We saw so many new additions to the New Orleans dining scene in 2013, it was hard just to keep up with it all. But a few really stood out with original ideas, fine execution or concepts that simply filled a niche especially well. Here are four that rose to the top for me in 2013.
Dominique's on Magazine
4213 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-891-9282
This one is sort of a reboot, but the second edition goes so much farther than the original it really is a new restaurant. Chef Dominique Macquet first opened a restaurant by this name in 2010 just up the street. When things went south there, plans quickly took shape for this one, which opened early in 2013. The first space was attractive and eclectic; this new one is sleek, modern and intricately detailed, stretching over two floors and out through a designer courtyard. The fresh, creative approach, the original compositions, finely-done extras from the bar to the cheese service and the easy elegance of the restaurant itself make this place an alluring upscale option.
616 S. Peter St., New Orleans, 504-934-3463
This one is a comeback story too, though it's a completely new concept. When restaurateur Dickie Brennan and his company opened Tableau here in April, they essentially reanimated a corner by Jackson Square that was previously battened down behind shutters. The comeback feel is from its connection with Le Petit Theatre.
The restaurant and the theater are different ventures that operate cooperatively, with a meal or drink at the bar going hand-in-hand with a night at the theater. But Tableau also functions just fine as a stand-alone, anytime upscale Creole restaurant, one more attuned to updated traditional New Orleans cuisine than setting new contemporary standards.
2900 Chartres St., New Orleans 504-598-5700
Chef Ian Schnoebelen and his partner Laurie Casebonne established themselves with Iris, the standout contemporary bistro they run in the French Quarter. Early in 2013 they doubled down with Mariza, a different sort of restaurant not far away on the border between the Marigny and the Bywater. The food is Italian, though a different read from the Creole-Italian, red sauce and lasagna style, and the setting is more casual. In fact, this restaurant is the complete package for casual dining. The vibe is both stylish and welcoming and the cuisine is honest, vividly flavorful, thoughtfully sourced and beautifully presented. It's an ideal pick for a casual night when you want out-of-the-ordinary food.
Peche Seafood Grill
800 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504-522-1744
Peche Seafood Grill is the latest from chef Donald Link and his team. The concept here brings outdoor, open-fire cooking traditions to an indoor restaurant where fish essentially get the same nose-to-tail, whole-animal treatment that Link has employed to such acclaim at his nearby restaurant Cochon. Peche is a big, bustling, loud, casual place built in what had long been a forgotten corner of the Warehouse District. The design mixes a vintage rusticity, with huge exposed beams, weather brick and bare wood tables, with contemporary style, from the light fixtures to the cool, marble bar tops. The big thing at Peche is a big fish served whole, dressed for the day with a changing wardrobe of herbs and vegetables and sauces and seasonings but most of all allowed to express the deep flavor of fish cooked with bones, skin and oil intact over a wood fire. Peche prepares and presents our familiar local seafood in a much different fashion than we're used to seeing. The kitchen's approach is in line with a growing cult of wood-fire cookery in other cities, though here it represents a serious departure from the normal seafood script. It's an admirable approach, and maybe even a little gutsy.