by Ian McNulty
Two of the newer additions to Mid-City's restaurant row along Carrollton Avenue near Canal Street have closed.
Most recently, Arabesque closed up shop this week, hanging a sign on its gate that the business is now handling catering only. The restaurant space is also available for private functions.
Right next door, Sailors Seafood & Oyster Bar closed in December.
Arabesque had opened in November 2007 in a smartly-renovated single shotgun house that chef Sandra Bahhur and her husband Luis Bernhard bought before Katrina. It was to be the more ambitious, full-service incarnation of their quick-serve breakfast and lunch spot, Café Arabesque, which they operated in the downtown medical district. The levee failures pushed that plan back by two years, but when the Mid-City restaurant did open they served a diverse menu mixing Spanish-style tapas, Middle Eastern mezze and entrees ranging from Caribbean-style fish to Moroccan tagine chicken.
Meanwhile, Sailors Seafood was the latest in a long litany of restaurants that have come and gone at its address, both before and after Katrina.
It was once the home of Bennachin, the African restaurant that moved to 1212 Royal St. in the French Quarter. Later, it became Lil' Ray's Diner, which was wrecked by the levee failures. In 2006, the building reopened with a new look but with a similar diner concept called Rooster's, which proved short-lived. In 2007 a new operation took over called Mama's Hot Burger, which had burgers but also meatless choices like soba noodles, baked polenta and curried tofu. The latest incarnation, Sailors, opened in the spring of 2008.
Sailors did not have the feel of longevity. While its raw oysters were a good addition to the neighborhood, the restaurant was essentially serving po-boys and fried seafood in close proximity to some of the city's most famous and popular purveyors of such fare: Mandina's, Liuzza's Restaurant and Parkway Tavern and Bakery.
The closing of Arabesque was more of a surprise. I certainly liked the place, and thought it occupied a unique niche by feeling like a neighborhood restaurant while serving fairly exotic food. It did have a very tight dining room, however, and the prices were getting up there.
If locals continue to feel the national economy hitting them in their wallets, I think we may see more restaurants closing up, and I think it will be some of the newer ones that take the hit first.