s bar program, hot on the tails of her exciting tenure at King + Duke. She’s crafted an utterly imaginative cocktail list that’s planned to rotate with the seasons, and has struck a seldom-seen balance with her thorough, impeccably abbreviated wine list that has been custom-tailored with the menu in mind.

If St. Cecilia doesn’t go down as one of the most satisfying openings of 2014, we will be surprised. Fry is an artist at the top of his craft, and his newest offering is a magnum opus of sorts, a culmination of his unique brand of culinary nuance. If Fry’s career is a symphony, St. Cecilia is a bold finale to an exquisite first movement. And, we can’t wait for the rest of the concert.

St. Cecilia
3455 Peachtree Road NE

Hours: Lunch: Mon.-Fri. 11:30am-2:30pm
Dinner: Sun.-Thu. 5-11pm; Fri.-Sat. 5-11pm

Who goes: Fervent foodies, the coastally inclined, revivers of the three martini lunch

You must order: The Maine lobster pan roast, steeped in a savory chili butter, is worth getting your hands dirty.

Where to sit: A pre-dinner drink in the lounge is a must.

What to drink: The sweetness of Wooden Ships (On the Water) is cut with the tartness of grapefruit Solerno and a lingering infusion of Aperol. Brilliant!