A Bistecca, Finally.

Written by Mary Ann Fitzmorris June 23, 2022 11:00 in Dining Diary

Shortly before COVID changed everything, a peculiar but very hip hotel opened in the space that was formerly the orphanage on Magazine Street in the LGD. The Hotel St. Vincent honored the building and its history by keeping the name locals know for the place. To out-of-town visitors, it’s just another 21st-century repurposing of a historically Catholic building into a hotel. It is beautifully done, (if at times unsettling), mixing modern luxuries and essentials with vintage elements.

The staff is purely millennial in that humorless, nihilistic way, though to be fair they have all been extremely polite and welcoming. A great big plus here: there is a parking lot! A safe place to park in the Lower Garden District.

There are two restaurants on this property, and they couldn't be more different. One is a Vietnamese cafe, which in a normal world would be an odd choice for a hotel restaurant. But this is a hip hotel in the 21st century so it seems entirely appropriate. There is no indoor seating for this place, but misters keep diners cool, (I guess) in the summer in New Orleans. Not sure what happens in the winter.

The other restaurant in this hotel is Italian and pretty darned great. I was immediately intrigued when I looked at the menu and noticed a Bistecca Fiorentina. This is a large T-bone that Tom introduced me to in Florence. I have not seen it in the States, except once at Andrea’s. What makes a Bistecca special is the Italian herbs, primarily rosemary, used to season the meat. It is also cut a certain way, family-style, which is how they cut a T-bone at Crescent City Steakhouse. 

After the initial shock of seeing a Bistecca Fiorentina on the menu in New Orleans, I was again shocked by the price of $75. I realize in writing this that the price is not really all that shocking for a big T-bone. I should have jumped at it then, because by the time we finally made it to San Lorenzo, the price for the Bistecca had climbed to $125.

We still had to go. Tom has been obsessed with this steak since he first had it in Florence, and we had it in Florence because he had heard about it and needed to have it. His interest spawned mine, and now we had to have the Bistecca Fiorentina at San Lorenzo.

The restaurant is in a smallish space off the main hall of the hotel. It is really handsome in a vintage way, and is so well done I even forgive the painting of beautiful old heart of pine floors with a muted diamond checkerboard pattern. I like everything about this room. Tables are small and rules are firm. If you are two you will sit at a tiny table. You will be close enough to neighbors to converse with them. This time the tables were turned and someone overheard our conversation. I was happy they commented on our conversion about the carpaccio at Harry’s Bar in Venice. It gave me the chance to ask if they were locals. They were.

Within minutes of our seating, a plate of delicious-looking breads arrived at the table. There were two white seeded rolls and two slices of olive-studded focaccia squares, as well as two grissini. (These are the Italian breadsticks usually seen in Italian restaurants. They are always prepackaged and not so good.) These grissini were homemade and much better, though I still don’t understand the appeal. I think it’s just something to do at a table waiting for food. All of these breads were delicious, and I would have eaten more if I’d had more. But who really needs more bread? The butter was soft Eurobutter. Delish!

Tom started as he usually does with baked oysters. These were absolutely divine. Enormous bivalves with some herbs and toasty breadcrumbs. Not heavy on the garlic or Parmesan, just a subtle assist to the actual oyster.

Our next course was pasta. Tom had Pomodoro, and I had Creste di Gallo in the style of Cacio e Pepe. The mere mention of Cacio e Pepe on any menu (this time it was the waiter) sells me immediately. Neither of these was what I expected, which was a standard version of these classics. In Italy, Pomodoro is what they serve Americans, though it is not American-style. We sauce our spaghetti on top and they integrate it from the beginning. That part of the Pomodoro was expected, but here it seemed more like Primavera to me because it was studded with vegetables. 

