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Please critique my itinerary - did LOTS of research - five days in NO in December.

Hello NO hounds!

I have been researching for weeks and am really looking forward to visiting in December! I was delighted to find so many great threads to help me. Thanks to all of you who offered advice for me about breakfasts in my earlier post.

I am looking for advice on my choices (including sightseeing, as I find that I always get great advice from the hounds and sometimes an idea that I wouldn’t find in a travel guide).

We had a little taste of New Orleans in San Francisco in March when we visited Brenda’s and had beignets, fried oyster omelette, and shrimp and grits. We LOVED it and are so excited to visit the town where it all originated!

Here is a little information about us:

My husband and I are in our mid-thirties and live a few minutes North of Toronto. We like almost everything, but are not fans of raw oysters; and for breakfasts my husband does not eat any egg items. My husband loves po’ boys so this is a must! We are not late night people but if there was a bar with live music near one of our dinner restaurants we’d be happy to stop in before going back to our hotel.

We are looking to eat lots of traditional NO food, hit the “not to be missed” restaurants, and to sample the best restaurants in the city. We are hoping to eat 3 meals a day, starting with an early breakfast. Don’t worry – I have seen the warnings about eating too much at one meal and not being hungry for the next. I will try to ensure that we control ourselves!

Budget: Mainly we are looking for moderately priced meals (10-25 dollar mains) but are willing to splurge for a few meals if we think it is worth it.

Accommodations: We are staying at the Marriott at 555 Canal Street, and are visiting from December 24th to 28th.

I am not sure if we should be renting a car and taking a day trip somewhere. I thought about Pensacola, Mississippi Gulf Coast and Jackson, Mississippi. I read that December is not a good time for a swamp tour; perhaps someone could comment on that.

I welcome, and look forward to, all your advice and comments.

I have included my itinerary as well as the list of restaurants that interested me in my research (the list is at the end of the post). I still have a hole or two to fill, and am willing to completely change the other plans depending on your advice!

Here is draft 1:

Day 1 – Monday December 24th, 2012

Arrive at 6:45 pm. Taxi to Hotel (Marriott on Canal Street)

Dinner – Reservations at GW Fins, August, R’Evolution and Coquette (9 pm) (I will wait to see what the menus are, as I assume they are serving Reveillon menus, and then decide which one)

11 pm – Go to St Louis Cathedral for Midnight Mass

Day 2 – Tuesday December 25th, 2012

Breakfast – Reservations at Sazerac (7:45 am) and Café Adelaide (8 am) – both are about a 6 minute walk from hotel

Sightseeing – Jackson Square/ Presbytère/Cabildo / St Patrick's Cathedral/Lafayette Cemetery

Lunch – Reservations at *Galvez (1 pm) and Domenica (1 pm)

Sightseeing - Try to catch the end of the French Market Holiday Marching Bands

Dinner – Reservations at Café Adelaide (8 pm) and Domenica (8 pm)

Day 3 – Wednesday December 26th, 2012

Breakfast – Elizabeth’s or Brennan’s

Sightseeing - ?

Lunch – Reservations at R’Evolution (1 pm) and Cochon (1 pm)

Sightseeing – City Park (Celebration in the oaks) and Gelato at Angelo Brocato

Dinner – Reservations at Red Fish Grill (8 pm) and Herbsaint (8 pm)

Day 4 – Thursday December 27th, 2012

Breakfast – Stanley or Old Coffee Pot

Sightseeing – Garden District

Lunch – reservations at Emiril’s (1 pm) and The American Sector at the National WWII museum (1 pm)

Sightseeing – WWII Museum (and film)

Dinner - ?

Day 5 – Friday December 28th, 2012

Breakfast – Surrey’s

Sightseeing – Pick up muffaletta at Central Grocery and beignets at CDM or Café Beignet (anything else I should pick up?)

Lunch – reservations at Iris (1 pm)

Leave for airport at 3:00.

