The Year In Dining, 2014

The re-establishment of Brennan’s on Royal Street overshadows the story of dining in New Orleans in 2014. Like the only comparable development in recent history (Katrina, and I’m not exaggerating), Brennan’s departure and return pose many questions about the states of both business and cuisine in the New Orleans restaurant industry. Twenty million dollars? “That’s Terry’s number,” Ralph Brennan tells me. He and Terry White are the main motive forces in the renaissance of Brennan’s. Ralph was a CPA before he got into his family’s restaurant business, so he looks at such figures with a critical eye. “I know what the real number is, but I don’t want to think about it,” he added. He didn’t tell me what the number was.
Whatever that means, of this there is no doubt: Brennan’s reconstruction–which went down to bedrock and DNA–is by many leagues the most expensive restaurant project ever undertaken in New Orleans. More to come. . .

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2013 In Dining
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2013 In Dining

During the past year, it became harder to have a thoroughly enjoyable dinner in a New Orleans restaurant. That’s not the same thing as saying our restaurants have dwindled or become terrible. Ours is still the the best native culinary culture in America. We still have hundreds of good-to-great restaurants. But on the whole they are giving us less gustatory pleasure than they did a year ago at this time. That thought that came to me often during 2013. Every time it did, I thought a long time about why…

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The Boom And Swerve Of 2012.
The Years In Dining

The Boom And Swerve Of 2012.

The Boom And Swerve Of 2012 The year just ended will be remembered for a little while as a big one for restaurants and their customers. But in the longer rear-view, I think it will go down as the beginning of a stylistic movement into a new era of dining out. The major new restaurants in 2012–and there were more of them than in any year since the late 1990s–are large, expensively built, and showy. The curious thing is that most of them are casual eateries with down-to-earth food. No…

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2011: Problems With Football And Hamburgers
The Years In Dining

2011: Problems With Football And Hamburgers

The two worst things that happened to the New Orleans restaurant community in 2011 were the Saints and LSU. Ask any restaurateur about Saturday nights and Sunday brunches during the past seven months. Dining rooms where reservations always had been critical have lately been like mausoleums if black and/or purple and gold were on their gridirons. Not even filling dining rooms with screens helped. And when Antoine’s turns two gilt-framed mirrors in its bar into wide-screen televisions (as they have), you know that so is every other restaurant. Other than…

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Galatoire’s Sold, The Oil Spill, A Good Summer: 2010
The Years In Dining

Galatoire’s Sold, The Oil Spill, A Good Summer: 2010

A restaurant owner looking for an excuse for a bad 2010 can find it easily enough. The BP oil spill made everyone suspicious about the quality of the seafood in New Orleans restaurants. Meanwhile, instead of going out to eat, a lot of us wasted many leisure hours staring at the video from the Gulf floor of the oil plume. Or the distressed restaurateur could fall back on the recession and its reputed destruction of all profits. Or Katrina, although that dodge is wearing thin. However, he probably has only…

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Glimmers Of Old Greatness: 2009
The Years In Dining

Glimmers Of Old Greatness: 2009

For diners and restaurateurs, 2009 was less than the gleeful, sybaritic banquet of better years. The focus remains more on the past and the future than the present. Nevertheless, all but the usual complainers are upbeat. The essential tide of travelers will continue to pay for more major restaurants than in any other American city our size. Chefs have enough confidence in our local ingredients and (to a lesser degree) our local flavors, and have backed away from aping Gourmet Magazine. Good thing. Gourmet published its final issue in November….

