Were you the one we saw at Restaurant August that October evening, watching John Besh running around frantically on that first night back as he relied on imported water and the patience of his loyal fans? Or was that you waiting in line at Theo's Neighborhood Pizza, trying to snag a 10-inch pepperoni before they ran out of ingredients and were forced to close for the evening? Maybe you were the one who was betraying not one ounce of impatience as you were going through that two-hour wait at Dick & Jenny's, knowing that Richard Benz had beef tournedos topped with lobster tail meat and brie waiting for you. No, that was you we spied among the thousands jamming to Benny Grunch & the Bunch in late December, munching and slurping on that roast beef po-boy in celebration of the reopening of the Parkway Bakery & Tavern.
"Reopening." If you've been reading restaurant critic Ian McNulty's dispatches from the brave new frontier that is post-Katrina New Orleans dining, the word kept showing up again and again -- just like the routine- and food-starved residents who turned the latest reopened restaurant into an Event. If you reopened your restaurant, you were a rock star -- until the next restaurant reopened, but then you became part of a new (or old) routine.
We have craved routine upon our reentry, and we have craved the myriad versions of cuisine that will always define this great city. That's what makes this Winter Restaurant Guide extra special -- it shows hundreds of places back in business, ready to match their routines with ours, ready to feed us again, make us whole again. On a sad note, it says something that we have only one soul food restaurant listed this time around. We know that's not the case -- plenty of area restaurants that have reopened that we have yet to make contact with. And we know that the soul food is returning, just as our very own soul will.
Now more than ever, bon appetit.
More than just burgers and not exactly diners, our American is as down-home familiar as all-day breakfasts and comfort food
This is where fusion takes familiar ingredients into unimagined realms of flavor, whether it's salmon served with sauerkraut or chipotle Caesar salads.
Bar & Grill
Where more drinks come from the tap and where food tastes better in a pair of blue jeans
Sticky and sweet, meaty and smoky, a pile of coleslaw and a ladle of beans ... you get the picture.
It's homebrew with a legitimate label and contemporary American eats to match.
All-American, all-beef, all day
They simmer a soup and build a sandwich as well as they pull an espresso and pour on the froth.
The Acadiana roots show through in dark roux, while a Prudhommian flair for blackening counts, too.
Jerk chicken, curry goat, ackee and salt fish
The many ways of China are represented, from straight-up stir fries to dim sum for dinner.
Coffee & Dessert
A cup of java (or several) and a pastry make even Mondays and exam weeks bearable.
With many Cajun-Creole hybrids in the bunch, gumbos, turtle soups and paneed meats tend to rule the roost.
There's only a counter between you and the sliced meats and cheeses.
American-style eats with an attitude, often served late into the night
Doing it yourself, whether with beef, chicken or seafood, with long forks and long conversations
Coq au vin, moules, pate, Champagne ... bon appetit
Bring 'em in, pack it up, move 'em out in gourmet fashion ... unless they'd like to stay and eat for awhile.
Sun-drenched salads and spit-roasted meats
Try a mango lassi or steamy chai tea while you wait for heady curries, peppery lentils and soft, stuffed naans.
Not exactly fusion cuisine, these restaurants tend to feature one continent per plate, but a worldly variety on the menu.
It would take years to taste all the red sauces, antipasti plates and wedges of tiramisu.
Bring on the wasabi; sushi takes the day.
Guanabana juice, black beans with rice and tres leches cakes
Creole traditions meet cutting-edge ingredients and today's techniques
The cuisine of garlic and capers, lots of olive oil and roasted peppers
Mexican & Southwestern
Tacos, burritos, flautas and quesadillas, all washed down with an ice cold Corona
Vegetarians adore this category of fried chickpeas, stuffed grape leaves and tangy yogurt dips.
Music & Food
Where the music might be the reason for eating
Those places where red beans on Monday and a perfect brisket are sacred.
Blending the influences of Chinese, Japanese, Thai dishes and beyond, the essence of Asian fusion
From caviar and capers to the plain cheese pie -- they're all here.
Sandwiches & Po-Boys
The heart and soul of comfort food
The prime suspects are the swimmers, the bottom trollers and the shell dwellers -- grilled, broiled, boiled or fried
What real soul does to food: fried chicken, turkey necks, smothered okra and ham hocks
Let the meat speak for itself.
Small plates with big flavors
While paht Thai might have the final say, don't forget the coconut soups, the minty beef salads and that orangey bittersweet tea.
Vegetarian & Health Food
For the meatless, or when the rest of you have had your fill of cream sauces and can't eat another fried morsel
Steaming bowls of pho, stretchy spring rolls, tangy fish sauce, icy coconut desserts