With more than 50 new establishments opening their doors, 2015 was a busy year for dining in the New Orleans area. While 2014 saw a more casual crowd of newcomers, including vegan cafes and laid-back Asian eateries, 2015 saw a variety of ambitious chefs and more poised restaurants, boasting finesse and modern approaches while shunning white tablecloths and fussiness.
Perhaps the most discussed opening of the year was from Top Chef New Orleans runner-up Nina Compton, who brought dishes inspired by her Caribbean roots and Italian prowess to Compere Lapin, where she wowed diners with dishes such as curried goat with gnocchi.
Like Compton, several chefs made New Orleans their new home, including New York's Sean Josephs and Mani Dawes, who opened the Uptown bourbon and oyster hub Kenton's and California transplants Jack Murphy and Susan Dunn, who together with Dunn's brother Ed Dunn opened the West Coast-leaning Paladar 511 in the Marigny.
Many established local chefs expanded their reach. Israeli-born Besh protege Alon Shaya opened Shaya in February and garnered widespread accolades for his homage to his homeland. He also won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: South. Also in the Besh restaurant group: Willa Jean, the downtown bakery from pastry chefs Kelly Fields and Lisa White, opened in August, quickly becoming a go-to spot for weekend brunchers and croissant aficionados.
On Central City's burgeoning Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, chef Ryan Hughes kicked off the year with the opening of his Southern stunner Purloo, serving modern takes on regional dishes in a cavernous dining room inside the Southern Food and Beverage Museum. In June, chef/restaurateur Adolfo Garcia opened his hearth-centric Primitivo, where chef Nick Martin has been turning out fire-kissed plates of smoked mullet and tender beef coulotte.
Nowhere was the city's restaurant growth more evident than in the evolving Central Business and Warehouse districts. La Petite Grocery's Justin Devillier opened his second restaurant, Balise, on Carondelet Street, serving casual interpretations of elevated Southern fare, including pickled quail eggs in hot sauce and silky venison tartare. A throwback to the days of fusion fare, Rebellion Bar & Urban Kitchen combines textures and ingredients and dishes from Korea to Brazil.
The Paramount, a luxury apartment building on the corner of O'Keefe Avenue and Girod Street, is home to a number of new restaurants, including Willa Jean, Blaze Pizza and a second location for Uptown's Company Burger. It hasn't been all good news: The first restaurant to open at the space, Ursa Major, shuttered after four months. Still to come at the location are Uptown Vietnamese cafe Magasin and Part & Parcel, a new deli-restaurant hybrid from Root and Square Root chef/restaurateur Phillip Lopez.
A few movers and shakers eschewed traditional formats altogether. This was evident in the changing strips of St. Claude Avenue and Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard with the additions of multi-stand food halls St. Roch Market and the Roux Carre food port, respectively.
A school of Cajun-style butchers and casual meat markets also cropped up, including the wing and daiquiri shop Bourree from Boucherie duo Nathanial Zimet and James Denio. Local charcuterie pro Kristopher Doll expanded on his St. Roch Market stand when he opened a standalone Shank Charcuterie across the street on St. Claude Avenue in October. This month, longtime Bywater residents and owners of Mona Lisa, Michael Ducote and Doug Minich opened The Cheezy Cajun on St. Claude Avenue.
What seemed like a blockbuster year for restaurants proved a tough go for some. Between September and October, at least seven restaurants called it quits, including Rob Bechtold's Irish Channel barbecue darling NOLA Smokehouse, Bywater farm-to-table pioneer Maurepas Foods and St. Charles Avenue mainstay The Pearl, which closed after 80 years in business. Marigny noodle joint ICHI Japanese Ramen House shuttered within five months of opening.
2015 saw the passing of several well-regarded chefs and restaurateurs, including Paul Prudhomme, the revered chef who brought Creole and Cajun cuisines to international audiences. Prudhomme died in October at the age of 75. A month earlier, Willie Mae Scotch House's Willie Mae Seaton died at 99.
Earlier this year, 38-year-old Josh Laskay, chef de cuisine at Emeril's NOLA, died. Chris Rudge, a co-founder of Bacchanal, died in March at age 40. Jason Baas, co-owner of The Franklin, died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound in April and Quan Tran, former chef de cuisine at Tamarind and Dominque's, died of stomach cancer in May. Both were 44.