by Ian McNulty
It looks like the end of a long and very winding road for Peristyle.
Chef/owner Tom Wolfe issued a news release today announcing that the French Quarter restaurant will serve its last meal this Friday, Aug. 9. The dinner service has been dubbed the "last supper" for Peristyle, but it looks as though at least the building will be resurrected once more as a restaurant.
Wolfe plans to open a new restaurant in early September in the same location after about a month's worth of renovations.
The chef is out of town this week, but his publicist says the new restaurant will have a menu combining "small plates," a chef's tasting menu and dishes that are "more creative than the French contemporary menu" for which Peristyle was known, though some of the most popular items from the old menu will live on. She says the new idea is to have "cuisine with no boundaries."
The new restaurant's name has not yet been announced, but its bar will be called the Persityle as a tribute to the building's history.
It's hard to imagine a fine New Orleans restaurant that has seen as much upheaval in so few years as Peristyle.
Chef John Neal founded the restaurant in 1992. When he died in 1995, his protégé Anne Kearney Sand bought the restaurant from his family and proceeded to build its stature to the top tier of New Orleans restaurants.
Peristyle was gutted by fire in 1999 but after nine months of repairs and remodeling its regulars filed right back in for a celebratory reopening the following year. Then, in 2004, Kearney Sand sold the place to Wolfe, who had worked at Mr. B's Bistro and Emeril's Restaurant before opening his first restaurant, Wolfe's of New Orleans, on the lakefront.
With the acquisition of Peristyle, he seemed poised to build a local empire of his own. His third restaurant, Wolfe's in the Warehouse, opened in the summer of 2005 a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina. Despite damage, Wolfe's in the Warehouse was one of the first fine-dining restaurants to reopen after the disaster. The original Wolfe's never reopened, and its location is now Beebe's on the Lake.
In today's release, Wolfe said:
It has been an honor to hold the reigns of Peristyle for the past four years. This has been a rewarding experience and I intend to emulate the class and service that Peristyle has provided in my new restaurant.
I am excited about this new endeavor, and am dedicated to continue making my new restaurant one of the best in the city."
I enjoyed Peristyle both before and after Wolfe took over, though the place never seemed busy enough after its post-Katrina reopening.
My read on this is that Wolfe would like to reinvent the restaurant and have it judged on its own merits rather than face constant comparison to the days when Kearney Sand was at the helm.
That's reasonable enough, but he's also jettisoning 16 years of value built into the Peristyle name. I wonder if what he has in mind for this as-yet-unnamed restaurant will be worth the trade off.
-- Ian McNulty