Through 25 years of change on Frenchmen Street, Adolfo’s Restaurant has remained a consistent presence for soulful Italian cuisine in the middle of the nightlife bustle. The restaurantwill continue, but now without its founder.
Adolfo Perez Palavicini died Friday, Aug. 12 at age 63, confirmed his wife, Kim Perez. He had heart attack while staying at his farm in Perdido Beach, Alabama and died at a nearby hospital.
Adolfo’s is a tiny restaurant found up a narrow flight of stairs from an equally pint-sized bar, the Apple Barrel. But with its intimate, bohemian feel and the flavors that Palavicini brought forth from his cramped, often chaotic-seeming kitchen, it earned a place among the city’s beloved restaurants.
Perez calls that a tribute to her husband’s tenacity and gusto.
“He never left the kitchen, after all the years and the success, he still wanted to be there, he still owned it,” she said. “His message to others is that you can come from nowhere and make it here, he lived the American dream.”
Perez said the restaurant will remain open. She and her children Brock Kelly, Michelle Perez, Phillip Cruz Perez are forming a new ownership group to continue the business.
“Adolfo won’t see his legacy carry on but he knew it would continue, and he was so happy about that,’ she said.
A presence on Frenchmen
Born in Spain, Palavicini came to New Orleans in the 1980s. He initially cooked in restaurant and also on offshore oil rigs.
He first started cooking on Frenchmen Street at Adolfo’s predecessor, an Italian restaurant called Alberto’s. When Alberto’s folded, the landlord recognized Palavicini’s drive and offered the space to him. He opened Adolfo’s here at 611 Frenchmen St. in 1997.
At the time, this historic commercial stretch in Faubourg Marigny was still relatively low-key, with a string of bars and clubs drawing a largely local clientele.
As Frenchmen Street soared in popularity and tourist draw, the restaurant has maintained a consistent identity, luring regulars and frequent visitors to the city back for their favorite dishes.
Oysters poached in Pernod, steak Manny with peppercorn-rum sauce, veal with ocean sauce (a creamy concoction studded with shellfish and capers) and tender cannelloni filled with crab, corn and ricotta are among its many signatures.
Today, Adolfo’s is one of only a handful of businesses left on the strip that predate Hurricane Katrina, along with the Apple Barrel, which Palavicini and Perez took over in 2013.
Passing the torch
After Palavicini suffered a stroke in January, the restaurant closed temporarily until family and staff could begin a gradual reopening. Perez said her husband retired after that, and they were beginning to plan to leave the business. That could have meant the end of Adolfo’s.
However, the outpouring of support and emotion from customers during the temporary closure was so moving, it convinced the family to reassess its future.
“We saw that our customers are not having this,” Perez said.
The family is planning a memorial at the restaurant for the public soon, because, Perez said, “so much of his life was on Frenchmen.”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
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