Cecelia moves in downtown and doesn’t disappoint
With downtown’s continued revitalization and accompanying restaurant boom, it’s a bit surprising that a restaurant like Cecelia hasn’t surfaced sooner. Downtown can now count a taco joint, a raw oyster bar, an upscale Italian restaurant, multiple Mexican restaurants, a wine bar, a tap room, a craft coffee café, and a farm-to-table restaurant among its dining ranks—just to name a few.
A bistro that straddles the line between casual and fancy but, most importantly, specializes in Creole dishes so beloved by Baton Rougeans has been absent. And that’s not to say that Cecelia doesn’t bring something different to the table to set it apart from the many other restaurants in town; it certainly puts its own color on Creole classics but remains reserved enough to not lose the familiarity and draw of those classic dishes.
As far as Creole restaurants (or any restaurant that offers it for that matter) go, there is no better canary in a coal mine to prepare for the trajectory of a meal than a crab cake appetizer. Most everyone has had a crab cake that’s heavy on the cake and light on the crab, resulting in a dense puck devoid of any real flavor. Thankfully, Cecelia has it figured out. In addition to letting the crab shine, Cecelia’s version has a nicely crisped crust and something more than a simple mayo binder that helps bring a creaminess to compliment the crab and contrast the outer crust. The spicy red remoulade it was served with didn’t hurt either. Little notes of creative flair are seen throughout the menu like in the pan-fried oyster salad that finds its crunch in shaved green tomatoes and elevates the flavor of fried oysters with pickled red onions.
Likewise, instead of a traditional bed of grits, the shrimp and grits entrée is served with a fried grit cake, flecked with kernels of fresh corn. Combined with the traditional, heavily-herbed butter sauce, it makes for a rich dish, but I doubt most people ordering shrimp and grits expect a light one—especially if you plan to eat it properly and mop the plate with French bread.
Rounding out the meal, the poulet bonne femme, a half-chicken seasoned with dried rosemary and garlic served to showcase Cecelia’s ability to execute simple dishes that don’t need much more than the proper treatment and attention to detail. The chicken skin was crisp and well-seasoned and the meat tender, almost resembling a braised texture. Bacon studded green beans and tender potatoes rounded out the dish and made the it reminiscent of something you might find at your favorite local meat-and-2 side restaurant—albeit, much better executed and with a greater eye towards presentation.
Also worth mentioning is Cecelia’s private event space upstairs with standing room for 350 people that also includes a private balcony with a great view of the Mississippi. Cecelia is a welcome addition to the Baton Rouge dining scene and affords downtown-goers with an option for well-executed Creole classics presented with a little bit of original flair.
Photos by Sean Gasser