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It Wasn’t A Very Good Year, But. . . 2008
The Years In Dining

It Wasn’t A Very Good Year, But. . . 2008

I hated writing this column. It’s about the most boring year for New Orleans diners that I remember. This has been a year of few major openings (but no major closings) and few major improvements. The restaurant business has had to struggle so hard to revive itself that it’s not surprising that it spent most of the year marking time and catching its breath. That thought didn’t well up until I began to look for a restaurant to call the best new restaurant of the year. Nothing jumped out of…

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2007: Post-K Surpasses Pre-K, At Last
The Years In Dining

2007: Post-K Surpasses Pre-K, At Last

The pivotal moment of 2007 for New Orleans restaurant fans was April 16. That was the day Mr. B’s Bistro reopened for the first time since the hurricane. B’s was the last major restaurant return we were sure was coming. And, by a happy coincidence, it brought the total number of restaurants open in the New Orleans area to 809–the same number of real eateries we had the day before Katrina hit. What happened to Mr. B’s after that recapitulates the story of the local restaurant business as a whole…

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2006 In Dining: The Recovery
The Years In Dining

2006 In Dining: The Recovery

On the first day of 2006, Galatoire’s reopened. It was the 418th restaurant to do so since the hurricane, and the perfect first restaurant opening of the new year. It was fervently welcomed. The absence of that iconic Creole restaurant hurt in a cold way, especially during the Christmas holidays. We were bereft of most of the other eternal restaurants, too. Antoine’s, Brennan’s, Commander’s Palace and Broussard’s also missed Christmas. Along with about half of the 809 real restaurants that operated in the New Orleans area before the storm. As…

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The Year Of Four Months: 2005 In Dining
The Years In Dining

The Year Of Four Months: 2005 In Dining

As is true of everything else in New Orleans, thinking about the world of dining in the past year quickly turns to just the last four months. And the first two of those seem blurry. The story of one restaurant gives a good picture of how things have progressed. On October 4, Cuvee opened for the first time since the hurricane. It was one of the first gourmet restaurants to come back. I managed to get manager Chris Ycaza on the phone a day before it did (remember how hard…

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Looking For Interest In 2004 Dining
The Years In Dining

Looking For Interest In 2004 Dining

By the standards of recent past years, 2004 was boring for avid local restaurant patrons. Most of the few new restaurant openings were less impressive than advertised. This despite the fact that near-record amounts of money were spent in creating or renovating the biggest deals. A number of promising new restaurants from a year or two ago closed up shop. Meanwhile, most established restaurants did little more than mark time. Which resulted in a slow drift in the direction of ordinariness. But we did have high points. Just not enough…

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2003, The Year Of Dining Straight Ahead
The Years In Dining

2003, The Year Of Dining Straight Ahead

At the beginning of the year, the biggest restaurant news was that Ralph Brennan and Chef Gerard Maras would be opening a new restaurant in the beautiful premises across from City Park where the Tavern on the Park used to be. Delayed by a host of unexpected construction problems, Ralph’s on the Park (which will not be winning the New Restaurant Name of the Year prize) barely got the doors opened for private parties a couple of weeks ago, and for a soft opening of the main dining room. Its…

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Restaurateurs Reluctant In 2002
The Years In Dining

Restaurateurs Reluctant In 2002

Nobody expected 2002 to be a year of expansion for the New Orleans restaurant business, and it wasn’t. On the other hand, the only way you could call the year a disaster would be to compare it with the few previous years, when new restaurants were opening at the rate of about one every week or two, people were spending much more than ever, and chefs were effortlessly becoming celebrities. Business is definitely off in most New Orleans restaurants. But not as much as it is in other serious food…

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Strong Moves In 2001, Until That Happened
The Years In Dining

Strong Moves In 2001, Until That Happened

We all need something to remember this past year for besides you-know-what. So here’s something cheerful: no other year in the history of this great eating city has hosted so many major new restaurant openings. Even if you limit the list to places with serious culinary ambitions, it runs to over twenty new names. And all of them are at least pretty good, and all of them are doing pretty well. Let’s just give as much of the list as we have room for. I’ve ranked the restaurants here in…

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2000: Not A New Era In New Orleans Dining
The Years In Dining

2000: Not A New Era In New Orleans Dining

The portents attributed to the magical year 2000 did not show up much in the New Orleans restaurant business. Things were reasonably good for both restaurateurs and diners. But not outlandishly so. No equivalents of NASDAQ or the presidential election developed. No revolutions began. That was fine with me. We had such an unrelenting flow of innovation in the late 1990s that there was a real need to distill it all down. Pressure to bring back the best old dishes lost along the way softened up menus all over town….

