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French Quarter Italian 

Locals who were loyal customers at Maximo's Italian Grill (1117 Decatur St., 586-8883; before Katrina will be happy to see Chef Paul Cattoche back in the open kitchen at the French Quarter restaurant, which reopened six weeks ago. Selling the building took previous owner Jason Anixter longer than anticipated, but new owner Vincent Marcello has set out to bring Maximo's back to its pre-storm status.

There are some new faces among the waitstaff, and lighting over the tables and bar has been changed to give the space a warmer look. But, for the most part, it's business as usual, and that suits the chef just fine.

"I'm very happy to be back," says Cattoche, who came to New Orleans 13 years ago by way of San Francisco. Cooking Italian food for New Orleanians took a little adapting. "People like more gusto and spiciness in their food here," says Cattoche, adding that his kitchen uses mostly fresh peppers, herbs and spices to give diners what they're looking for.

Also recognizing the importance of — and the demand for — more healthful menu choices, Cattoche says the only oil used in his kitchen is olive oil. "We don't overdo it with butter and creams," he explains. "You can eat here and still feel like you've done well."

Whether you're on a special diet or not, it's always nice to have choices. Customers can order the daily special fish — Alaskan turbot, for example — sautéed, grilled or fire roasted. Other recent off-menu specials include Black Angus porterhouse and rib-eye steaks, and a duck breast with Grand Marnier and oranges. "We're also doing a lot with different Italian greens and rabes," adds Cattoche.

Although Maximo's has a reputation that reaches beyond the city limits, Cattoche says that New Orleanians are the bread-and-butter of his business: "We really cater to our locals. You can't rely on tourist business if you want to survive."

For regulars who want to celebrate special occasions at this Italian outpost in the French Quarter, Maximo's has a private dining and banquet room upstairs with a balcony overlooking Decatur Street.

Closed on Tuesdays, the restaurant opens for dinner every other night at 6 p.m. and serves until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.

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