New Orleans, a city rich in history, fables and fabulous food, has weathered the rigors of time and tumult to endure as one of the most visited and beloved vacation destinations in the world. Recently we had the privilege of spending some time in the “Big Easy”, learning about and savoring meals at some of the most historic restaurants alongside some of the new hot spots that are gaining a following.
Selecting a few from the myriads of great eateries was a delicious challenge that we were glad to undertake. Whether you love history, mystery or decadent dining, a visit to New Orleans will satisfy everyone’s vacation hunger.
Beginning with one of the newer members of the culinary scene we stopped by The Hyatt Regency to see what Executive Chef Damidot is bringing to a hotel that meets and greets countless guests and conventioneers from all corners of the globe. Executive Chef Eric Damidot is doing an outstanding job bringing the freshest seafood, proteins and local produce to every venue within the Hyatt Regency and the recently opened Extended Stay Hyatt House.
A must stop is Vitascope Hall offering some of the freshest Louisiana seafood, bourgeoning burgers, brews and hand crafted cocktails as well some of the best sushi in all of Nola. Chef Eric’s many years of expertise are also seen in the hotel’s bakery program and the outstanding brunch service.
If a more formal dining option is on your agenda, then a visit Borgne a Chef John Besh establishment, with Chef Brian Landry at the helm is a must stop. Chef Landry is now creating dishes that ring true of his Louisiana roots. If you want an affordable, lovely dining experience, try the happy hour with the tapa’s menu, or come for lunch with daily specials that will make your wallet and your waistline happy.
Our meal was a dinner affair, and we were excited to try the Seared Diver Scallops with spaghetti squash, sweet potato, and crab broth. The perfectly seared large scallops were center stage and highlighted by the sweetness of the potato and squash and paired well with the Vignoble D’azur Rose.
Chef Landry was the head chef for the Louisiana Seafood Board and knows a few things about crafting a dish that brings praise to the region for which it comes from. The décor is a casual, seafaring atmosphere, with columns encrusted with hundreds of discarded and well cleaned oyster shells that will have you sailing away with a contented stomach and some cash left over for another cocktail at the bar.
After visiting some of the newer additions, we now were ready to embrace the past with a visit to the Beacon of brunch and breakfast; the Famed Brennan’s. Our first brunch of our stay was at the New Orleans beloved Brennan’s restaurant, a place that put both breakfast and Bananas Foster on the map. For any restaurant to survive and thrive for 70 years is a big deal. We had to embrace a bit of the past at this classic culinary New Orleans institution. The iconic pink and green umbrellas adorn the courtyard tables that provide a weekend respite to those who want to spend a leisurely Sunday afternoon of great food and stimulating conversation.
Greeted by Kathryn Brennan herself, we were put at ease right away. Our waiter, Peter Chavanne, a veteran of Brennan’s hospitality, was both entertaining and informative. After giving us the customary menu dialogue, we decided to go with some of the classics; the Eggs Sardou and the Eggs Hussarde both outstanding from the first forkful.
For the 70th anniversary some of the original classics are again on the menu with offerings that change monthly. In honor of spring, the Crabmeat Lundi Gras, a refreshing bite of jumbo crabmeat, asparagus, cherry tomato and French dressing 15, paired with featured Brennan’s Shamrock cocktail is a perfect way to start your meal.
The Flambé finale of Crepes Fitzgerald with local strawberries is a decadent way to end the experience. Peter stirred and swirled as we watched in eager anticipation as the flames danced in the pan nearly missing the umbrella overhead.
A spectacle that was spectacular in every bite. Brennan’s is indeed a culinary and cultural landmark that has been in the fabric of the Nola’s fine dining scene for seven decades, and will continue to do so for generations to come.
For those willing to explore the nuances of the culinary world outside of the tried and true, there is a epicurean adventure waiting to be embarked upon within the French Quarter. We found several that won our hungry hearts; Salon, Willa Jean, Compere Lapin, and Peche.
In the heart of the French Quarter, a new must stop for brunch, lunch or dinner, is Salon by Sucre, offering a modern high tea service along with a menu that elevates and titillates the taste buds.
The Croque Benedict with the house made southern chive biscuits, soft boiled egg, apple ham with creamy roclette, mornay and crystalline hollandaise is a sophisticated take of a tried and true classic.
The modern high tea service will have you rethinking your coffee habit, with an assortment of teas are available with names such as “Scarlet Glow” and “Wood Dragon”.
With such a great selection of tea, the tea cocktails are a must to try as the morning turns into afternoon. Take a sip of the Kate Townsend with Jasmine infused Cocchi Americano Bianco, Damson Plum Gin, and Candied Mint put Sucre on the map. Chef Tariq Hannah artistic and ambitious menu coupled with the sleek, clean and upscale modern setting creates a breath of fresh air in a city surrounded by history.
