Any given year will bring a tally of restaurants that made their debut and a list of those that closed. But there’s always more happening in a restaurant scene than arrivals and departures.

Looking back at another year of food stories from New Orleans can reveal clues of what’s to come, patterns for what endures and questions about what might change. What follows is one take away from a busy, sometimes tumultuous 2017.

Chasing flavor, new, global and our own

A dining scene that doesn’t change is dead, or at least dead boring. One that reflexively jumps on every trend without a sense of its own place and self has no anchor,  nothing to pass along.

Fortunately, in New Orleans with do not have either problem. What’s really exciting about dining in our city right now is a blend that continues to grow and evolve and energize the restaurant scene.

We have access to chefs pursuing original, contemporary cuisine, increasingly diverse representations of cooking from around the world and restaurants that are resiliently, unmistakably of New Orleans -- and crucially, that includes some new restaurants too.

This is a city that loves its own food, but also loves food period. We love talking about our restaurants, finding new ones, reuniting with old flames and digging into what makes the flavors of our home feel like our own.

Noteworthy new additions in 2017 show this dynamic in robust fashion.

For instance, the most impressive debut this year was Saffron NOLA, which combines traditional Indian flavor with modern regional dining. In the process has created something altogether new for New Orleans.


Advocate photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee -- The Vilkhu family, (from left) Ashwin, Arvinder, Pardeep and Pranita, debut their new restaurant Saffron NOLA on Magazine Street. 

Saffron NOLA was the creation of the Vilkhu family, who had developed the concept for years as a combination pop-up and supper club in Gretna. The full-fledged restaurant that opened Uptown was the realization of a multi generational effort, and it has been a hit, packing the house with locals coming for tamarind shrimp, broiled oysters with naan and rum-soaked lamb chops.

Two very different additions also each did their part to give fusion a good name this year.

Maypop is the upscale/casual restaurant int he CBD from the chefs behind MoPho, and Marjie’s Grill is a bootstrap/casual eatery from a young couple setting up shop on South Broad Street (each technically opened at this time last year, but only got rolling as 2017 progressed).

Both combine elements of Southeast Asia and Southeast Louisiana. Maypop makes this into modern fine dining, through an approach that is ambitious, complex but still affable.


Advocate photo by Ryan Hodgson-Rigsbee -- Charred okra, pork shoulder steak and shrimp set the table at Marjie's Grill in Mid City.

Marjie’s Grill, meanwhile, functions like a neighborhood joint where Gulf seafood, smoky meats, crisp greens and chiles and fish sauce get worked into plate lunches, family-style platters and happy hour snacks.

Both Maypop and Marjie’s Grill feel at home in New Orleans right now, as the region recognizes that global flavors are part of the modern South’s identity and part of its culinary vocabulary.

Some other new additions this year stood out with flavors, approach and even location. There’s DTB, where deep-running Louisiana flavor gets creative new vigor, and Central City BBQ, which established an outpost for low-and-slow barbecue and keeps growing into its huge, campus-like property.

The Stokehold (within Port Orleans Brewing) and Freret Beer Room (another very late 2016 debut) each pursue the culinary possibilities of the city's expanding beer culture.

Brasa Churrasqueria brought South American-style steak – and wood-cooked flavors of many types – to a stylish setting in Old Metairie. And Tavolino gave its Algiers Point neighbors a new den for pizza, salumi and drinks and all of us another reason to ride the ferry over for a visit.

Amid all the new additions, however, some of the most welcome debuts this year brought back familiar names, beloved dishes and even entire restaurants that we thought we’d lost.

Dunbar’s Creole Cuisine and Gabrielle Restaurant were both on the Hurricane Katrina casualty list, closed since 2005 despite their respective proprietors’ efforts to rekindle them elsewhere.

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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - A ceremonial ribbon adorns the door at Dunbar's Creole Cuisine on Earhart Boulevard just before the eatery officially opened April 7.

Dunbar’s had been a fixture on Freret Street long before that Uptown corridor became a restaurant row. It was a cultural crossroads for people from all walks of New Orleans life who shared a taste for its down-home Creole cooking. In April, a new Dunbar’s opened its doors in Gert Town, with a different look but deeply evocative flavors running through its gumbo and fried chicken, red beans and turkey necks.

Gabrielle was an acclaimed restaurant at its original home on Esplanade Avenue and it was part of a new read on regional Louisiana flavors that emerged a generation ago. It returned this summer in a different location along Orleans Avenue, bringing back its roasted duck with orange-sherry sauce, BBQ shrimp pie and oysters Gabie.

The theme of return and renewal also runs strong at Ted Brennan’s Decatur. This is the ambitious next chapter from the branch of the family that previously ran Brennan’s Restaurant on Royal Street, before that storied landmark’s own transformation in 2014.

Initially planned as a comeback for its namesake, after Ted Brennan’s untimely death the restaurant was recast as a tribute from his family. It opened in August with aromas of turtle soup and garlic bread, the sound of Champagne corks popping, a reminiscent shade of pink on the walls and familiar faces around the room.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.