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New Orleans--As the Crescent City bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina's force in August 2005, some restaurants bounced back soon afterwards, while others faded away. In addition, a number of new restaurants have popped up to add new spice to the culinary scene. All in all, the dining options in New Orleans offer innovative cuisine and an unforgettable experience.
Acme Oyster House is a nearly 100-year-old New Orleans fixture that has become a minichain, with newer restaurants in Metairie and Covington, La., and Sandestin, Fla.
The long-established French Quarter Acme, though, has the atmosphere along with the great food, and is well worth a visit for lunch or for a family dinner.
Acme's menu is practically a primer on traditional New Orleans dishes. Specialties, none of them more than $12.99, include crawfish jambalaya; Creole jambalaya with smoked sausage and chicken; gumbo of seafood or chicken and andouille sausage; and gumbo poopa, which is served in a French bread bowl.
With crawfish in season now, Acme also serves them boiled in small nets.
Sparkling fresh oysters, the main event, can be had by the half dozen or dozen, on the half shell or charcoal-grilled.
If fried seafood sounds good, Acme offers fried oysters, shrimp, catfish and soft shelled crabs, either on platters with fries and a side dish of your choice--at up to $17.99--or stuffed into a po-boy sandwich. The list of po-boys, by the way, is long and also includes ham, turkey, sausage, chicken and "10 Napkin Roast Beef" sandwiches.
If absolutely necessary, you can also order a hamburger.
Sports fans may want to sit in the front dining area, either at the bar or at a table. The room is lined with large-screen TVs, usually tuned to the games of the moment, and is awash in brightly colored light from neon signs, mostly for oysters and beer. In back, you'll find long tables big enough for a large family or possibly the board of directors.
It's a great place to relax over good, basic food.
Bayona offers superb food in an intimate setting: a 200-year-old Creole cottage in the French Quarter renovated to house three dining rooms, with additional tables in a lush rear terrace.
Chef Susan Spicer, a veteran of several New Orleans restaurants and one of the city's best cooks, is known for dishes that reflect a variety of culinary influences, from Mediterranean to Asian. She doesn't neglect local specialties, though: A recent offering was perfectly cooked redfish filet with the restaurant's rich "muddy waters" sauce, over a bed of rice, vegetables and crawfish.
Bayona's meat and fish dishes are an eclectic mix. Regular dinner entrees range from a grilled duck breast with pepper jelly glaze for $24, to grilled yellowfin tuna with artichoke dolmades and lemon tahini sauce for $25, to peppered lamb loin with herbed goat cheese and zinfandel sauce for $26. Vegetarian and vegan dishes are available.
The wine list is comprehensive and reasonably priced--with many bottles in the $25 to $50 range--though if you're ready to commit $850 for a 1989 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, that's available too.
Like its appetizers and entrees, the restaurant's desserts show off deft combinations of delicate or intense flavors. Try the warm almond and quince crepes with chai ice cream. The menu helpfully suggests wines and liqueurs that are good matches for the food: for the crepes, for instance, a Spanish Muscat.
The service at Bayona is pleasant, efficient and unobtrusive.
Bayona's flower-filled dining rooms are small and can be noisy when full, but with food and wine this good and at a spot this beautiful, it's a festive noise.
Brennan's isn't the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, but it is one of the city's dining institutions, and for good reason.
Start with the history: Founded in 1946 by Owen Edward Brennan--patriarch of a family that now owns several top New Orleans restaurants, including Commander's Palace--Brennan's has won accolades over the decades for its inventive dishes as well as for its 35,000-bottle wine cellar. Brennan's famously is the birthplace of Bananas Foster, a dessert of bananas sweetened with sugar and cinnamon, flamed in rum and served over vanilla ice cream. (The dish is named for a local awning company owner who was a Brennan's regular.)
Then there's the beauty of the restaurant itself, which welcomes you through a handsome bar into one of several dining rooms or to a lushly planted, gaslit courtyard for outdoor dining.
