The Year in New Orleans Restaurants

Dec 30, 2010

If some people out there still don't yet appreciate the heritage of our cuisine and the natural abundance that fuels it, I really wish they would get with the program already. After all, I don't think our region can stand another brutal lesson in just how much it all means.

The biggest story for New Orleans food in 2010 didn't happen in a kitchen or a dining room, but far out in the Gulf with BP's runaway Macondo well. We'll be monitoring the impacts of the spill for years to come, of course. But as the seafood supply struggled back in the second half of 2010, we saw the local harvest more conspicuously celebrated and promoted by restaurateurs, fishermen's advocates and by diners themselves.

In a way, this experience was similar to one legacy from Hurricane Katrina, which for a time closed every restaurant in this famous eating town and roughly scattered all the people who carry on our food traditions. As people began filtering back home and as restaurants began reopening one by one, New Orleanians were reminded of the value and fragility of this unique heritage, and many embraced it and supported it with renewed vigor.

This lesson surely came at a terrible cost, but anyone looking for signs of the city's culinary resurgence since then found plenty of evidence in 2010. Even as trepidation mounted for the toll of the BP disaster, the march of interesting new restaurants rolled right along across town.

We saw the debut of high-end places like Meson 923, Dominique's on Magazine,Feast and Rue 127. There was a proliferation of new places for people who love small plates, craft cocktails and wine bars, with new additions like the Three Muses,Oak, Bouligny Tavern and the Eiffel Society. The year saw some unexpected returns too, like Katie's in Mid-City and a relocated Sid-Mar's in Metairie, both of which had been closed since Katrina. And Mike's on the Avenue, a touchstone of New Orleans dining from the 1990s, staged a comeback as well.

Meanwhile chef Susan Spicer opened Mondo, a new casual eatery in her own Lakeview neighborhood, and she also celebrated the 20th anniversary of her first restaurant, Bayona. Emeril Lagasse toasted the same milestone at his flagshipEmeril's Restaurant, while the restaurants Herbsaint and Lilette each clocked in with their own 10-year anniversaries in 2010.

What's ahead for New Orleans food in 2011? Those who tally dining trends around the country can come up with a pretty specific list of what to expect, with buzzword highlights like food trucks, pop-up restaurants or underground eateries, multi-ethnic tapas, gourmet hamburgers, gastro-pubs, culinary cocktails, chefs turned urban farmers, craft beer dinners, organic produce and artisanal anything.

Some of this has already begun to crop up in New Orleans. I just hope in 2011 we can sit back and enjoy some new experiences and flavors at the table and laugh at the excesses. Most of all, though, I hope we can do all that without having to contemplate the ruin of some the traditions and heritage we love and treasure here. That would be one trend I'd love to see continue.