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New Orleans' year in food 

Sandwiches, poke, scandals and more shook up New Orleans’ restaurant scene in 2017

click to enlarge Chef/owner Mason Hereford's Turkey and the Wolf was named one of
the nation's best new restaurants
by Bon Appetit.

Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Chef/owner Mason Hereford's Turkey and the Wolf was named one of the nation's best new restaurants by Bon Appetit.

In 2017, the toughest table to get in New Orleans wasn't at a white tablecloth place or a celebrity chef-driven restaurant. It was at a sandwich shop. In August, Bon Appetit magazine announced its annual list of the nation's top new restaurants, and chef Mason Hereford's playful Turkey and the Wolf was ranked first. For some, it was a surprise, but for many (including this critic), a no-brainer. The Irish Channel restaurant is known for its nostalgic, tongue-in-cheek approach, and since the award it has had a line snaking out the door most days.

  2017 was a turbulent year for the New Orleans dining world, but no story made bigger waves than Brett Anderson's bombshell NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune article describing a culture of sexual misconduct at the Besh Restaurant Group (and chef Alon Shaya's departure from his James Beard Award-winning restaurant). Also to be filed under 2017 scandals and surprises: The departure of Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman and her husband Paul Tuennerman, who in September stepped down from leadership roles following stinging backlash to a racially charged social media post during Carnival.

  And who could forget the summer of shutters, when nearly 30 restaurants threw in their towels? The Bywater was hit hard, losing Cafe Henri, The Cheezy Cajun and Oxalis, among others. Mariza is turning out the lights at the end of the year.

  It hasn't been all bad news. There was plenty to celebrate.

  Global flavors, in particular, made big strides in a city where chefs and restaurateurs traditionally have stuck close to their roots. Winning and creative Southeast Asian flavors wowed diners at Marjie's Grill and Maypop. Casual German bistro Bratz Y'all! opened in Bywater, and Uptown gained several new internationally inspired restaurants, including Peruvian fine-dining gem Tito's Ceviche & Pisco, Japanese ramen hub Nomiya, and modern Indian stunner Saffron NOLA. In Metairie, there's South American steakhouse Brasa Churrasqueria, modern Korean food at Gogi Korean Restaurant and Mexican-accented char-grilled oysters at Baja NOLA. Dominican newbie Mangu debuted on the West Bank.

  Here, some of the most memorable dishes and dining accomplishments from 2017.

Best new restaurant: Technically it opened in late December 2016, but Chef Michael Gulotta's ambitious restaurant Maypop took off this year, delivering beautifully composed dishes marrying the chef's Italian heritage with an affection for Southeast Asian ingredients and New Orleans fine-dining pedigree. From cured snapper paired with crispy panisse and fermented black beans to hand-pulled noodles topped with buttery hunks of blue crab and sausage in a spicy mapo sauce, the complex compositions here always are a surprise and a delight.

Runner-up: Within days of moving to Magazine Street and opening more than one night per week, Saffron NOLA became one of the city's hottest reservations. Chef Arvinder Vilkhu and his family brought creative and modern Indian cuisine to the New Orleans dining scene with dishes like oyster roasts bubbling with garlic, ginger and caramelized onions served with toasted naan, and curried seafood gumbo over basmati rice.

Hottest revival: Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina forced Greg and Mary Sonnier to close their beloved restaurant Gabrielle, the couple announced they would reopen on Orleans Avenue. The dramatic comeback has classic New Orleans ambience and dishes executed with Creole finesse, from smoked quail gumbo with anise-flavored sausage and popcorn rice to slow-roasted duck draped in an orange sherry sauce over shoestring potatoes.

Runner up: Celestine Dunbar's restaurant, Dunbar's Creole Cuisine, finally found a permanent home on Earhart Boulevard, serving Creole favorites ­— including some of the city's best fried chicken.

Best sandwich: There's a lot to be said about the healthier "good cat" fare at Bearcat Cafe, but the "bad cat" hot fried chicken sandwich slathered with pimiento cheese and bread-and-butter pickles is one of the most decadent dishes in town.

Runner-up: Stokehold's toothsome buttery crab roll seasoned with tarragon and Old Bay is served on rye rolls baked with hops from the Port Orleans Brewing Co. Storyville IPA.

Best sweet-tooth fix: Half creamy meringue pie, half Girl Scouts Samoa cookie, the coconut cream pie at MeMe's Bar & Grille in Chalmette is equal parts crunchy, creamy, salty and sweet (and pretty much perfect).

Runner-up: Uptown's Beth Biundo Sweets has it all, from chewy gingersnap cookies to gooey chocolate hazelnut tarts, ice cream sandwiches and beautifully decorated special occasion cakes.

<What to watch in 2018: New Orleans was late to the poke game but has caught up quickly. Since opening on Magazine Street earlier this year, Poke Loa has announced the opening of two more locations. Last week, a group of N7 alums opened Poke-Chan on St. Claude Avenue, taking a similar fast-casual approach to the Hawaiian raw fish dish.

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