The list:

Galatoires, R’Evolution, Mr. B's, Bayona, Emeril's, Stella, Clancy's, Coquette, August, Lilette, Brigtsen's, Cafe Giovanni, GW Fins, Mr. John's, Commander's, Willie Mae's, Pascal's, Felix's, Brocato's, Emeril's, Herbsaint, K Jean, Domenica, Irene's, Patois, Bozo's, Central Grocery, Café du monde, GW Fins, Drago’s, Bayona, Cochon, Coquette, Herbsaint

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  1. Good lord, not much room for any spontaneity is there? I'd suggest no more than one reservation a day (and no double booking) to allow for some serendipity, something you'll find in abundance in New Orleans.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Big Easy

      As a frequent visitor I will pipe in with a +1 with Big Easy's comments. I love an organized, strategic and well-researched food-focused trip but NOLA has so many flavors --outside of traditional dining --and (like many European cities) the surprises/delights can come from maintaining some flexibility/spontaneity. Have some downtime to let the magic sink in. Also because you are so heavy on fine-dining venues you may miss out on finding the best Po-Boys for hubby.

      There are plenty of other posts on the best Po-Boys in town; I like Parkway for atmosphere and quality but it may not be close enough to Canal if you do not have a car. Johnny's in the Quarter or Felix's make decent versions, but I am not the expert at all. But asking the locals and finding your own favorite Po-Boy spot could become part of your adventure.

      Frankly, it is not just the quantity that creates issues for three (traditional) restaurant meals a day, but it is the richness of the food, and the relaxed nature of the NOLA dining experience that in my mind makes three "real" dining out meals a bit tough.

      Other observations:

      With all those bookings do not have time for out of town sightseeing?
      Music is not just late night in NOLA. Many Frenchman street places have several acts and can start pretty early compared to other major cities.
      Do you drink alcohol with most of your meals? That makes a huge difference in the budget and the length of the meal, IMHO.
      Do you like to "graze" for a meal and/or share starters and entrees?

      One of the best suggestions I got from this board was to do a Saturday night "graze: through the quarter for both cocktails and dinner -- no reservations but taking advantage of taster menus. specialty cocktails and sharing mains. It was very spontaneous, loads of fun, great chats with bartenders and A GOOD WALK.

      If it were me, i would focus on 5 - 6 of the top names you have on your list, (great list!) leave room for beignets, po-boys, happy hour tasting menus, mix-up your in FQ and outside of FQ experiences, and leave room for the spontaneity that Big Easy alludes to. Your list is great, but they may all become on big blur without a respite in between.

      Have fun! Yum......

      1. re: karendor

        Thanks for the advice karendor. The graze night idea sounds great. Did you eat taster menus at more than one place? Were the taster menus the ones you refer to later for happy hour? We won't be in NO on a Saturday (our trip is Mon - Fri), but I imagine that doesn't matter?

        Not sure which day to do out of town sightseeing. On Christmas Day perhaps, because a lot of things in NO will be closed?

        Consensus seems to be I should stick to two meals a day - late breakfast and dinner, with perhaps snacks (or happy hour tasting menus) in the afternoon? Or should I keep the early breakfast and plan on light lunches like po' boys?

        We do drink alcohol with our dinners but are not heavy drinkers. We are happy to share starters and entrees for meals. We do not need to have fine dining for every meal - I just made some reservations "just in case" and plan to cancel the ones we won't use well before our trip. I do feel that Christmas Day may require reservations as not a lot will be open that day. Thoughts?

      2. re: Big Easy

        Yes, more than a little intense. Seems completely antithetical to NOLA, frankly.

      3. I'd suggest that you can eat at 1/2 of these places, be plenty full, and come back to visit a second time. Like Big Easy & karendor said: leave some room for serendipity (and I don't think they meant the restaurant).

        On a completely practical note: beignets don't travel, eat them hot.

        1. Just a small observation, I don't recall Coquette doing a Reveillon menu, and getting from your hotel to Coquette for 9:00 and back to the Cathedral for 11:00 is going to be very tight. Coquette is wonderful but I'd choose one of your options in the Quarter that night.

          Also, call ahead to Brocato's to make sure they're open on the 26th. They probably are, but it can't hurt to check.

          18 Replies
          1. re: uptownlibrarian

            Thanks for the heads up about Coquette being too far. I will check with Brocato's - thanks!

            1. re: TeacherFoodie

              I don't think of a Po-Boy as a light lunch especially when paired with sweet potato fries. Here is my suggested itinerary -- going against my earlier FQ grazing/spontaneity post. LOL:

              Day 1. August for 9 pm dinner followed by Cathedral.

              Day 2. Smart to do meals at or near hotels: I would so Adelaide for breakfast, do your sightseeing all throughout the Quarter, eat hot beignets/café au lait (I prefer Café Beignet), hopefully catching a bunch of music on Christmas Day, and head to Domenica when you are hungry between 3 - 6 pm for their 1/2 off wine/pizza/well drinks. You could go pop into Domenica HH, while also having a 6 pm reservation to enjoy the full Domenica spectrum. (I like the pasta even more than the pizza, and I like sitting near the bar for the HH moving to the dining room for the “real meal”). Go to the Sazerac Bar afterwards, not the restaurant.

