There has been speculation around New Orleans for a couple of years as to why so many restaurants are opening, and how can we sustain all of these new establishments.
It has been my contention that these are not the right questions, and to all the naysayers, I say you have the wrong answers.
The market will make determinations as to who gets to stay and who does not have a chair when the music stops. It really is that simple. In our post-Katrina bubble world, we have settled into a routine, and a style, which seems to suit us very well. Along those lines, there have been some true winners and a few not-quite winners, along with just a small smattering of the less fortunate.
Our restaurants, and now a load of new bars, are mostly comprised of single location establishments, operated by the chef or a chief business officer, and a group of talented and dedicated service professionals who give all they have to make a go of it. Behind every door in town are people who are putting in the hours, doing solid work in a creative way, are generous to the community and its welfare, and possess amazing attitudes towards their patrons and the population in general.
In my opinion, every establishment in this town right now is decent and devoted. I think they all can live. I don’t think I am being overly optimistic nor blind to the big picture.
And I offer these examples of how this town and her dining emporiums are having a love affair:
We’re Closing…no, on second thought….
Mizado Restaurant, who built its reason for its existence on Peruvian expressions of both food and beverage, recently announced it was closing. The Taste Buds, the company that operates Mizado, decided to place a Zea’s restaurant, another of their brands, in its place. They were not going to leave the building vacant; they were just rearranging concepts.
The response from the community was loud and definitive. We did not want Mizado to go away. If you will remember last year, Tujague’s was going through a similar identity crisis.
In both instances, New Orleans said, “Don’t change. Let’s make the status quo work.” And in both instances, the restaurants stayed in place because market enthusiasm moved the owners to reconsider previously announced actions.
Finding the Handle
Operating a restaurant is not for the faint of heart or the timid of pocketbook. Lots of ways to go wrong and darn few ways to go right.
Dickie Brennan, one of our most fearless restaurateurs with four major restaurants under his banner, opened Tableau on Jackson Square a few years ago. New Orleans was pleased not only with the restaurant, but also with the largesse that Brennan put forth to revamp and get behind Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre, right next door to Tableau.
Tableau enjoyed a good opening experience but stumbled a bit out of the gate then along the road. Everyone knew what it could have been and what it should have been but for a variety of reasons, it never achieved what the community thought was its true promise.
Lately, however, this restaurant is setting a great pace. New Chef John Martin has shaken the restaurant from its doldrums. The new cuisine offerings are equal to the beautiful settings. What a pleasure to have a local guy use local ingredients in a creative and exciting way, right on Jackson Square. This is not a re-invention of the wheel but there are new shiny spokes at Tableau.
Have We Seen This Before?
Maybe. The intelligent and sensitive-to-the-market team at Creole Cuisine Restaurant Concepts, owners and operators of Broussard’s, Bombay Club, Kingfish and Boulevard, among many others, recently took over Tommy’s Cuisine on Tchoupitoulas. The space next door, which was Tommy’s Wine Bar, was not the style nor the “feel” they were seeking for that location.
So, they installed a new/old concept wrapped in new trappings, NOSH, New Orleans Social House. The wine and cocktail menus are accompanied by some of the most fun bar-bite menus that are both creative, sizeable and perfect accompaniments to well-crafted drinks and an incredibly friendly wine program. The place, by the way, has been completely redone and is gorgeous.
They have brought back to New Orleans beloved Chef Michael Farrell, who regaled us at Le Meritage Restaurant in the Maison Dupuy Hotel. Farrell has lost none of his verve and flair. Several oyster dishes, including oysters from the West Coast, start the festivities off. Then there’s an array of dishes so tasty that one order of anything is not enough.
Gelato European Style
And then there is the tale about the new small business at 4525 Freret St., Piccola Gelateria – which puts New Orleans squarely on the page of true European gelato. Flavors change often so if you have a favorite, stock up. The taste is not about American cookies buried in a frozen environment, but deep, intense European styles and fresh ingredients.
All of New Orleans right now is not about old dogs and new tricks. This is about experienced dogs doing the trick perfectly.
Point of it all is that the competition for your patronage at every restaurant in New Orleans is very keen and these amazing culinary professionals are not slacking. I cannot imagine another city of 400,000 people in America, maybe the world, that is doing what we are doing every night of the week in every neighborhood of the town.
To the question, “Where do we go to dine tonight?” there is no simple answer. Problem is, there are not enough nights.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature every month in New Orleans Magazine. Be sure to watch "Appetite for Life," hosted by Tim every Thursday evening at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m., on WLAE-TV, Channel 32 in New Orleans. Previously broadcast episodes are available for viewing at http://www.wlae.com/appetite-for-life/