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Gabrielle returns


  In a sense, the restaurant Gabrielle (438 Henry Clay Ave., 899-6500; is back. In another sense, the Uptowner events hall is back, serving the food of Gabrielle to anyone who wants to book a table.

  Technically speaking — and technicalities have had a lot of sway on the long-running attempt to recreate Gabrielle — this business remains a reception hall, but in practice, customers can use it like a normal restaurant. Chef/proprietor Greg Sonnier explains that when you make a reservation here you sign a contract for service, and that contract could stipulate dinner for one or dinner for 100.

  "We tell people 'You're renting out this table and this little bit of the dining room,'" Sonnier says.

  At that table, diners can order dishes that fans of Gabrielle and Sonnier's cooking will recognize at once — among them, roasted duck in orange-sherry sauce, barbecue shrimp pie and oysters Gabie, a version of Italian-style baked oysters.

  This is the latest in the long-running saga of plans by Sonnier and wife Mary to reopen Gabrielle, closed since Hurricane Katrina, in the Uptown building they bought in 2006 for that purpose. The Sonniers' earlier attempts to retool that property as the new Gabrielle ran into Kafkaesque licensing issues at City Hall and determined resistance from some neighbors.

  More recently, however, Sonnier has done some archival research that he says confirms his property has been operated as a business since at least 1890. He believes this confers the status of a legal, nonconforming use so that he can operate it as a business in its otherwise residential neighborhood. With that, the Sonniers are now using the Gabrielle Restaurant name and serving dinner, albeit under some of the contractual trappings of an events hall.

  Dinner is served Thursday through Saturday, and Sonnier says he's considering adding Friday lunch — which was popular at the original Gabrielle — and possibly adding another night or two for dinner service later in the year. The Sonniers first opened Gabrielle in 1992 in Faubourg St. John, in the space now occupied by Santa Fe Restaurant (3201 Esplanade Ave., 948-0077;

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