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New Cat in the Quarter

El Gato Negro (81 French Market Place, 525-9752) opened earlier this month as a Mexican restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in the old French Market warehouse space formerly occupied by the coffee shop Sarafina. The restaurant is the latest venture of Juan Contreras, who was formerly co-owner of the Spanish restaurant Madrid (2723 Roosevelt Blvd., Kenner, 469-5599). El Gato Negro's breakfast menu includes eggs with ranchero sauce or chorizo sausage and cactus omelets. At lunch and dinner, a half-pound rib-eye with guacamole tops the menu's price scale at $11.75, while Mexican-style strip steak, pork chops, chicken mole and a fish of the day are all under $10. The restaurant serves tacos and ceviche, and the housemade salsa is gratis. The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Thursday through Saturday, brunch on Sunday and breakfast and lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Seats for Sale

In some circles, a table for Friday lunch at Galatoire's Restaurant (209 Bourbon St., 525-2021; Ñ especially right before a major holiday Ñ is more coveted than the latest Xbox. The 101-year-old French-Creole restaurant normally doesn't take reservations for its first-floor dining room, but just as it did at Mardi Gras this year, management will auction off seats for the Friday lunch before Christmas, reserve them for the high bidders and donate the auction proceeds to local nonprofits. Beneficiaries this time are Covenant House and Children's Hospital. The Mardi Gras auction raised approximately $96,000 for hurricane recovery programs, with no seat going for less than $500. The auction will be held at the restaurant Monday, Dec. 4, beginning at 5:30 p.m., with pre-registration required so you can get and auction paddle and bids beginning at $100 per seat. A winning bid ensures a seat on Dec. 22 but does not cover food or drink. As usual, Galatorie's accepts reservations for its second-floor dining room.

Festivus Time

Once again this year, the downtown site of the Crescent City Farmers Market will be transformed into Festivus (700 Magazine St.;, an offbeat, outdoor shopping market. The concept is based on an episode from the TV sitcom Seinfeld, and has evolved over the past few years as a holiday market specializing in locally made, recycled or fair-trade products and somewhat zany activities. This year, the event moves to Sunday afternoons and will include 35 vendors Ñ including some farmers market vendors Ñ as well as free massages, a Òregifting stationÓ for unwanted gifts and a Òflattery boothÓ staffed by members of the Big Easy Rollergirls roller derby league. Savvy Gourmet (4519 Magazine St., 895-2665; and Crepes a la Cart (1039 Broadway St., 866-2362) will sell food. Festivus continues each Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. through Dec. 17.

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