Even a successful restaurant has certain inherent limitations on its profitability. You can only squeeze so many butts into so many seats. You can only increase your prices by so much before you wander beyond whatever particular niche of the dining market you've captured. So for many - particularly in this era of celebrity chefdom - at some point there comes the urge to grow, which means adding additional venues.
There are at least a couple different approaches to such growth. Some restaurants take what I call the "clone and colonize" approach, bringing the same package to different regional or even international markets. Nobu has restaurants in nearly twenty different cities in a dozen different countries. Joel Robuchon (after basically retiring from cooking) has restaurants in Paris, London, Monaco, Hong Kong, Macao, Tokyo, New York and Las Vegas. A plethora of chefs have set up satellite offices in Vegas, and over the past couple years the influx of "invasive exotic species" has made its way to Miami as well. Even Thomas Keller has gone bi-coastal with Per Se in New York, plus Bouchons in Las Vegas and now Beverly Hills.
Other chefs stay closer to home, creating fiefdoms in their native territory. In Seattle, Tom Douglas has opened several restaurants all within a few blocks of his original flagship, Dahlia Lounge. Here in Miami, restaurateur Myles Chefetz has done much the same thing on the "SoFi" (South of Fifth Street) end of South Beach with Prime 112, Nemo, Shoji Sushi, Big Pink, and the latest addition, Prime Italian. Jonathan Eismann is looking to do the same in the Design District, where he recently opened PizzaVolante a block away from his flagship Pacific Time and will soon be opening Q and Fin right down the street. (Of course some chefs follow both approaches: Mario Batali has his chubby fingers in nine New York restaurants, three in Las Vegas, and a few in L.A. too).
Unlike the "clone and colonize" approach, which simply seeks to duplicate the same experience in a different venue, the "fiefdom" approach requires that there be something to distinguish one restaurant from another to reach different segments of the same geographic market. The easiest thing to do, particularly if you started with a high-end restaurant, is to do a lower-end, more budget-friendly place (note that David Chang did this in reverse, starting with Momofuku Noodle Bar and later opening the higher-end Ko); but then what? If you want to build an empire, the next step is to diversify the range of cuisines you offer.
That's what John Besh has done in New Orleans. Chef Besh's reputation was made at his Restaurant August, which I'd loosely characterize as contemporary French in style with a strong influence from the Creole and Cajun cuisines and native ingredients of Louisiana. Riding the waves of acclaim for August (to say nothing of other favorable attention including a strong appearance in Top Chef Masters), Chef Besh now runs no fewer than a half-dozen restaurants in New Orleans. They range from the inevitable steakhouse, to an Italian restaurant, Domenica, to the one we visited, Lüke.
Lüke is a brasserie with a curious Franco-Germanic (Alsatian?) tilt to it. The menu, picking up on some of the trends-du-jour (not necessarily a pejorative, I happen to be very much in favor of some of these), features lots of charcuterie and many varieties of pig parts. It also has typical brasserie items like moules & frites, roast chicken, steak & frites, and croque monsieur (or madame). The Germanic/Alsatian tilt manifests in dishes such as flamenküche (a/k/a tarte flambée),choucroûte, and an entirely unexpected matzo ball soup (!)
It's a somewhat rustic looking place with a bit of a turn-of-the-century feel, featuring a long bar with carved wooden pillars, tiled floors, a pressed tin ceiling, and fans operated by a pulley-and-belt system supposedly invented in the 1880s. We showed up early for our reservation and so started our meal at the bar, where we sampled their custom-brewed pilsner and some items from the raw bar.
Once it was time for our reservation we left the bar and moved to a somewhat small, cramped table. The most intriguing items on the menu (as is often the case) were the appetizers, and we (well, OK, mostly me, Mrs. F would point out) ordered several. The pâté of rabbit and duck livers came in a generous 1/2 pint mason jar - a luscious pinkish mousse, with just a whiff of truffle, topped with a thin cap of fat. Even Scrappy Coco couldn't have made this any more silky smooth. This was perhaps not quite as ethereally rich as a good foie gras mousse, but it was awfully close.
Nip/Tuck show upon learning we were from Miami than he was with telling us what was on our plate.
Perhaps our waiter seemed so harried because he knew that the rest of our meal, which we had asked to follow these items as appetizers, was nonetheless due to arrive only five minutes later. We had quite a juggling act trying to make room for another two plates. Being the dainty eater that I am, I just had a salad.
Though we were seeking variety rather than value, the dinner menu does offer a list of daily specials that seems like an awfully good deal. $23 gets you soup, dessert, and a choice of entrées that from day to day might be blanquette of veal cheeks, duck cassoulet, whole roasted cochon de lait, and others. That seems like a very budget-friendly entry point to John Besh's cooking, and in fact pretty much everything we had was very reasonably priced, with all the starters being $10 or under. And indeed we would have had a near perfect meal if we had stuck with just the raw bar and charcuterie items. That - along with, perhaps, one of the daily specials - may very well be the plan the next time we get to visit this particular vassalage of Chef Besh's fiefdom.
333 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, LA 70130