Returning to NO - suggestions please
My wife and I are returning to N.O. for the first time since 2003. We will be staying in the FQ and would like to walk to most of the restaurants which we plan to visit. In the past, we dined at Bayona (our favorite), Emeril’s (our meals were outstanding), NOLA (very good experience), Peristyle (lovely experience although I understand Anne K. left town), K-Pauls (solid meal), Brigtsen’s (wonderful food), Mr. B’s (great BBQ shrimp), Galatoire’s (disappointing experience), Acme Oyster (fun), Uglesich’s (outstanding but now closed), Commander’s Palace (quite good), Brennan’s (nice breakfast), GW Fins (solid meal), and Cobalt (just fair).
We plan to have dinner at August and Stella!. We also are thinking about returning to Bayona, Emeril's and Mr. B's for lunch (for some reason, I don't see Bayona mentioned much on this board). Le Meritage is a possibility. For a couple of dives we are thinking about Acme and/or Coop's. Where else should we consider and/or what should we try again? Thanks so much.
Per our e-mails, here is my recent list of restaurants in NOLA. I wanted to throw it out here, so others (like EC, and others) can add their comments. Trust the locals, as I only get to NOLA a couple of times per year.
"OK, let's move on to food. NOLA is a wonderful city for dining. It reminds me a lot of San Francisco, in that there are "districts" and neighborhoods, with great food, and these included the downtown/Financial District. Unless one is staying for some time, you cannot possibly hit them all. Unlike SF, NOLA doesn't quite have the public transportation thing back together again. The recs. That I'm going to give you will be fairly concentrated in three main geographical areas: The French Quarter, the Warehouse District and the Central Business District. These are all almost contiguous and within walking distance from each other. There will be a couple of exceptions, and their location will be noted.
Stella! http://www.restaurantstella.com/ Lovely, intimate setting in the back of the FQ. Food and service were outstanding. Great wine list and wine-service too (know that you're a Diet Coke guy, but hey). More intimate and quiet, than many. A jacket would be recommended. I found this to be an intimate and very quiet restaurant. The food is Nouvelle-American, but with a NOLA twist. More innovative in both prep and presentation, than the old-school restaurants.
The "Grand Dame" of NOLA dining. This is not to be missed. Some families have had the same waiter for generations. This is how much of NOLA dining used to be in a by-gone era. Two choices: make reservations and be seated upstairs, or stand in line and request seating downstairs. Food is the same, as is the service, with the exception of most of the "family" waiters being downstairs. The "show" is better downstairs, as you will be presented with a tableau of New Orleanians dining out. Downstairs is where the top politicians make their "grand entrance." Same for the moneyed "movers and shakers," of New Orleans society. It is a real "show." I find it a bit loud, but that IS part of the charm. Upstairs is more intimate, but one does miss the show, and a bit of a feel for old-style NOLA dining. Whether to do up, or down, is a raging debate on the NOLA board. Might be worth a read. We often have guests, and a tighter time line, so we do dine upstairs more often. However, if it is just the two of us, and time is no issue, I'd opt for downstairs, but that is because it's been some years, since we last did it. At one time, gentlemen (of all ages) could not be seated without a coat and tie. Now, a jacket is highly recommended. Depending on the time of year, you'll probably see more white suits, than on the "Dukes of Hazard."
Brennan's for brunch: http://www.galatoires.com/ This is a rec. that I never thought I'd give, just a couple of years ago. When we lived in NOLA, we always had guests, who just HAD to dine at Brennan's. We'd dutifully escort them and we'd have an awful time - snooty waitstaff, tired food, etc. Well, about four trips back, I wanted to take my wife to a nice brunch. She was in meetings all day, and each night was some "event." While walking the FQ at dawn one day, I was stopped by a large delivery truck unloading food at Brennan's. Had not really thought of them in years. Something caught my eye and later, I stopped in to make reservations. I even told my wife about the "surprise." She was as "surprised" as I had been, that I had chosen Brennan's. Arrived and was given the grandest treatment. The food was excellent, as was the service. The charm had returned. We've now been back a couple more times, and all was excellent. Basically, I had to eat my words. What wine do you serve with crow? If open and available, courtyard is a real charmer. If not, inside, but looking out on the courtyard is second.
The Original Coffee Pot for breakfast: 714 Saint Peter St. This is a funky little restaurant tucked away next to Pat O'Brien's Piano Bar. It is slightly off the beaten-path in the FQ. I've been having breakfast there for decades - from back when it was Maxie's Coffee Pot. I still slip up and refer to it as Maxie's. I usually get the first table in the courtyard, or one of the two small ones against the windows, looking out onto Saint Peter St. People-watching is great. I've done 2-3 fairly recent reviews on the NOLA board. If you can score the hostess, a lovely, rotund Black woman, your service will be top notch. Ask her about when the restaurant used to be "Maxie's."
