I liked Rio Mar a lot. I liked it when chef Miles Prescott took over the kitchen, and I liked the Peruvian-Japanese “Nikkei” concept he and Nick Bazan were pitching the last time I ate at there. That restaurant doesn’t look like it’s happening, and that’s a shame. It’s also a shame that Rio Mar closed and that Prescott has opened a casual Mexican restaurant in its place.
Let me be clear about this: I haven’t eaten at Tacos and Tequila yet. The menu is not exactly groundbreaking, but I’m sure with Prescott at the helm the food is well-executed. I’m sure that there are many excellent tequilas available and that these tequilas will pair nicely with tacos, burritos and quesadillas. I’m sure I’ll like it when I have a chance to try it.
It’s more or less the same story at Lucky Rooster, which is now a Juan’s Flying Burrito location. I say more or less the same story, but that’s not true; I’ve eaten at Juan’s Flying Burrito, and I’m in no great hurry to get back. There’s nothing wrong with the place; it’s just that there are better venues for Mexican food in New Orleans.
I thought Lucky Rooster was pretty good. I wouldn’t have rated it in my top 10, but it was worth a visit once a month or so, and that means something where I’m concerned. I don’t visit that many places on a regular basis because I’m always trying something new. That’s one reason I hadn’t been to Rio Mar in a while, despite how highly I regarded it and despite how much I like chef Prescott’s food. When I heard it was closing, I suppose I should have gone by to have at least one last plate of octopus or ceviche, but there’s something morbid about dining at a restaurant you know is closing or at least there’s something morbid about it to me.
Bazan and Prescott are both bright, talented guys who know more about the restaurant business than I do. If they felt Rio Mar wasn’t viable financially, then I’m in no position to argue about it. I hope they make lots of money at Tacos and Tequila, and I hope the food is great.
But I’m still going to miss Rio Mar, and I’m still going to pine for the creative stuff they were undoubtedly going to be putting out at the Nikkei joint they were planning to open.
I’m not entirely sure why these two closings bother me, but what occurred to me as I was writing this piece is that for a couple of years, I’ve heard from restaurateurs that the current boom is not sustainable. Whenever I’ve interviewed a restaurant owner, or even when I’ve cornered one at some social event, I’ve asked some variation of the same question: “How many restaurants can New Orleans support?” The answer has always been along the lines of: “I don’t know, but not this many.” And yet for these last couple of years, restaurants have continued to open.
I heard on the a public radio show recently that the US auto industry has been having a banner year. Even GM, which was forced to recall millions of cars this year, has seen sales increasing. The explanation I heard was that the overall economy has steadily been improving, and I suppose that a rising tide raises all ships or something.
New Orleans has been somewhat insulated from the problems the rest of the country has experienced during the last decade or so, and one wonders whether we’re going to experience a downturn just as the rest of the nation starts trending up? I don’t know, but I hope Rio Mar and Lucky Rooster are the last restaurants I like to close or “re-concept.” I know that’s not rational, but “rational hope” is something of an oxymoron, isn’t it?