Restaurant named for ‘place to see and be seen’
For a 10-year stretch beginning in the mid-1990s, the restaurant at Dumaine and North Rampart streets was home to some of the most coveted seats in the New Orleans dining scene. The restaurant was Peristyle, and its chef, Anne Kearney, was nationally acclaimed for her rendition of French cuisine.
Last weekend, Patrick Singley, the proprietor of the well-regarded Uptown restaurant Gautreau’s, opened a new restaurant at the French Quarter site.
Rather than try to re-create Peristyle, he and his partners are reaching further back into the building’s history.
The new restaurant is called Marti’s, after the Creole restaurant that was a hub of French Quarter social life and the New Orleans arts community in the 1970s and 1980s. The original Marti’s was opened in 1971 by Martin Shambra, and as Singley tells the tale, Shambra made a splash by tweaking some of the city’s dining conventions of the day.
“It was a different type of restaurant, one that didn’t require a coat and tie. He was being kind of irreverent for the time, compared to Antoine’s, Brennan’s and those places,” Singley said. “We want to keep the spirit of what this place had been, without trying to duplicate it.”
Singley’s chef at this new Marti’s is Drew Lockett, a Slidell native who worked in fine-dining kitchens around the country before returning home.
The menu is a contemporary riff on Parisian brasseries, Singley said, with dishes such as Atlantic cod Provencal, grilled quail, roasted bone marrow and a major emphasis on oysters and chilled seafood presentations.
Marti’s will keep late hours, staying open until midnight to lure the after-theater crowd.
Some neighbors are excited to see the property at 1041 Dumaine St. coming back to life, including Brobson Lutz, a physician who has lived across the street from the restaurant since 1981 and frequented both Marti’s and Peristyle.
“In the old days, Marti’s was the place to see and be seen,” Lutz said. “When something was going on at the Municipal Auditorium or one of the theaters, everyone in the dining room would know each other. There was no way tourists could even get in there.”
The old Marti’s closed in 1988 and the building sat empty until chef John Neal reopened it as Peristyle in 1992.
When Neal died three years later, his protégée Kearney took over and proceeded to build Peristyle’s stature to the top tier of New Orleans restaurants. She won the James Beard Foundation award for best chef in the Southeast in 2002.
In 2004, Kearney moved back to her hometown of Dayton, Ohio, where she runs Rue Dumaine Restaurant, whose name is a clear tribute to Peristyle’s location.
Chef Tom Wolfe took over Peristyle in 2004 but closed it in 2009, and it had been idle until this month’s opening.
Singley and his wife, Rebecca, redeveloped the property with business partner Joe Jaeger, who runs the regional construction firm MCC Group and a number of small, local hotels.
The new owners took a light approach to remodeling the historic building, and the floor plan remains the same as in the Peristyle days.
In the first room, a mural of City Park’s Peristyle still hangs by the antique bar, while in the main dining room the owners have added deep banquette booths and chandeliers from Italy.
In addition to Marti’s, the Singleys have a second restaurant under development Uptown, not far from Gautreau’s.
They intend to open Ivy by the end of the month at 5015 Magazine St., the address that was home to Vizard’s Restaurant.
Singley said the concept for Ivy is more about small plates and drinks than formal meals.
“It will be a place to come before or after they go to an event or even to dinner someplace else,” Singley said. “We think there’s a need for that now.”
Gautreau’s executive chef Sue Zemanick will oversee both Ivy and Gautreau’s, while the kitchens will be directly run by a pair of chefs de cuisine — Chris Gecewich for Ivy and Nick Lama for Gautreau’s.