The Cacio e Pepe was also not traditional, which made exactly to Roman standards means hot wet spaghetti tossed in a Parmesan rind shell and heavily seasoned with black pepper. Period. I have seen Cacio e Pepe versions around town and elsewhere in the States. They are all bastardizations, probably because the chefs have had as much luck as I have had trying to make it. I think a heavy dose of magic is required to make an authentic Cacio e Pepe. This one wasn’t even called Cacio e Pepe. It was made with Creste di Gallo pasta, which means “Rooster’s Crest.” It was made with olive oil and black pepper and Pecorino Romano, in the style of Cacio e Pepe. This was too al dente for my taste, which is what I would expect in a hip place, but this type of pasta is so thick at the seams al dente is almost a certainty.

The third course was what we came to try. The Bistecca Fiorentina came on a large Italian ceramic platter, sporting a sprig of rosemary and cut for family-style eating. It was a thing of beauty, and cooked exactly to our specifications. I ordered it medium-rare knowing the edges would be fine for me. It was butter-like, fork-tender, and everything we had hoped.

We abandoned our desire for frites with this when the waiter informed us they were not cutting potatoes in the back, opting instead for the roasted marble potatoes with butter and Calabrian chiles. This was a terrific “substitute”, tender with crisped skins and a real kick from the Calabrian chiles.

It was a few weeks before we returned to San Lorenzo. We wanted to try both breakfast and lunch there, but it happened that we did both in one meal. Saturday was the day we made it there, coincidentally, so we got to try things from both menus. It was an odd meal, but another delicious one.

Our millennial welcomed us effusively and was cheerful throughout the meal. The last one we had was great too,  equally helpful but more subdued.

I was looking forward to more of the great breads, but this time we had to order them. For $9 the breakfast breads were:

one Nutella-stuffed brioche-y muffin, two strawberry cheesecake muffins, and two biscuit/scones that were cold and seemed even-underbaked. The muffins were fine, and the cheesecake ones delish, but the biscuits were a huge disappointment. I was looking forward to mopping up egg yolks with a flaky, tall, toasty biscuit.

I ordered an American breakfast of two eggs, bacon, toast, and a potato griddle cake. We also had the Caesar salad I have eyed on other tables at both visits, cannoli for dessert, espresso, and fries with aioli. (That was my dessert after this server assured me the fries were cut in the back.)

The American breakfast was beautiful, though I thought it oddly cold. The eggs were fine, freshly flipped, quite plump and lovely, the bacon thick and smoky delicious, but the griddle potato cake had definitely not had contact with a heated griddle in some time. It was cold and reminded me more of a codfish ball. This needed butter, salt, and heat and it would have been good. (Note: it did not taste like seafood…or much of anything else.) Finally, the toast was dry and utterly cold. No butter would melt on this.

That Caesar salad I had been eyeing in the dining room was everything I wanted and plenty more. It seemed a Parmesan bomb had gone off over this thing, covering every inch in a snowy pile of Italian cheese. What could ever be wrong with that? The baby Romaine leaves were perfect, arrayed beautifully, with a little surprise underneath. A dollop of Calabrian chili oil and herbs was hidden in the center, dropping beneath the lettuce into a small puddle at the base of this green and delicious mountain. What appeared to be superior anchovies straddled the top of the mound, but those I left for Tom, who liked them rather well.

When we arrived on this visit, two large orders of fries headed to a bachelorette table. Their appearance made me want to revisit the housemade fries discussion. Surely a place this excellent was doing a housecut version of frites? This time I was assured they were, in complete contrast to the last answer I got on this.

A little later a cone of fries definitely pleased another table across the room. A tardy ramekin of aioli followed later.

Tom got housemade cannoli with pistachios for dessert along with an espresso. Since he was sitting for a while more I ordered the fries. What came was a disappointing no-frills version of potato strips that are still ambiguous in origin. They came in a small bowl with aioli and looked like Houston’s shoestrings. Meh.

Tom fared considerably better across the table. His cannoli was enormous and crammed on each end with large pieces of chopped pistachios. He swooned over this with each bite. And he sipped his tiny little cup of java, savoring it more than usual.

I am disappointed to be writing this piece now, because that means I don’t have a real reason to go back to San Lorenzo. But we will. It’s an instant fave.