It's during the hottest months of the year when the restaurant industry really starts to sizzle, and 2012 is no exception. Not only have there been several leave-takings, there are oodles of new, delicious reasons for New Orleans to be one of the top dining destinations in the world.
First off, we have a couple new ways to wake up with the arrival of two new coffee trucks in town. You may have already seen the Brigade coffee truck, a Citroën H Van imported from Belgium, parked out in front of Company Burger, Tipitina's and the Freret Street market. Brigade roasts their own espresso beans, a "Flor de ipe" blend from Brazil and Nicarauguan Beneficio Las Segovias. Keep up with their whereabouts on Twitter at @BrigadeCoffee.
There's another, older model Citroën van cruising around, selling what many claim as the best French press coffee in the city. Also roasting their own beans (in small batches to ensure freshness), French Truck coffee has been glimpsed at the Freret Market. But you can get your hands on some blends either by ordering from their website (www. frenchtruck.us) and have it delivered to your home, or you can purchase pounds of their aromatic bliss at St. James Cheese Co., Tartine, Fat Hen Grocery and La Boulangerie.
In other news, shortly after a scathing, "single bean" review from food critic Brett Anderson of the Times Picayune, Executive Chef Chris Cody decided to leave the fourmonth-old Dijon on Annunciation Street, citing what Cody saw as not being "a good fit for the owner's vision." The chef stayed with the restaurant through the end of June to "help with the transition of a new chef," as yet to be named.
Chef Anthony Spizale's split from the fivemonth-old Manning's Restaurant, owned and managed by Harrah's, marks another abrupt departure in the restaurant industry. It is rumored that the popular local chef has other irons in the fire, and it will only be a matter of time before we discover where he lands next.
On a brighter note, Chef Chris DeBarr's parted from Green Goddess in the French Quarter to open a brand new restaurant called Serendipity in the American Can Company building on Orleans Avenue in Mid-City. The note is brighter because not only has DeBarr broken off to helm his own, much larger venue, his former co-chef Paul Artigues will keep Green Goddess going strong with new, expanded hours (11 a.m. - 9 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday) and a new lunch and dinner menu. (www.greengoddessnola.com).
Speaking of new restaurants, Criollo Restaurant & Lounge recently opened its doors inside the historic Hotel Monteleone. Headed by Executive Chef Randolph Buck and Chef de Cuisine Joseph Maynard, Criollo offers a blend of Spanish, French, African and Caribbean cuisine in the space previously occupied by the Hunt Room Grill. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, guests will be able to enjoy the newly constructed dining room and open kitchen all day long and then pop on over the recently refurbished Carousel Bar to continue the celebration on into the night.
Not too long ago, Johnny V's Bistro finally opened Uptown across the street from the monkey Hill Bar. A collaboration between Chef Ryan Hughes of Cafè Degas fame and Johnny Vodanovich, former manager of Clancy's, Johnny V's offers both classical and contemporary French cuisine with dishes like steamed mussels, trout meuniere and financier for dessert. Although you may have heard that Chef Hughes recently injured his hand in a tablesaw accident, that didn't slow him down in the slightest. He was back in the kitchen less than three days later and cooking like it never happened.
To coincide with the continuing specialty cocktail scene in New Orleans (thank you Cure, Belloq, Bar Tonique, etc.), SoBou, a Creole Saloon opened inside the W New Orleans Hotel in the French Quarter. Created by the Commander's Family of Restaurants, SoBou features "cutting-edge" cocktails and a small-plates menu inspired by Louisiana street food and designed by consulting chef Tory McPhail and Executive Chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez. Cocktail creation is headed by Lu Brow of The Swizzle Stick and in-house chef Abigail Gullo, and SoBou also offers twists on local dishes like their Duck Debris Po-Boy and Buttermilk Beignets with a Chicory Coffee Ganache.
Another Vieux Carré bar called Batch opened in the newly-minted Hyatt French Quarter featuring barrel and flask service. Guests can choose from large-batch barrels, containing house-infused rum or bourbon, smaller barrels containing pre-mixed cocktails and flasks with "house-made accompaniments for self-service and mixing." Batch also offers a menu of shared or small plates to be consumed along with your barrelaged cocktail of choice.
Finally, every Friday night all summer long, The New Orleans Museum of Art is offering a slew of "Art you can eat" cooking demos presented by the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group chefs and guests. From "ART-isan" cheese traditions with Chef Chris Montero and Leah Chase to sweet and savory desserts demonstrated by Brett Gauthier, you'll want to hurry and sign up fast before space runs out and this summertime culinary art experience is devoured.