              Day 3. I have not been to Elizabeth’s but it gets much love on this Board, see Gizmo56 most recently, and I want to go! However it is a big breakfast, so I think you might be too stuffed for a nice R’Evolution lunch. I would move it to Day 5. Consider your FQ ideas for breakfast (Stanley or OCP), languish over your RR lunch, take the Canal streetcar, and mosey to City Park for walking, weather permitting, and your Brocatos. Dinner Herbsaint, desserts are great!

              Day 4. Emeril’s is so close to the museum, I would do your sightseeing Museum in the morning, keep the Emeril’s lunch and then get on a streetcar or bus and spend the rest of your day seeing the Garden District/Uptown (not sure if this was a tour or on your own?), shopping/sweets on Magazine Street (see shopsucre.com), happy hour @ Coquette, http://www.coquette-nola.com/menus/ha... (this is a summer menu, you would need to check of course) and then dinner @ Clancy’s or Patois. This gets you out of the FQ which is essential. Use the streetcar as much as you can, and there is a Magazine street bus, too.

              Day 5. Check out early leaving bags at Marriott. Cab to Elizabeth’s for Po-Boy and Sweet Potato fries OR cab to Parkway for Po-Boy and Sweet Potato fries early lunch. Cab back to quarter for last minute shopping Central Grocerying and back to hotel for bags. I am not a fan of muffaletta’s so I would take a second Po-boy for the plane, but that is me.

              So that gets you August, Café Adelaide, Café Beignet, Domenica, Sazerac Bar, R’Evolution, Brocato's, Herbsaint, Emeril’s, Coquette, either Clancy’s or Patois (check menus), either Elizabeth’s or Parkway. And take-home shopping at Sucre. Day 3 & 4 are pretty intense, and we did not even get to Frenchmen Street, so I think you need another visit very soon.

              If that is too much fine dining, and it might be, let me know and I can re-look at this. Hounds?

              1. re: karendor

                This looks amazing! Thanks! Will definitely consider these suggestions and thanks for taking the time!

                Glad to hear there are good desserts at Herbsaint - I LOVE desserts, pastries and ice cream! When we were in San Francisco we went to two ice cream places and two bakeries all in one day, plus we had lunch and two dinners that day (we just ordered and shared the food)!

                Budget-wise I guess it would be good if we had a few meals that weren't fine dining that would be good.

                I'm pretty sure Cafe du monde is closed on Christmas Day so I wonder if Cafe Beignet will be as well. I'll have to check.

                Re: the muffaletta - that would be for my husband because I don't like olives - he loves olives and cured meats so I think he should try one - but good call on the po' boy for me!

                I did some research on stuff to bring back from NO and found the following: Abita beer (Amber). Hot sauce, Creole seasoning (Tony Chachere), pralines (Southern Candymakers or Aunt Salleys), muffaletta (central grocery), Herbsaint and Peychaud bitters for a traditional Sazerac.

                I am not sure about the last one - I think the person just meant to go there for Sazerac?

                I assume you think I don't have time for a day out of the city based on this itinerary? I'll have to do that on my second trip to NO!

                1. re: TeacherFoodie

                  Also see JazzyB's new comments on the post called: "Small-bellied foodie needs help! Best Prix Fixe - all apps meal" for information on small plates, tasting menus and Prix Fixe deals Good summary. Glad I could help. I go in 3 weeks, to see my darling daughter who is a Teacher (new Foodie) in NOLA!

                  1. re: karendor

                    Enjoy! Looking forward to reading your trip report!

                  2. re: TeacherFoodie

                    Herbsaint is an anise-flavored liqueur that was developed in NOLA but you can pick it, and Peychaud's bitters, up at any good liquor store I believe. Both are key to the traditional Sazerac recipe. I heartily believe you should DRINK multiple Sazerac's in NOLA -- see plenty of other CH posts for the venues -- but in terms of luggage space I would not bring back either. In California, I can get Abita @ either World Market or my local Bottle Barn but that may not be the case in Toronto. Glad you loved SF; I need to eat there more. I think with your limited number of days, and focus on good food experiences, you should stay in town.. and leave plenty of time for naps, music, walks and streetcar rides.

