Best New Restaurants

Belle Forché
The latest ingenue in the Faubourg Marigny district has it all: a chef with an impressive pedigree (Matthew Yohalem was at Le Cirque and Commander's Palace), an investor with an Oscar (Robert De Niro) and an ingenious updated Creole menu (eggplant, crabmeat and hot pepper gumbo with coconut and coriander; crawfish ravioli with chile peppers, chives and chervil) (1407 Decatur St.; 504-940-0722).

F&W 1989 Best New Chef Susan Spicer's third venture in the Crescent City feels distinctly San Francisco-ish, with its North Beach antipasto platter and Chinatown five-spice duck. Even the look has that NoCal sophistication: the contrasting textures of tiled walls, leather armchairs and velvet pillows, all in--what else?--cobalt blue (in the Hotel Monaco New Orleans, 333 St. Charles Ave.; 504-565-5595).

Chef John Harris's elegant Uptown newcomer is a locals' darling. His uncomplicated French and Italian dishes--marinated anchovies with basil bruschetta and stewed onions; grilled veal paillard with heirloom tomatoes, arugula and mascarpone toasts--are every bit as sumptuous as those coveted ivory leather booths (3637 Magazine St.; 504-895-1636).

René Bistrot
Formerly chef of the inimitable Windsor Court Hotel's Grill Room, René Bajeux returns to his French roots at this classic brasserie. Here he smokes his own salmon, butchers his own meats and makes his own sausages and pâtés--with simple, delectable results (in the Renaissance Hotel, 817 Common St.; 504-412-2580).

Restaurant August
F&W 1999 Best New Chef John Besh fled Lake Pontchartrain's north shore and settled in downtown New Orleans. Surrounded by crystal chandeliers, he cooks traditionally heavy dishes with his customary light hand: venison with spaetzle; crab-and-truffle gnocchi; and tuna with prosciutto, green lentils and chicory (301 Tchoupitoulas St.; 504-299-9777).

Chef Devlin Roussel has long made use of native Louisiana ingredients, and his cooking at this former mansion in the French Quarter is no exception. Gulf fish, locally grown mirliton (chayote) and barbecue sauce made from Steen's molasses all appear on his predominantly Creole menu (801 Chartres St.; 504-568-1885).

The decor at this new spot is best described as Provençal drab, but chef Scott Boswell's eclectic menu is certainly not dull: his lacquered-duck spring rolls, shellfish bouillabaisse, tandoori spiced salmon with coconut shrimp basmati rice and cinnamon-and-cayenne-cured chicken with chipotle whipped potatoes have already won over residents of the Big Easy (in the Hôtel Provincial, 1032 Chartres St.; 504-587-0091).