Finally, there's the food. Dinner at Brennan's offers an array of tempting local dishes, such as Gulf soft shell crab with bearnaise sauce, shrimp with Cajun andouille sausage and blackened redfish.
But Brennan's is also known for breakfast, and it helps to bring an appetite. The restaurant features and three-course prix-fixe breakfast of appetizer, entree and dessert, though a la carte choices can be made.
Oyster Soup Brennan, Creole onion soup, turtle soup and seafood okra gumbo are among the appetizer choices.
Poached eggs prepared in any of nearly a dozen different ways make up the bulk of the entrees. Try Eggs Hussarde, a Brennan's invention, in which poached eggs are served atop Holland rusks--a bread similar to English muffins--with Canadian bacon and Marchand de Vin sauce; or Eggs Bayou Lafourche, with poached eggs atop andouille sausage and Holland rusks and covered with Hollandaise sauce.
If you're not interested in eggs, there's Shrimp Sardou, a dish of spicy fried shrimp served over sliced artichoke bottoms, and Oysters Benedict, with oysters standing in for the poached eggs.
It wouldn't be New Orleans without some kind of libation, and the menu suggests various white wines to accompany breakfast.
Desserts run from the aforementioned Bananas Foster to key lime pie, chocolate cake and cream cheese- and sour cream-filled Crepes Fitzgerald, another Brennan's original.
Plan for a late lunch.
According to its Web site, Cafe Adelaide and the Swizzle Stick Bar, located inside the Lowes New Orleans Hotel, offers "a playful take on Creole cuisine with a side order of Big Easy bacchanalia." There could be no more apt description of the restaurant and bar, owned by the legendary New Orleans Brennan family and named after their sophisticated, yet mischievous, Aunt Adelaide.
A visit to the Swizzle Stick Bar, which features Aunt Adelaide's cocktail shakers on the shelves, is a must, whether you stay for dinner or not. Be sure to order the signature Swizzle Stick cocktail, made of rum, bitters, club soda and "secret stuff," created by "bar chef" Lu Brow. Legend has it that the late Adelaide Brennan wore a swizzle stick necklace giving her a quick way to stir her cocktails. Ms. Brow also is more than willing to make you her favorite vintage Side Car cocktail made of cognac, Cointreau and lemon juice, which is truly a treat.
Walking over to the adjoining Cafe Adelaide is like walking into Adelaide's home, according to the attentive wait staff. The upscale decor, for example, features leopard-striped walls and on one side a hutch full of Asian artifacts that reflect Aunt Adelaide's world travels.
Executive Chef Danny Trace--who came to Cafe Adelaide from sister restaurant Commander's Palace after the cafe reopened in October 2005 following Hurricane Katrina--offers up delicious Creole cuisine.
For an appetizer, try the $9 Louisiana Oyster Roast, which includes three cooked oysters: one crowned with crawfish cornbread, one with roasted artichoke and baby spinach and one with blue crab and Feliciana Nevat cheese.
"Chef Danny's Tasting Menu" for $59 recently featured Des Allemandes blue crab and caviar, fire roasted Louisiana shrimp, sugarcane grilled lemon fish and oysters, and Ponchatoula strawberry and white chocolate crisp for dessert.
Also worth a try is Adelaide's Grilled Veal Chop for $38. The veal chop is served with roasted Opelousas sweet potatoes, shallot confit, and Bocage honey-green peppercorn glaze.
A trip to New Orleans is hardly complete without a stop at Cafe du Monde for coffee and beignets, no matter what time of day you do it.
The legendary coffee shop located in the French Quarter has been serving up its two house specialties since 1862 and is open around the clock, seven days a week.
The outdoor cafe is bustling in the morning, but that shouldn't distract breakfast goers from enjoying Cafe du Monde's famous chicory-laced coffee, commonly served with hot milk, while listening to the sounds of the city and nearby Jackson Square. If you're lucky, a street musician will provide just the right reminder that you're in the city where jazz was born.
Just as delicious as its coffee, Cafe de Monde's beignets (pronounced "BIN-yays") are a must. The square French-style doughnuts, lavishly covered with powdered sugar, are served in threes and will set you back only $1.59.
