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2008 Restaurant Review: Digesting the Year 

Rejuvenated old favorites and some new options kept the dining scene on the move in 2008.

click to enlarge Maximo's Italian Grill reopened in 2008 and welcomed diners back to its open-kitchen food bar. - PHOTO BY CHERYL GERBER
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber
  • Maximo's Italian Grill reopened in 2008 and welcomed diners back to its open-kitchen food bar.

Change was the constant for the New Orleans restaurant scene in 2008, with a steady flow of new restaurant openings and a rash of chefs and restaurateurs switching addresses. But three years after Hurricane Katrina, some of the biggest news from the sector came with the revival of old favorites.

The city saw three returns in the steakhouse category alone. The venerable, 76-year-old Charlie's Steak House reopened after new owner Matt Dwyer completed a massive renovation of the famously shabby restaurant. Ruth's Chris Steak House staged its return to the city where the now-international chain got its start. The company's former flagship restaurant on North Broad Street remains boarded up, but Ruth's Chris opened a new location inside Harrah's Hotel, taking over the space that had been celebrity chef Todd English's short-lived French concept, Riche. The Roth family returned its Steak Knife Restaurant to the original Harrison Avenue location in Lakeview.

New owners also lifted two prominent French Quarter restaurants off the roster of Katrina casualties, with real estate investor Vincent Marcello leading the new ownership team at Maximo's Italian Grill and chef Glen Hogh buying and reopening the historic Café Sbisa.

New restaurants brought greater diversity to local dining options, and in some cases it didn't take much to make a big impact. For instance, the number of dedicated Korean restaurants in the area doubled overnight with the opening of Gimchi in Metairie. Meanwhile, the city gained its first example of a Japanese-style tavern with the debut of Yuki Izakaya, a Frenchmen Street hole-in-the-wall serving Japanese bar snacks. Convincing German cooking turned up in the French Quarter at the new Jäger Haus German Bistro & Coffee Shop, a casual place with first-rate German beers, a variety of schnitzel, potato salads and the tiny dumplings known as spaetzle.

When it came to new ventures, some chefs were thinking small plates. Chef Tom Wolfe closed Peristyle, the renowned restaurant he had bought from Anne Kearney Sand four years earlier, and launched a new concept called Wolfe's, with a wider-ranging menu and a specialty in tapas-style dishes. Tapas are also the focus of Rambla, a promising new restaurant opened in the lobby of the International House Hotel by Restaurant Cuvée owners Kenny LaCour and Kim Kringlie and chef Bob Iacovone.

The fine-dining scene in Kenner welcomed Pellicano Ristorante on Williams Boulevard in March but lost Calas Bistro & Wine Cellar on West Esplanade Avenue after two years in business.

Chef Guillermo Peters opened the casual Stop 9 Refueling Station in the St. Charles Avenue location of his former upscale Mexican restaurants Taqueros/Coyoacán, but closed it down before the year was up.

Veteran local chef Kevin Vizard relocated the latest in his long string of restaurants, Vizard's, from the lobby of the Garden District Hotel to a little jewel box of a storefront space on Magazine Street, formerly occupied by Alberta. Several others uprooted themselves as well.

Old Metairie gained a French bistro and lost an upscale Thai restaurant in January. Chef Jacques Saleun moved Chateau du Lac from its original Kenner address to a larger location on Metairie Road, taking over the former Vaqueros space. Then La Thai Cuisine moved from Old Metairie to the corner of Prytania and Robert streets Uptown, which, coincidentally, was the original location of Vaqueros. Chef Ian Schnoebelen and partner Laurie Casebonne moved their restaurant Iris from its original Carrollton-area nook to the Bienville House Hotel in the French Quarter.

Schnoebelen's friend Nathanial Zimet quickly scooped up the former Iris property and in December opened his first restaurant, Boucherie. It serves an upscale version of the creative Southern cooking he's been hawking from his Que Crawl catering truck to the late-night crowds outside Tipitina's. Stella! chef and owner Scott Boswell revived his own casual diner concept, Stanley, opening on Jackson Square two years after closing its original incarnation on Decatur Street.

The Windsor Court Hotel briefly gave up on the idea of running its New Orleans Grill as a chef-driven restaurant, eliminating the executive chef position then held by Greg Sonnier. But when the hotel hired David Teich to be the new general manager, he brought with him Drew Dzejak, executive chef, pastry chef and restaurant manager from his former employer, the Charleston Place hotel in South Carolina.

Sue Zemanick, chef at Gautreau's Restaurant, was named to Food & Wine magazine's list of the year's 10 best new chefs in the nation. The Southern Food and Beverage Museum opened in its first permanent home after several years of hosting exhibits at other venues, and it now shares space in the Riverwalk Marketplace with the separate Museum of the American Cocktail.

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