Bayona for dinner: http://www.bayona.com/flash_content/bayona.htm
Just up River from the Audubon Cottages (see above), is Chef Susan Spicer's flagship restaurant, Bayona (pronounced BI-Ona). Chef Spicer blends NOLA and Creole cuisine with her unique personal touch. Casually elegant, seating is a bit tight. The menu will feature local produce and seafood. If I had to limit myself, some of the other recs. in this area would get higher billing, but it is very, very good, and if one were staying at the Audubon Cottages, is just across the street and up the block.
Café Du Monde for beignets and coffee: http://www.cafedumonde.com/ There were two great coffee stands in the FQ, CDM and The Morning Call. Alas, TMC has moved out to Metairie, and now there is only one. OK, there are some newer versions, but nothing like the originals. Tourists flock to CDM, so it can be crowded and you will probably rub shoulders with more people from WI, MN and IL, than from NOLA - usually. Years ago I had coffee with Tennessee Williams, right along the railing looking out onto Decatur Street, so you never know. Go for a table on the railing, even if you have to wait for a bit. Again, the people-watching is excellent, and you'll have a view of Jackson Square and the carriages, plying the FQ. When we were much younger and my wife was a nurse on the 3-11 shift, I'd pick her up around Midnight, and we'd head down to the FQ for CDM. Often the fog was so thick that you couldn't even see the Square. In those days, JAX Brewery was still in business (now a shopping mall). Though I hated their beer, the smell of them brewing still lives with me. They are just across a little promenade from CDM. Throw in the fog horns on the river, the klip-klop of the carriage horses on the wet cobblestone and you had romance. Throw in a chance to have coffee with Tennessee Williams and life didn't get much better for two kids in love in New Orleans.
Felix's for oysters, or a seafood po-boy: http://www.felixs.com/ In New Orleans, there are two schools of thought: Felix's, or ACME Oyster House (across the street). Most of my family went to Felix's, though some Yankee relatives swore by ACME. My wife's family was split 50-50 over the two. For me, Felix's is my first choice. My mother would stand at the oyster bar and go through 2 doz. oysters at a time. I saw her easily handle 3 doz. once. I am a big fan of their version of the fried shrimp po-boy. The waitresses are all charming in an Eliza Doolittle sort of way. They are very familiar with their patrons, and you'll wonder "was she a good friend of my mom's?" when you leave.
These two are rolled into one, as I never know the exact geographic delineation between the two. When we lived there, the Warehouse District was just that, miles of warehouses. Now, it's filled with the E. Morial Convention Center, tony boutique hotels and restaurants. The CBD (a bit Lakeside from the WHD) is the "city-center" of NOLA. Over the last few decades, many restaurants have been added, as well as hotels.
The New Orleans Grill at the Windsor Court Hotel for a grand dinner: http://www.windsorcourthotel.com/web/onor/windsor_court.jsp
Another rec. that I never thought I'd give. After 15 years, we went back. All had changed, and for the better. This was the "Grill Room," when it opened. It got international press and the chef was being touted as the next great culinary superstar. We were back for a meeting, and it was my wife's birthday. Reservations were made about 4 mos. out and everything that could go wrong went wrong. Last trip, my wife surprised ME, when she requested that we dine there again. As I said, all had changed. The meal and service were 100%. Based on that last meal, I can now freely recommend them. Elegant, with touches of old New Orleans, but in an updated version. Not inexpensive, but a great value in my opinion. A jacket is probably required. Here, gentlemen speak in quite tones, and ladies in even quieter ones.
Restaurant August for the "Chef's Tasting Menu:" http://www.rest-august.com/ Chef John Besh is gaining international fame and shows why with his tasting menu at Restaurant August. Not old-school NOLA cuisine, it is highly innovative and he uses almost 100% local ingredients. This is Nouveaux-NOLA at its best (or maybe at its "Besh?") Gentlemen will be mostly in suits and ladies dressed for the theater. I do not think that jackets are "required," but would be highly recommended, as with Galatoire's. Quieter than downstairs at Galatoire's.
Cochon for a laid-back lunch, or dinner: http://www.cochonrestaurant.com/ Not real NOLA fare, but expressive of the environs, just up the River. Think Cajun here. Far more casual than most of my recs., Cochon just has good food. The tables and chairs look like something from a picnic at your Aunt's house up on the Bayou. I found the chairs to be somewhat uncomfortable, but the food made me forget my discomfort. Neat, eclectic little wine list too. Can get a bit more noisy, but that is more in keeping with the general atmosphere of the place - more casual.