Beyond that, the menu consists of white and chocolate milk, hot chocolate, fresh squeezed orange juice, soft drinks and iced coffee.
The tables tend to be jammed at every hour of the day, but they turn over quickly, so stick around and enjoy a piece of New Orleans' history.
Nothing says New Orleans quite like Commander's Palace.
Located in the heart of the Garden District on the corner of Washington and Coliseum, the 127-year old grande dame of fine dining recently completed a $6.5 million renovation after being closed for 13 months following Hurricane Katrina.
And with Chef Tory McPhail at the helm in the kitchen, Commander's Palace--with its signature turquoise and white-striped awning and southern hospitality--is back and better than ever.
Consider making a reservation for lunch; you won't be disappointed. Chef McPhail's prix fixe Creole luncheon for $29 is a good choice. A recent offering included crisp romaine salad, garlic-crusted wild American shrimp and his signature Creole bread pudding souffle for dessert.
If you'd rather select from among the menu's offerings, Commander's turtle soup is delicious and worth a try. Better yet, order the soups 1-1-1, which offers a demi serving of three soups: gumbo, turtle and soup du jour.
For an entree, try the boneless prime black angus short ribs served with Creole mustard and sour cream smashed new potatoes, frizzled leeks and Tchoupitoulas sauce. It's wonderful at $16.
And if you're in the mood for a cocktail with your lunch, Commander's Palace offers 25 cent martinis, giving a new--cheaper--meaning to the three-martini lunch.
Among its six dining rooms, the upstairs Garden Room is truly a treat as giant glass walls tastefully decorated with curly willows give way to marvelous views of giant live oak trees on the patio below.
Reservations are a must at Commander's Palace and there is an "upscale" dress code. Jackets are preferred at dinner and no shorts are allowed.
Never mind that the name makes it sound like a chain restaurant in a mall: GW Fins, a French Quarter seafood house, offers a catch as fresh and finely prepared as you could desire.
Managing Partner Gary Wollerman and Chef/Co-owner Tenney Flynn are, in fact, veterans of the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse chain. GW Fins, though, is one of a kind.
Its menu combines local fish with seafood flown in fresh from as far away as Hawaii and U.S. Northeast. A recent menu included entrees of horseradish-crusted drum with fried spinach for $23.50; wood-grilled New Bedford sea scallops with mushroom polenta for $26.50; and wood-grilled Louisiana lemon fish with lump crab meat, asparagus and corn butter for $27.50.
Especially good was a filet of blackened amberjack served with a chile cream sauce, corn butter and sauteed spinach, and flanked by two crispy fried oysters, for $24.50.
For diners who can't get enough tuna, the restaurant provides a three-course extravaganza: a starter of yellowfin tuna tartare; followed by seared rare yellowfin wrapped in nori and served with ginger, wasabi and soy sauce; leading up to a wood-grilled Hawaiian bigeye tuna filet served with polenta and mixed mushrooms.
Seafood isn't a must. Diners have "turf" options, including prime ribeye with potatoes and wood-grilled chicken with veal jus, potatoes and green beans.
Another draw at GW Fins is its extensive wine list, from which about 70 wines are available by the glass.
GW Fins' main dining room is big and airy, with high ceilings and a wall of windows looking out on Bienville Street. With big tables, comfortable booths and attentive service, it's a great spot for large parties, though possibly not for a romantic dinner for two.
Marigny Brasserie is not only a casually chic restaurant with a great bar and wonderful food, but it has the advantage of being only two doors down from Snug Harbor, one of best jazz clubs in the city and a regular venue for pianist Ellis Marsalis.
Walk through the restaurant's corner entrance and you're in its large bar, furnished with couches and chairs and perfectly suited for hanging out. Beyond the bar is the dining room, a spare but elegant space with high ceilings and both tables and booths.
The brasserie's menu, emphasizing local ingredients, features a mix of meat and fish dishes, including several traditional New Orleans favorites.
