Discouraging economic reports seemed inescapable this year, but narrow the focus to local restaurant news and you might have thought 2009 was a boom time. The year saw the debut of one new restaurant after another while established chefs expanded and some familiar faces staged unexpected returns.
At the high end, Lillian Hubbard and chef Michael Stoltzfus opened the impressive Coquette Bistro and Wine Bar (2800 Magazine St., 265-0421; www.coquettenola.com) where a subtle but precise culinary approach quickly earned an enthusiastic following. Another head-turner, Le Meritage (1001 Toulouse St., 586-8000; www.lemeritagerestaurant.com) replaced Dominique's at the Maison Dupuy Hotel, where chef Michael Farrell's dishes are both delicious and beautiful. Le Foret opened (129 Camp St., 553-6738; www.leforetneworleans.com) following extensive renovations to a historic downtown building that now showcases the ambitious, haute cuisine of chef Jimmy Corwell.
Meanwhile, a clutch of prominent local chefs expanded their reach. The Besh Restaurant Group grew from four to six properties as chef John Besh opened the playful and casual American Sector (945 Magazine St., 528-1940; www.american-sector.com) in the new wing of the National World War II Museum. He and chef/partner Alon Shaya also introduced Domenica (123 Baronne St., 648-6020; www.domenicarestaurant.com), with its adventurous but accessible regional Italian cooking. A similar concept marks the third restaurant from chef Adolfo Garcia, who partnered with chef Joshua Smith at A Mano (870 Tchoupitoulas St., 208-9280; www.amanonola.com).
Chef Donald Link opened Butcher (930 Tchoupitoulas St., 588-7675; www.cochonbutcher.com), along with chefs Stephen Stryjewski and Warren Stephens. This new meat market and sandwich shop is behind Link's and Stryjewski's restaurant Cochon, and below Link's other new venture for 2009, the events hall Calcasieu. Like Besh, Link also published his first cookbook this year.
Chefs Chris DeBarr and Paul Artigues opened their wildly eclectic, diminutive restaurant Green Goddess (307 Exchange Place, 301-3347; www.greengoddessnola.com).
Benjamin Wicks, previously chef de cuisine at RioMar, put his stamp on po-boys at his new shop Mahoney's (3454 Magazine St., 899-3374) and chef Frank Brigtsen bought and revived the 1950s-vintage Charlie's Seafood (8311 Jefferson Hwy., Harahan, 737-3700).
Chef Guillermo Peters opened a new incarnation of his Mexican restaurant Taqueros (1432 St. Charles Ave., 267-3032) after a two-year hiatus, while Juan Hernandez reopened Madrid (300 Harrison Ave., 482-2757) in Lakeview after three years in limbo. New owners reopened Jackson (1910 Magazine St., 522-5766).
A number of restaurants folded, including Gimchee, one of just two Korean restaurants in the area. The owners of Sid-Mar's (3322 N. Turnbull Drive, Metairie, 831-9541), the Bucktown seafood joint wrecked by Hurricane Katrina, plan to reopen at the old Gimchee address. The popular breakfast spot Bluebird Cafe was replaced by Coulis (3625 Prytania St., 304-4265). Wolfe's Restaurant in the French Quarter is now closed, and the Uptown cooking school/kitchen store/cafe Savvy Gourmet shut down, though its owners hope to reopen elsewhere. J'Anita's closed but quickly reinvented itself as the tavern kitchen for the Avenue Pub (1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243; www.avenuepub.com).
Some local stalwarts made significant changes this year. K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen (416 Chartres St., 524-7394; www.kpauls.com) began a casual lunch service, and Antoine's (713 St. Louis St., 581-4422; www.antoines.com) converted a dining room into the Hermes Bar, which serves po-boys and what can only be described as French-Creole bar snacks. In a surprise move, businessman and mayoral candidate John Georges bought a controlling stake in Galatoire's (209 Bourbon St., 535-2021; www.galatoires.com).
This year marked the passing of Rocky Tommaseo, who opened Rocky and Carlo's Restaurant (613 W. St. Bernard Hwy., Chalmette, 279-8323) along with the late Carlo Gioe in 1956. Tommaseo worked at his family restaurant until just before his death in October at age 94.