MiLa for dinner: http://www.milaneworleans.com/ This is an interesting restaurant. It's owned by a couple of chefs, who are, well a "couple." One is from New Orleans and the other from Mississippi. The space is a tad more avant-garde, than most others in NOLA - clean lines, dark tones, with lighter accents. You'll see what I mean. The food is Deep South meets NOLA. To the uninitiated, these terms might be considered to be synonymous, but they are not in very many ways. It's just as most think of NOLA cuisine as Cajun. It is not, though elements of Cajun cuisine have made their way into the food of NOLA. Here, the two (Deep South and NOLA) come together beautifully. Half of the menu reminds me of Vidalia in DC, or Magnolia's in Charleston. The other half, of several great restaurants in NOLA. Not a bad blend. Since my wife and I share the same general heritage as the two chefs, and we freely blend elements of both cuisines, I "see where they're coming from." Only complaint that I had was a very noisy party too close to our table. My one recommendation to the owners would be to add some full walls, and quieter surfaces, but that's just my personal tastes. I do not like loud dining. The rest of the patrons seemed as put-out as I was, by the behavior of this one party, so I think that this was a single incident, and not reflective of the ambiance of the restaurant.
Either a streetcar, taxi ride, or a short trip by automobile, these spots are worth the trip.
Brigtsen's for dinner: http://www.brigtsens.com/chef_frank.html
In the River Bend area, where St. Charles Ave. turns to S. Carrollton, Brigtsen's is located in an old home. Matter of fact, it's just around the corner from my wife's grandfather's home, and just around the corner from where she grew up in the Upper Garden District. Chef Frank has been doing excellent work for about two decades. When Katrina hit, I was sent three articles in the NY Times, about how Chef Frank was not coming back to the city. I also got an article from the London Times about the same thing! That would have been one of the greatest culinary tragedies to befall the City. He came back, and doing great things in his kitchen. His fare is a blend of NOLA and Cajun, with many Creole elements thrown in. Actually, NOLA cuisine usually has much more Creole influence, than Cajun. Take the street car (St. Charles Ave. line) to the River Bend, and then it's a very short walk to Brigtsen's. The setting is more "homey," than most others, but in an elegant way. It's like having a semi-formal meal at an older relative's home. The wine list is/was a tad weak, but that is a minor quibble, as the food is so, so good. This is a "not to be missed" restaurant.
Camellia Grill for breakfast: 626 S. Carrollton Ave.
Located on S. Carrolton right where you'll get off the streetcar for Brigtsen's, is a smallish white building. It looks like a mix of Cape Cod and Southern Plantation with columns adorning the front. It is an institution. Katrina shut the doors, and then the restaurant was closed. It has since reopened under new management, but many of the cooks and servers have returned. Dining is at a counter, with swivel stools. The menu is eclectic, but does feature a couple of traditional items. For me, the "Nutty Waffles" (pecan waffles) are the hit. Others (and I do this too, when I've met my Nutty Waffle quota) love their Chili-Cheese omelet.
Ralph's On The Park for brunch or dinner: http://www.ralphsonthepark.com/menu_display.php?id=1
Set across from City Park (the largest municipal park in the US), Ralph's is part of one arm of the Brennan family's restaurant empire. This has become our standard for brunch, before we head to the airport. Bright and airy, it is full of NOLA charm and very good food. Their wine list has been scaled back, but is still serviceable. I'd either drive, or take a taxi, though one could probably catch the Canal St. streetcar and get off at the cemeteries, where Canal St. becomes Canal Blvd. From there, it would be about a one mile walk to Ralph's. Check to see if the Canal St. streetcar has initiated service to the cemeteries yet.
Parkway Bakery and Tavern for lunch: http://www.parkwaybakeryandtavernnola.com/
This is a cab ride or drive. Though it is not THAT far from the FQ, there are some neighborhoods that one would NOT want to walk through on the way out. It's about five miles from the edge of the FQ, and there ARE some lovely neighborhoods along the way - just not ALL of the way. This is very casual lunchtime dining at NOLA's best. Walk up to the counter and place your order. Find a seat at a communal table and prepare to enjoy. Get plenty of napkins! My favorite is their Roast Beef po-boy, but their seafood (shrimp, oyster and catfish, when available) po-boys are also very good. I get my RB with gravy, lettuce (note: in most of NOLA, you'll get shredded lettuce on sandwiches), Swiss cheese and a little hot mustard. The gravy can make a bit of a mess, but is oh, so good! Here, the drinks are in a cooler, and you MUST get a Barq's Root Beer. Do not do the Diet Coke here - IMO, it's a Barq's, or nothing! Go off the diet for now. Remember, you are in NOLA, and "diet" is a four-letter word.
These are just some of the places that we love. There are others, at all levels, but this should get you started. Here are some fairly recent reviews that I've posted to CH:
Hope that others will have some wonderful recs. for your trip.
Go Saints Go!