Try the crispy duck confit served on gouda cheese grits with onion marmalade for $18; the chicken roulade, with an Anaheim pepper stuffed with fresh local sausage and a house blend of cheeses, for $22; or a parmesan-crusted wild-caught salmon on a bed of risotto with portobello mushroom sauce, for $22.
New Orleans specialties include Coquille Creole, sauteed jumbo lump crabmeat, gulf shrimp and wild mushrooms on a bed of garlic mashed potatoes, for $24; and classic crawfish etouffee, for $19. Don't forget to check the daily fish special. On a recent visit, it was a perfectly spiced local redfish with lump crab.
Louisiana and other southern classics extend to the appetizers, which include gumbo, barbecued Gulf shrimp and fried green tomatoes.
You shouldn't miss dessert here. Among several tempting choices, an especially good one is the chocolate mousse cake, crusted with crushed pecans.
Getting to Marigny Brasserie will take you just past the eastern edge of the French Quarter, across Esplanade Avenue and down Frenchmen Street's row of funky shops and hang-outs. It's worth it, though, especially if your next stop is live jazz at Snug Harbor.
You can't consider a visit to New Orleans complete without lunch at Mother's, a local institution and self-proclaimed home of the "world's best baked ham." Don't worry about whether you're wearing a jacket, and don't expect table service.
Mother's, housed in a worn brick building in the central business district, is a cafeteria-style restaurant that opened in 1938 and has served epic helpings of ham, turkey, roast beef, homemade sausage, jambalaya, etouffee, turtle soup and seafood gumbo ever since.
You won't find anything like a Mother's po-boy sandwich at Subway. It's a length of soft French bread piled with the flavorful meat of your choice--or a few of them--with shredded cabbage, pickles, mayo, and Creole and yellow mustard. For something really different, try a po-boy filled with debris (pronounced DAY-bree), a mass of savory roast beef shavings and gravy.
The shrimp or crawfish etouffee and the shrimp- and fish-filled gumbo are also delicious. And keep an eye on the daily specials for treats such as chicken and sausage file gumbo or baked spaghetti pie with black-eyed peas and rice.
No one would blame you for skipping dessert, but if you have room, there's bread pudding, peach cobbler, and apple, pecan, blueberry or sweet potato pie.
Be ready to wait in line to place your order; Mother's gets crowded at lunchtime, with locals and out-of-towners. The line moves quickly, though, and you can then grab an open table or a seat at the bar along the front windows. It's worth the wait.
"Mother," by the way, was Mary Landry, who founded and ran the restaurant with her husband and family for decades until it was sold to current owners Jerry and John Amato in 1986. Five Landry children, including a daughter, were in the U.S. Marine Corps, and Mother's became a Marine hangout during and after World War II.
Nestled inside the new Harrah's New Orleans Hotel is a French brasserie that could very well end up a New Orleans institution.
Opened in 2006 by celebrity chef Todd English, Riche's menu offers traditional bistro favorites as well as reinterpreted French classics in an elegant, warm and sophisticated setting. Whether you want to sit outside on the Fulton Street Promenade, cozy up to the oyster bar or sit down for dinner inside the main dining room, you can't go wrong. And live jazz, offered seven nights a week, provides the perfect ambiance.
For starters, try the onion soup, which is served with a wonderful presentation. A server pours the soup at the table, submerging a large crouton covered with gruyere cheese, which is artfully arranged in a large bowl. Also worth trying is the crab salad, which comes with a bowl full of fresh crabmeat and a Dijon mustard sauce for dipping.
The dinner menu offers a French-cuisine medley, from redfish meuniere for $26, to duck confit for $24, to braised rabbit grand mere for $26. But if you really want a treat, try the bouillabaisse, one of Riche's signature dishes at $36. You can pour your saffron-laced broth, served separately, over the plate full of steamed lobster, clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops for a traditional stew, or dip the fish in the copper pot that keeps the broth warm.
Dinner is not quite complete at Riche without one of its signature desserts. Try the lemon tart or red velvet cake, which is served with cream cheese ice cream, chocolate sorbet and flaming rum. Both are delicious.
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