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The Twentieth Century In Dining
The Years In Dining

The Twentieth Century In Dining

The Twentieth Century In Dining It’s fortunate that there’s no millennial aspect to the restaurant business, or else you’d have to slog through more history than you would be interested in. But dining out was in full flower in New Orleans as the 1900s opened. Many of the restaurants that were there then are still around now. And some of the ones that aren’t are still remembered by enough people to give a dining history of the century some meaning. The last time the double zeros came up, the restaurants…

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1999 Was Solid Gold For Restauranting
The Years In Dining

1999 Was Solid Gold For Restauranting

Can’t pass up a chance to sum things up, so here’s the annual distillation of what went down in the restaurant business this year. First of all, it has been a very good year indeed for restaurateurs. Anybody running an eatery who did not see a distinct improvement in volume needs to take a look at what he’s doing wrong, because the diners are going out and spending money. They’re also moving upscale. In many cases, the restaurants are moving with them. Indeed, whole categories of restaurants seem to be…

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New Restaurants Rise, And So Do Prices In 1998
The Years In Dining

New Restaurants Rise, And So Do Prices In 1998

Whether or not you became wealthier this year, the restaurant business thought you did. The two most expensively-built restaurants in the history of our town opened, and the trend is very much in the direction of bigger budgets for dining out. The Sixties egalitarian in me notes that the growing gap between the rich and the poor in our country is reflected in our restaurants. The top-end restaurants are swinging up to price levels that make them unaffordable even for special events for a larger portion of the population. We…

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1997: Year of Multiplication and Division
The Years In Dining

1997: Year of Multiplication and Division

The news in the New Orleans area restaurant business this year seemed to consistently be about successful restaurateurs opening new locations, or entirely new concepts. A few of these involved large national or regional chains which–although they dominate the restaurant scene in most American cities, have made fewer inroads here. What was strange is that most of the new restaurants were opened by local guys who, although they have excellent credentials with the local dining public, seemed to try to beat the chains at their own game. And not always…

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Dining In 1996: Flashes And Pans
The Years In Dining

Dining In 1996: Flashes And Pans

The year in dining started out with a bloated, big-time restaurant opening. The Fashion Cafe, whose glamor-model proprietors had a big success in New York, opened its second location with a party that competed with Mardi Gras. A few locals went, and. . . well, have you heard a word about the place lately? Fortunately, 1996 improved consistently after that for everyone interested in the business of dining out in New Orleans. Most restaurateurs have enjoyed improvements in volume, profitability, and creativity. That good news was both shared in and…

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1995: Three Stars
The Years In Dining

1995: Three Stars

This was a pretty good year for New Orleans restaurants, at least in business terms. And that was a pleasant surprise. As the year opened, the competition from the casinos loomed large in the nightmares of restaurateurs. But except for a handful of restaurants in places like the West Bank and the Gulf Coast, for the most part that bad dream just vanished. The other problem many restaurateurs worried about was the terrible projections for convention and other visitor business during the summer months. There was no doubt that July…

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The Class Of 1994 In New Orleans Restaurants
The Years In Dining

The Class Of 1994 In New Orleans Restaurants

The year just past saw a good many restaurant openings, but with one exception there were no blockbusters. It wasn’t like 1990, for example, when Emeril’s, Bayona, and the Pelican Club all opened. The major news consisted of the move of the Windsor Court’s chef to his own place, Al Copeland’s kicking off a new concept, and the House of Blues’ opening. All three were received by thronging crowds, but only the first–if even that one–will make any big impact on the local cuisine. Here is my list of the…

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