Big Love for the Big Easy

Noteworthy newcomers, the classics and other recommended restaurants in New Orleans.



There’s something magical about New Orleans. From the colorful French-Creole architecture to the strolling artists, musicians and fortune tellers holding court in Jackson Square to the voodoo shops and outlying graveyards (or Cities of the Dead)—every part of the city has it own unique, occasionally quirky, charm. Wherever you go, people are friendly and music—jazz, blues or anything you want really—fills the air. Even party-central Bourbon Street—and there’s always a cause for celebration in New Orleans—is a one-of-a-kind spectacle, not to be missed.

And one of the most charming parts of New Orleans? The food—the mouthwatering medley of Creole, Cajun, French, Southern BBQ (and all the various permutations)—that forms such an integral part, is so indelibly intertwined with the history, everyday life and overall gestalt of the city.

Though Mardi Gras and the New Orleans Jazz Festival may have passed, for the more culinary-minded, two of the biggest reasons to head to New Orleans are just on the horizon: the New Orleans Food and Wine Experience, a 4-day celebration of fine wine and Southern cuisine (May 26 though 29) and Tales of the Cocktail (July 21 through 25), a series of seminars and tasting events dedicated to the art and love of mixology. Should you be lucky enough to attend one of these festivals this year, we’ve rounded up some notable newcomer restaurants, the classic establishments as well as some other editor picks. The list is by no means definitive. Not only have we yet to visit every restaurant, finding which ones to exclude would be too difficult, as in New Orleans, you’re pretty much guaranteed a fantastic dining experience wherever you go. ~KM

NOTEWORTHY NEWCOMERS
Four years ago, Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans, shuttering many bars and restaurants. The good news is that, according to local food critic Tom Fitzmorris (of nomenu.com), there are now around 1,000 restaurants open in the metropolitan area.

Within the past year or so, these wine bars and restaurants have opened their doors for the very first time.

W.I.N.O. , which stands for Wine Institute of New Orleans is all about multi-purpose. There is a retail area, opportunity to taste 120 wines via an Enomatic tasting system and classes on various topics every Tuesday night.

The third time’s the charm for Coquette Bistro & Wine Bar, a Garden District bistro inside a 19th century building serving lunch and dinner (plus Sunday brunch). It’s the third restaurant to open in the space since Hurricane Katrina. Housemade charcuterie, short ribs, pickled shrimp and chocolate-filled beignets are on the menu. Or, for a pre-dinner cocktail, cozy up to the long wood bar.

Primarily a cocktail lounge serving everything from Cure punch (which changes recipes daily) to the elegant Royal de Poissy (Champagne, apricot stone liqueur and peach), Cure also serves up light snacks like roasted almonds and an orange salad, as well as Pretty Ricky (tender roast pork, Serrano ham, Emmental cheese, Dijon mustard and pickles); and D.L.T. sandwich (duck instead of bacon).

The menu at Le Meritage at the Maison Dupuy is inspired by wine—and it shows. By the glass, you’ve got 23 options, from 1999 Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc, Napa Valley to 2006 Inniskillin “Niagara Peninsula” Ice Wine. Bottle selections cover the entire world, from Puligny-Montrachet to Eden Valley. Wine pairings for dishes—such as rabbit tenderloin or duck two ways—are noted on the menu.

Clever Wines has a theme practically nightly–Tapas Tuesdays and wine flights on Wednesday, plus live music on Friday and Saturday. Around 400 wines are poured by the glass, as well as a handful of cocktails (naturally, Sazerac is on the menu).

The Rum House Caribbean Tacqueria, dishing up Caribbean-style food since June, items like Jamaican-style beef patties and chimi-churri marinated chicken, also has an impressive selection of rums and Tequilias to pair those with. It’s just down the street from the famed Commander’s Palace.

New Orleans was once home to the largest Sicilian population outside of Sicily in the United States. Giuseppe’s Little Italy, owned by the Siciliano family, has created a menu of mostly traditional examples of Italian cuisine, items such as mozzarella carrozza and Bracciolone. All of it is prepared in an open kitchen and brought out to diners seated in a room with white tablecloths and exposed-brick walls.

Formerly known for his purple food truck, Que Crawl, which developed a fan base for its crawfish boudin balls, bacon-flavored brownies and cheese grits, Nathanial Zimet now has a full-fledged restaurant, Boucherie. Everything is under $15, and includes oyster-sweet potato soup and duck confit.

Huevos (4408 Banks St., 504-482-6264) is a great little breakfast joint, with bottomless cups of coffee, tamales with two poached eggs and of course, huevos rancheros. ~KH

OTHER RECOMMENDATIONS

Because they're old school classics:
Commander’s Palace, where both Both Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme worked as chefs here before striking it out on their own, is pretty much the grand dame of New Orleans eateries. Other contenders included Arnaud’s; Galatoire’s, a favorite of Tennessee Williams; Antoine’s where Tom Wolfe claimed he had the best meal of his life and Brennan’s, noteworthy for its lavish brunch feasts and 35,000-bottle wine cellar

Because it's an absolute must-see:
Café du Monde: No trip to New Orleans would be complete without spending some time people-watching and lingering over beignets and Café au Lait at this open-air coffee shop, a French Quarter institution open 24 hours.

For the ghost story:
Almost every place in New Orleans is haunted but Muriel's, an elegant, double-story restaurant overlooking Jackson Square, has one of the more interesting romantic ghost stories. In a past lifetime, the building was the home of Mr. Pierre Antoine Lepardi Jourdan, who, shortly after gambling it away in a polker game, hung himself on the second floor. Today the specific suicide area—supposedly haunted by Mr. Jourdan’s spirit—is the site of Muriel’s Séance Lounge, a decadent bordello-style cocktail lounge, perfect for an aperitif.

For a quick oyster fix:
Acme Oyster House and Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar: Whether you want your oysters on the half shell, in a stew, fried or served Rockefeller-style, these two casual, neighboring French Quarter eateries—beloved by tourists and locals alike, so be prepared for the crowds—will satisfy all manner of mollusk cravings.

Off the beaten track option:
Bacchanal Wine Bar: A beloved neighborhood hangout in the Bywater, Bacchanal is truly a one-of-a kind establishment that’s part wine bar-part wine shop-part restaurant-part wine shop-part fromagerie and part New York Style deli (their Web site claims “It’s hard to explain—come check us out.”). On Sundays, local bands perform while local chefs grill on the backyard outdoor patio.

For the James Beard winners:
Emeril’s, NOLA, Delmonico: Emeril Lagasse’s trio of restaurants.

Bayona: Susan Spicer. Eclectic menu.

August and Domenica: John Besh. French and Italian-Creole respectively.

Cochon, Herbsaint and Cochon Butcher: Donald Link’s properties. Herbsaint is Creole-French; Cochon (trs. pig) serves more rustic, Cajun-style cuisine inspired by Link’s boyhood days in Acadia. The more recently opened Cochon Butcher is an interesting combination—a charcuterie-cum wine bar.

Gautreau: Sue Zemanick (French)

 ALSO SEE: A recipe from Donald Link for Blackeyed Pea and Pork Gumbo and recipe from David Rosengarten for beignets almost as good as those from Cafe du Monde. ~KM

 

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