                    1. re: TeacherFoodie

                      Sazerac cocktails were originally made using Cognac, Absinthe and Peychaud's Bitters (plus sugar or simple syrup and a twist of lemon). Peychaud;s was developed in New Orleans and the cocktail was originally devised with Peychaud's in mind.

                      When supplies of cognac dried up due to a blight on French wine grapes, Rye whiskey became the main ingredient, and today the rye version remains, by far, the most popular.

                      Absinthe was later banned, due to a superstitious belief that it induced various mental issues (it is available again now, thank goodness). Herbsaint is a locally produced form of pastis...pastis is a anise-flavored spirit that was first developed in France as a rough substitute for absinthe, minus the key ingredient of wormwood (which was thought to be the diabolical ingredient in absinthe).

                      So, while it is true that many mixologists in New Orleans persist in using the local Herbsaint in their cocktails, I personally think it is both better and more traditional to use Absinthe, which is quite different in complexity of flavors compared to Herbsaint. Herbsaint is fairly scarce outside Louisiana, but liquor stores almost anywhere with a good selection should carry Peychaud's. And both absinthe and small batch Ryes are trendy now, and easy to find.

                      1. re: Gizmo56

                        Thanks karendor and Gizmo for the Sazerac information!

                        1. re: Gizmo56

                          I think there was some discussion a while back about the (non-)availability of bitters in Canada, that they fall into a not-food but not-booze category that makes them difficult to import. I might be completely misremembering though or it might have been the Quebec province specially.

                          At any rate, the Sazarac is a simple drink to make at home (and is often better ... I find that most places--Napoleon House, I'm looking at you--make them far too sweet).

                          1. re: montuori

                            In California I can get Herbsaint and Peychaud Bitters @ local Bev Mo or via Bev Mo shipping. Not sure if there is a similar chain in Canada or if their is an import issue as per montouri above. If Peychaud brand is NOT available in Canada that might be a unique gift for cocktail fans @ home. Make sure you get all the right details on shipping/wrapping. My daughter had some issues with TSA when she was bringing Calif. Pinot into NOLA. Had to be bubble wrapped around all four sides, or something quite particular.

                          2. re: Gizmo56

                            Doesn't it also get a dash of Angostura bitters as well?

                            Also, a small batch might be overkill for a sazerac. That's maybe more for sipping on its own. Many a top NOLA sazerac is made with Old Overholt, a fine cheap alternative!

                            1. re: kukubura

                              The standard recipe is for a few dashes of Peychaud's. Some (a minority) of mixologists recently began to include one or two dashes of Angostura, but that is not traditional, and personally I prefer using only Peychaud's.

                              I agree that Old Overholt works, but all cocktails improve with the quality of the ingredients used (like food). Afterobsessively long experimentations, my "ideal" for the Sazerac cocktail ended up using mostly Bulleit Rye with a splash of Thomas Handy (uncut/unfiltered) totaling about 2.5 oz.,, a rinse of the glass with Lucid Absinthe, a very small amount of simple syrup made from turbinado sugar (montuori is right, most bars serve them WAY over-sweetened), 4 or 5 dashes of Peychau's, and lemon twist. Stirred, not shaken with ice, strained into a thick-bottomed old fashioned glass that has been in the freezer and then given the absinthe rinse inside. Lemon peeled and twisted at the very last moment, with a micro drop of lemon oil striking the surface of the drink for aroma, the twist then draped over the rim (not submerged in the drink).

                              It is much like a martini...better gin makes a better cocktail, and better rye gives you a smoother and more complex Sazerac.

                              1. re: kukubura

                                One of the best Sazerac makers of all time, Chuck at Commander's (20 years ago) used Angostura...just a drop or two. Lots of bartenders used both brand of bitters in those days. We also still drank Pink Gin but I prefer that with Peychaud's. Champagne cocktails were made with Angostura. Next time you use it, think of the Wizard of Oz...Frank Morgan's real name was Frank Wupperman..he was an owner of the Angostura company.

                                1. re: hazelhurst

                                  I guess it reveals my age to say that experiments that began 20 years ago are "recent" by my standards.

                                  You have made my day with the Frank "Morgan" Wizard of Oz - Angostura connection trivia. I will inevitably be humming "We're off to see the Wizard" the next time I mix a cocktail with Angostura.

