New Orleans is blessed with an immense amount of culinary talent, including the homegrown sort and others drawn here by the city's renown for food and its bustling restaurant culture. Today, as we near the end of 2012, we feature four chefs whose work really stood out this year and from whom we expect great things in the future.
123 Baronne St., New Orleans, 504-648-6020
Running an Italian restaurant that makes a consistent contender for the city's best pizza would be enough of an achievement, and Alon Shaya has certainly pulled that off at Domenica. But the story goes well beyond that. Shaya is a partner with John Besh in the restaurant, and since they opened it in 2009 he's also been showing the city the joys of regional Italian cuisine, as distinct from the familiar Creole-Italian variety. Along the way, the Israeli-born chef has also worked in a highly personalized combination of Roman cooking and his own Jewish heritage. It's also another endorsement of the penchant for Besh and his company to find rising talent, give them a stake in new projects and watch the exciting results.
La Petite Grocery
4238 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-891-3377
The tag "contemporary Creole bistro" is applied to a lot of different restaurants around town, but few live up to each part of that billing like La Petite Grocery. It's unmistakably a bistro, from its urbane (yet not uptight) appearance to its devotion to a few classic French bistro dishes. The lavish use of local seafood and robust seasoning fulfills the Creole part. And, most importantly, the approach of executive chef Justin Devillier is decidedly contemporary, one that infuses new interest and new ideas without delving too far from the fundamentals that make this cuisine great. He's been at La Petite for a few years now, but since fully taking the reins of the kitchen a fine restaurant has blossomed into an extraordinary one that keeps getting better.
200 Julia St., New Orleans, 504-252-9480
Philip Lopez was out to shake things up in the New Orleans restaurant scene when he and his partners opened Root late in 2011. He has succeeded in grand fashion and at lightening speed. Root made a splash immediately with contemporary style and risk-taking cuisine - but that could very well have proven a flash in the pan without the underlying craft and discipline of a dead-serious chef and a well-oiled front of the house. This is the key to the success: even if you've never heard of something quite like a particular dish here (and this characterizes about half the menu) you can trust the concept, the approach and the execution this kitchen applies to it. There is more to come from this chef, who is planning a second and more ambitious restaurant for early in 2013.
2800 Magazine St. New Orleans, 504-265-0421
Some restaurants want the world to know each evolution they make, and they want the diner to be cognizant of each element in each dish, from the source of the sprouts to the type of salt in the seasoning rub. Michael Stoltzfus has taken a refreshingly understated approach since opening Coquette in 2009 and in that time he and his team have quietly sculpted it into one of the city's finest restaurants. It is proudly tied to local tastes, working very much in the contemporary Creole realm, but doing so with an originality and edge of excitement that dawns on you rather than floors you. The cuisine is intelligent without being severe, and creative without being cute. These dishes don't need to shout, but they do invite you to linger over them.