New Orleans, La. –
Economists often describe New Orleans as being countercyclical, meaning when national trends head one way we often go the other, or at least we tend to veer off the path. And, in the past few years, the extraordinary circumstances of Katrina recovery have only magnified that dynamic. But even with all that in mind, the news coming out of the New Orleans restaurant sector these days seems incredible.
We know the economy is down and that times are tough all over. Close to home, we're dealing with the daily uncertainties of the BP oil disaster and the recent announcements that some large local employers plan major layoffs.
Yet keep an eye on restaurant news, and you'd think we were somewhere back in the go-go days of the late 1990s. New restaurants keep opening across the city, and many more are on the way with scheduled opening dates this fall. Ambitious new chefs and restaurateurs seem eager to join the fray and local rising stars are asserting their own prominence with new ventures.
Here's a quick run-down of new places to come along in just the past few weeks: In the Faubourg Marigny, right in the heart of the Frenchmen Street nightlife scene, The Three Muses opened in a long-neglected historic building that's now been beautifully renovated. Here, chef Dan Esses prepares an international tapas-style menu with dishes like Korean kimchee and rabbit empanadas, while jazz bands perform in the intimate space. Uptown, the new Eiffel Society is now open in the old Eiffel Tower building on St. Charles Avenue, that unusual structure that once was part of the Paris landmark. Chef Ian Schnoebelen of Restaurant Iris is in charge of the food, and the Eiffel Society also doubles as a venue for live music.
In the French Quarter, Michael Farrell, the chef at Le Meritage in the Maison Dupuy Hotel, has replaced that hotel's former bar with a new restaurant, called Bistreaux, which serves gourmet comfort food and features a piano lounge. In the Riverbend area, the new Oak wine bar is open with a menu of tapas from Aaron Burgau, the chef at Patois. Here, he's putting dishes like grilled octopus and fried goat cheese on the bar.
And there's more. In the French Quarter, Sean McCusker plans to open the new restaurant Sylvain in a former bakery on Chartres Street, within steps of Jackson Square. The Houston restaurant Feast has opened open a second location in the Warehouse District. And, in Mid-City, a new spot called Rue 127 is gearing up to open in a tiny shotgun house with a farm-to-table dining concept. Uptown, chef John Harris has opened Bouligny Tavern next to his restaurant Lilette on Magazine Street. A bit farther down that same bustling street, chef Dominique Macquet will soon open his new restaurant Dominique's on Magazine. Also keep an eye out for Johnny V's, a new restaurant also located Uptown on Magazine, adjacent to Monkey Hill Bar, with former Caf Degas chef Ryan Hughes at the helm.
Now, fall is typically a popular time for New Orleans restaurants to debut after the summer doldrums. But this current groundswell of ventures is shaping up to bring us a richer autumn harvest than we've seen in years. It just goes to show that even when the economy tells the nation to tighten its belt, we here in New Orleans keep finding more delicious reasons to loosen ours.
The Three Muses
536 Frenchmen St., New Orleans, 504-298-8746
The Eiffel Society
2040 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504-525-2952
Maison Dupuy Hotel
1001 Toulouse St., 504-586-8000
8118 Oak St., New Orleans, 504-302-1485
625 Chartres St., New Orleans, phone n.a.