Restaurants Reinventing Themselves and Two Wine Events

We don’t ever have to be reminded about what we lost in Hurricane Katrina. We just about lost it all. We came so close to seeing our beautiful and beloved city completely flushed away that it is still scary to ponder the horrific predicament we were in.

Back then we knew it was bad, and it’s probably a good thing that at the time, we did not know how bad.

But when people came back, and just about everyone did leave, to open businesses, to begin the gruesome task of cleaning up and to rebuild, the humor and the resilience, to borrow Mayor Landrieu’s favorite word, began to take hold. Yes, we were down. Yes, we surely had a long road ahead of us. Yes, we were resolute in doing what needed to be done, rebuilding New Orleans.

Speaking of humor, do you remember the short-lived craze after the storms in 2005 for KatrinaRitas? It was really just a margarita and when you saw it on a chalkboard you could not help but smile, and order one or two.

Eight years later, we are here, practically fully reborn, yet most importantly, fully New Orleans. That’s the yardstick most used to help us make a decision about when to return. There was never a “should we return” decision, only when. And that “when” was when New Orleans became New Orleans again.

The golden moment for Brenda and me came in December 2005. We had been literally commuting from Destin, Fla., having left here four days after Katrina. I told Brenda that when we spent more time in New Orleans than in Destin, when we enjoyed the feeling that New Orleans was going to truly be New Orleans, then it was time to come home.

The Christmas of 2005 was a pathetic one, but we all made the best of the season. Along came New Year’s Eve, with the reopening of Galatoire’s, and on New Year’s Day, the reopening of Antoine’s. We were all on our way back to truly being New Orleans.

In the ensuing eight years, we have had an explosion of new restaurants and old restaurants opening. So many that most of us are in awe of the entire scene, never imagining that this would occur. Yet, with all the openings, there are some bars and restaurants that have undergone major changes from what they were both before and after Katrina.

It is these changes to established businesses that prove we are in the usual cycle of businesses maturing, changing and reinventing, leading to rebirth again.

Along Decatur Street, we have enjoyed the recommitment from the owners of Tujague’s, who toyed with the idea of selling the sacred institution to a T-shirt and fried chicken merchant. Whew, that was a close call! Also along that strip, Sbisa’s, founded in 1899, has reopened after a short, ill-fated opening and closing in 2008. Just a few doors towards Esplanade, Cane and Table is open, featuring rum drinks, taking over from Pravda and then Perestroika.

Maximo’s has new owners, a new chef and the sturdy restaurant keeps on pleasing diners and drinkers alike.

The latest established name to put on a new face is Broussard’s, the expansive restaurant and bar on Conti. Broussard’s was sold to new owners who have decided to invest heavily in the renovation of a great structure and courtyard while respecting what has been at that site dating well back into the 1850’s.

The original Broussard restaurant was opened in a series of adjoined buildings in 1920 by Joe Broussard and his wife, Rosalie Borello, who received the property as a wedding present. Joe loved French cooking and studied in Paris. Rosalie was more partial to the Creole Italian cuisine of her family. It was a happy marriage by all accounts, both in the relationship and the cuisine.

There will be renewed emphasis on the bar area by new owner, Zeid Ammari, whose company, Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, also opened Kingfish this year, among a group of other established visitor-oriented casual dining restaurants throughout the French Quarter. The reported $1 million investment in Broussard’s physical plant should tell you something about their commitment to fine dining.

The bar will be overseen by experienced cocktail dude, Paul Gustings, for years a mainstay at Napoleon House and Tujague’s. Paul’s reputation as a “bar curmudgeon” is no longer deserved and the mellowing years have not hurt his creativity either.

The Empire Bar, as it will be known, takes on the theme of imperial Napoleon, offering several versions of that legendary drink. The Napoléon (Improved) uses VSOP Cognac, Dubonnet Rouge, Mandarine Napoléon, among other sundry ingredients.

The Napoléon (Complex) is Armagnac based, along with cherry brandy and white absinthe. Other drinks include The Egyptian Campaign, Cavalry Club, Red Lancer’s Punch, La Jalousie and El Libertador, among many other special and the usual offerings.

Broussard’s promises to make a big splash when it opens this week, not just because it is such an important restaurant for this town, but because it has been a beloved destination for so many years. The courtyard alone, one of the grandest in the Quarter, is reason enough to stop by, have a drink and savor the cuisine.

To all those places who have returned to us, left, and returned again, welcome back. We’ll make room for all of you in our hearts, in our minds and somewhere on our dining schedule. The latter is the tough part.


Coming up, a Trek on Spring Mountain                       
Just up Bourbon Street from Broussard’s, Galatoire’s will have another dinner in their winery series, and this time the featured juice is Spring Mountain.

Renowned for excellent and consistent quality, Spring Mountain Winery and Vineyards have been among Napa Valley royalty since the late 1800s. Spring Mountain is predominantly a red wine house, with their signature top-of-the line label, Elivette, consistently taking awards and enjoying high praise from wine critics.

But the joy of Spring Mountain is also the Sauvignon Blanc, a great altitude-influenced, cooler climate white wine that is a world apart from other wines that began on the floor of Napa Valley.

The dinner will be held on Wednesday, Sept. 25, beginning at 7 p.m. Cost is $100 per person, inclusive of gratuity and tax, which may be the best Galatoire’s bargain encountered in quite some time. Chef Michael Sichel will preside in the kitchen.

Reservations can be made at (504) 525-2021. Seating is limited and the previous two dinners, one featuring the wines of Dr. Nicolas Bazan and the other, Chateau de Beaucastel, have sold out well in advance.


Coming Up, Part 2

New Orleans Magazine’s Best New Restaurant of this year, Mariza, will be teaming with Beth, Kerry and the rest of the gang from Swirl Wine Shop for an Italian dinner this coming Monday evening, Sept. 23. The wines will be served by Angela Maculan from the Veneto region of Northern Italy.

Five wines will accompany five courses. Chef Ian Schnoebelen and Laurie Casebonne will again team up, as they do in real life, to put amazing dishes on each and every table.

Dinner is at 7 p.m. and the evening will be $80 inclusive of tax and gratuity.

A real bargain given Ian’s cuisine, which is always spectacular, and Ms. Maculan’s wines, which possess international renown. And five years ago, who would have imagined this "Dream Team" in the Bywater?

Call Laurie at (504) 598-5700 to assure you are a part of a special evening.



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