                                  1. re: hazelhurst

                                    And to think that Kingsley Amis called the pink gin "a rather demode drink well worth reviving" all the way back in '72. It remains my favorite drink (hell, I co-own a company named "Bunny & Pink, Ink." ... the "Pink" there is short for pink gin), both the original Ango + Plymouth version but also a variation: rinse a glass with a few drops of orange bitters (I use Regan's) fill with 2 oz of chilled Miller's, add a couple of drops of Peychaud's on top of that. Lovely.

                                    1. re: montuori

                                      I thought I was the only one who still drank pink gins. One night at a restaurant near BWI I ordered one and the bar tender came out to see me as he thought I was a Brit friend of his, the only other person who had ever ordered one.
                                      I vary between Angostura and Peychaud's.

                                      I'm surprised a traditional Royal Navy drink has so many followers here. I thought Pakenham lost in 1815!

                            2. re: karendor

                              Just making sure but you recommend Emeril's over The American Sector right, since that's the one you said to go with after visiting the museum.

                              1. re: TeacherFoodie

                                I got my museums mixed up: LA children's museum is near Emeril's, but you are not too far away with WWII. Of course American Sector is the right @ the museum, you already know that. I have not been to A.S. so I sort of made an assumption (shouldn't have) that since you will be doing two other Besh restaurants (August, Domenica) you wanted to try one of Emeril's. I liked my one Emeril's lunch (we sat at the chef's table/bar) but it felt a wee bit sterile compared to other spots I tried on my first visit. I think as a first time visitor to N.O. it is very worthwhile to go to Emeril's (although I an unaware of the recent Chowhound concerns.) Emeri'ls has the three course for $22.50 lunch special, and their desserts are generally very well reviewed. I think if you want something more casual (another Po-Boy opportunity) you consider A.S. but you might want to branch out and try Emeril's, the ambiance and dynamism of the place could be fun during the holidays - but again I have not eaten at A.S.

                        2. TF,

                          I commend you for your thorough and thoughtful planning. I always find it is better to error on the side of "over-planning" and then scale back as needed, than it is to try and have a nearly spontaneous experience.

                          Having said that, I have to agree that three restaurant meals a day in New Orleans is not a viable plan for normal appetites. In our August trip of about the same length (full report here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/862346 ), we had a late breakfast or early lunch each day, and then dinner. Even at that pace, at about three days in, we were sorely in need of a respite from fine dining, and could only pick at our delicious dinners that night, despite much walking during the afternoon. You might be able to have all three meals if breakfast is both very early and very light. If you do breakfast at Brennan's on the 26th, replete with cocktails, banana's foster, etc., there will no chance of going to lunch, and you'll want a light dinner.

                          One suggestion to consider: You might think about swapping the dates for lunches at Iris at Cochon. If you go to Cochon on your last day, you can visit Cochon Butcher for their superb muffaletta made with house-cured meats, wrapped to take home. They also have lots of other sandwiches and bulk cured meats that can make the trip, we ended up bringing several pounds of food (sandwiches and cured meats) back on the plane. See: http://www.cochonbutcher.com/

                          You might consider working in a po' boy lunch at Parkway on the day you visit City Park.

                          Beignets are cooked in lard, and as soon as they cool down, the magic vanishes and is replaced with something far less pleasant, so eat them fresh and warm on-site, don't "pick up."

                          Almost as soon you hit the ground, you'll begin to think about what you'll do "next time." But with the list you've put together, it will be impossible not to have a great time.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Gizmo56

                            Just checked out your report - my husband would love to return back home with "cured meat goodness"!

                            Thanks for your suggestions! Might skip the Brennan's breakfast and opt for something lighter. 3 courses is a LOT of breakfast!

                            1. re: Gizmo56

                              Cafe Beignet's are cooked to order and are served smokin' hot.

                              Also a great little venue to catch free Jazz with Steamboat Willie.

                            2. I hope you plan on canceling all of these double bookings far enough in advance. Not cool to the restaurants or people who are trying to book

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: The Chowfather

                                If you'll read down the thread you'll see that TeacherFoodie states their "plan to cancel the ones we won't use well before our trip."

                                And the period between the holidays tends to be a slower time of year for most restaurants, since there are no convention crowds, the holiday office parties have already ended, etc.

                                1. re: Gizmo56

                                  Yes, as stated, I will be cancelling well in advance. I made some reservations and am waiting to see what the Reveillon menus will be.

                                  1. re: Gizmo56

                                    ah didn't read the other posts.. still not a big fan of it