914 N. Peters (in the French Market, Dutch Alley at Dumaine)
The restaurant that Jimmy Moran built in the French Market may be the most visually striking ever to open in New Orleans. On the second floor of one of the new buildings added to the Market in the 1970s, the restaurant sported a magnificent view of the Mississippi River. The windows were big and numerous enough that the panorama extended from the bridge all the way to the sharp turn just downstream from the French Quarter.
As integral and as obvious as the Mississippi River is in the geography of New Orleans, few restaurants ever took advantage of it for atmospheric purposes. None of them was as beautiful nor as good as Moran’s Riverside and its successor, Bella Luna.
Moran’s Riverside began as a subsidiary of Moran’s La Louisiane (about which more elsewhere). The beauty of the new place was such a draw that Moran business moved there, along with Jimmy Moran himself. Its menu was a distinctive variation on Sicilian-New Orleans themes. The main action in the dining room was Jimmy’s preparation of fettuccine Alfredo right at your table. This was not merely a gimmick, but arguably the best fettuccine in town. Moran even made the raw pasta himself, in his Pastaficio downstairs.
At the drop of a hat, Jimmy would show off the uniqueness of his operation. This ranged from the kind of olive oil he used to the decor of the ladies’ room, which was almost certainly the most beautiful among the freestanding restaurants hereabouts. The private dining room on the upstream end of the restaurant was made to look like a grand palazzo in Venice, with dramatic checkerboard floors in stone tiles and an open mini-piazza.
When Jimmy Moran retired from the restaurant business in 1991 (he would pass away not long afterwards), this distinctive restaurant was taken over by Chef Horst Pfiefer and renamed Bella Luna. As the name suggests, it remained Italian. But although the tableside fettuccine remained as a fixture, the menu was very different from Moran’s. Horst–a young native of southern Germany–was a newcomer to New Orleans. But he had a sharp sense of what could get customers excited, and his food did as fine a job of that as the stunning premises did.
Horst’s menu encompassed all sorts of flavors. Having come to New Orleans from Dallas, he worked in southwestern flavors at a time when few other restaurants dabbled in that flavor palette. He adopted (and adapted) the Creole cuisine, too, and always had great seafood. When white truffles from Italy began to appear here in the fall, he used them as an irresistible add-on to his fettuccine. (Horst served that to us at the very first convocation of the New Orleans Eat Club, a wine dinner I host for my readers and radio listeners every week.) He developed a garden at the Ursulines Convent two blocks away for raising fresh herbs for the restaurant, long before such urban gardens became popular.
Bella Luna shares the date of its demise with many other extinct restaurants: August 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina visited. Horst–who is such a smiling optimist that sometimes you want to shake him so he’ll get real–fully intended to reopen Bella Luna. But the City of New Orleans owned the building (and the whole French Market). And when the first rain fell after the hurricane, it drained right through the roof, spoiling all the repairs Horst and his wife Karen had made. The city government was overwhelmed, and it was years before the roof was fixed. By that time Horst Pfiefer had thrown in the towel and moved on to buy Middendorf’s.
Bella Luna sat empty until 2009, when a new Spanish restaurant called Galvez reopened at that address. At this writing, it’s the only restaurant in town with a river view.