If the smell of fresh baked bread and chocolate chip cookies are what you love most, bring your appetite along to the urban chic restaurant and bakery, ‘
Willa Jean. Our eyes will be filled with visions of sugar plums along with a plethora delectable baked goods, sandwiches, and steak and seafood dishes. Baker, Lisa White and Chef Kelly Fields in partnership with restaurateur John Besh have created a southern contemporary restaurant that connects, “bread as the foundation of inspiration”.
The avocado toast with poached eggs, olive oil and sea salt is a signature feature that is indeed a delight and a reflection their creative culinary talent. Willa Jean is located in the Paramount building in CBD’s south market district development and offers breakfast lunch and dinner.
A short cab ride from the Quarter, are two new comers, Compere Lapin and Peche that have taken a fortuitous leap in the culinary future of New Orleans. Compere Lapin, meaning brother rabbit after the fabled namesake of several Caribbean and Creole traditional folktales, is the inspiration behind this new outpost of celebrity chef, Chef Nina Compton. Finding her epicurean home in the renovated No. 77 Hotel Chandlery, Chef Compton took the leap from Miami, bringing with her the astute skills taking classic Caribbean, French and Italian flavors and weaving them into a culinary story that reads both whimsical and approachable.
Believing “in the complexity of simplicity, and the power of pure flavors”, we found Chef Compton’s mission rang true in every bite. The Blackened Drum, with Beurre Blanc, potato pearls and Caviar was all about the freshness of the flaky, medium textured Drum perfectly seasoned, blackened and accented by the sauce.
The sauce did not overwhelm but held homage to the gift of the sea. The tiny potato pearls were a nice addition to the dish by adding a touch of texture and flavor. Overall, each dish was intentionally created to engage the diner in rethinking the traditional form of the dish, while embracing all the traditional cooking methods. Chef Nina Compton’s Compere Lapin is an experience that needs to be lived not just read about.
Peche, is a place that should be a highlighted stop on any the culinary countdown of New Orleans. As the recipient of the 2014 James Beard award for best new restaurant and Chef Ryan Prewitt garnering Best New Chef, South has a reputation for great food and service is as consistent today as it was two years ago. All hands were on deck as the diners filtered into every imaginable seat and barstool.
Watching the entire staff work as a cohesive unit, expediting superb food to the engaged diners was impressive by itself. Peche is known for preparing local coastal seafood using a mix of modern culinary skills combined with open hearth and wood burning coals. However rustic the preparations maybe, we opted for the Grilled Tuna with greens and olive relish. Each bite of the lovely tuna, melded well with the peppery wilted greens and an olive relish adding brightness and texture, creating a main dish memory that will be revisited for years to come.
The final dinner of our grand culinary tour of blending the tried and true world of New Orleans dining along with the new innovators of regional cuisine, we could not pass up on an invitation to visit to another classic institution of New Orleans dining. Since the 1880’s Commander’s Palace has been entertaining and engaging diners in the art of fine dining with the ease and charm of Southern hospitality.
A major birthday needs to be properly handled and we decided that the best way to spend the evening celebrating a milestone birthday would be with a milestone menu. One of our absolute favorite meals is the Osso Buco and we were in for a treat with the Commander’s version. The Braised Veal Osso Buco, was falling off the veal shank, tender, doused in unctuous veal fond, accented with the aromatic roasted leeks, savory mushrooms and spiced with crispy horseradish root.
Underneath this tower of flavor was a perfect plateau of creamy goat cheese and thyme grits. This was a meal that everyone should add to their bucket list. A stop at the famed Commander’s Palace will bring you extra bragging rights and memories for years to come. Raising a glass in celebration of decades of living a wonderful life, we contemplated the many meals we experienced on this recent journey and this one put the icing on the birthday cake!
While we visited a bevy of restaurants during our stay, we do want to point out some educational and interesting places to visit. A very noteworthy museum that every citizen should visit is the National World War 11 museum. Open daily from 9-5 pm, history buffs and visitors will marvel at the display of vintage warplanes, tanks, and other armory. Plan to watch the interactive media experience, “Beyond All Boundaries”, narrated by Tom Hanks as a part of your visit. This production is a spectacular historical overview that will render every heart with patriotism.
New Orleans also offers countless tours. To get you up and walking, try a foodie tour, history tour or our favorite, the Haunted History tour. A walking tour is a great way to learn while you burn some of those calories after all those meals and cocktails. The Haunted History tour company has garnered number the one travel experience in NOLA by the Travel Channel. Whether it is the paranormal that you are interested in, or a tour amongst the grand homes of the Garden District, the Haunted History Tour Company will accommodate your every desire.
A must respite from your 10,000 steps should be a much deserved intermission at Café Du Monde. Piles of sugary powdered beignets along with a café au lait, provides a perfect way to end your day, but don’t forget to try a cocktail at the famed Bourbon Orleans hotel bar, Arnaud’s, Muriel’s, or the rotating Carousal Bar at hotel Monteleone. Now, Bourbon Street, well…. that is another story. There’s plenty of entertainment, music, great food and parties going on that will keep these Las Vegans going back year after year.