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Iron Besh
Celebrity chef Mario Batali was named the "most outstanding chef" for 2005 by no less of an authority than the James Beard Foundation, but the restaurateur/cookbook author/media personality was recently one-upped by local culinary luminary John Besh . The chef-owner of Restaurant August (301 Tchoupitoulas St., 299-9777; www.rest-august.com), Besh defeated Batali on a Feb. 26 broadcast of the Food Network's competitive cooking show Iron Chef America . The theme of this episode was the "Andouille Sausage Battle," and the chefs were judged on the taste, plating and originality of the dishes they created with the spicy Cajun sausage. Besh made a five-course menu using it as both a main ingredient (as in his crawfish and andouille grits) and as a seasoning (as in the andouille butter that topped his diver scallops). He even used andouille in his dessert course: an andouille beignet with Meyer lemon curd.


Small Plates, Big Come Back
RioMar (800 S. Peters St., 525-3474; www.riomarseafood.com) was able to reopen in October well ahead of most other downtown restaurants by taking baby steps Ñ counter service and basic grilled fare first, a closer version of its seafood-heavy pan-Latin menu later. The recent return of its popular weekday tapas lunch shows the restaurant returning to full steam. Look for traditional Spanish "small plates" of chorizo and Serrano ham, salted cod fritters and white anchovies in vinegar, plus some house creations like fried oysters in garlic and parsley and a muffuletta with Spanish meats and cheese. The restaurant has added a selection of sherries to accompany the tapas and is offering a daily wine by the glass for $4 at lunchtime. Tapas are priced between $4 and $8 and are served Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Zacharia Tippin , an employee of the restaurant prior to the storm, is now tapas chef.


Music on the Menu

Zea restaurants (multiple locations, www.zearestaurants.com) are known for menus that bop all over the casual culinary map Ñ from rotisserie chicken to Asian salads to burgers. But the newest location is adding something altogether different: music. Zea Restaurant (1525 St. Charles Ave., 520-8100), which opened just before Katrina in the former City Club space, is hosting local jazz performers every Thursday and Friday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. in a new upstairs music room. The room has a bar and may feature food service soon. The restaurant developed the series with local bandleader Don Vappie and his jazz musician support organization Bring It On Home (www.vappielle.com). Upcoming performances feature Topsy Chapman on Thursday, the Steve Masakowski Trio on Friday, Ray Moore and Trio de Janeiro on Monday, March 23, the George French Quartet on March 24 and Hot Club of New Orleans on March 30.

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