Some folks enjoy New Orleans for the infamous annual Mardi Gras, and others scramble to the city for the ESSENCE Festival or the spectacular Christmas festivities. Without question, it’s the rich and spicy Cajun and Creole cooking that draws foodies worldwide to the shining culinary beacon.
With a constellation of top-star restaurants and award-winning chefs, fine dining is a virtual art form in the Big Easy. We spent a week compiling our own culinary can’t-miss-list in what’s become one of the top food destinations.
Battle of the Bulge: Our luxurious panoramic suite overlooking the city at the International House Hotel became our crash pad, where we lazed every night with full tummies. You know you’re stuffed when you skip New Orleans’ nightlife and choose to hide out in bed, sipping take-out orders of lobster bisque while watching movies on cable. ihhotel.com
Broussard’s: Located in the heart of the French Quarter, the five-star Broussard’s is fit for a Queen — right down to the china that’s emblazoned with a gold crown. The extraordinary eatery has been a lauded landmark since 1920. Broussard’s wowed us with its menu of native Creole cuisine and distinctive French fare. The Crab Cake-Brussel Sprouts with andouille and sweet potato hash barely left room for my almost-too-pretty-to-eat Gulf Crab Salad — shaved vegetables, ginger sesame emulsion, soy glaze and wonton crisps. My husband’s selection, a manly 8-ounce Filet Mignon with Bordelaise sauce, truffles, spinach and potatoes tantalized his gastric senses. Over a shared dessert of Lemon Lalapoussa Pyramid, an exotic fruit Salsa splashed with kiwi sauce, we attempted to coax Chef Guy Reinbolt out of recipes. broussards.com
Upperline: We encountered two degrees of separation when we returned for the third time to Upperline, a divine five-star diner, owned by JoAnn Clevenger, a charming and eccentric lady in her 80s. When Madame Clevenger discovered that we were from Atlanta she began raving about the vibrant culinary history of New Orleans … all the juicy tidbits. It’s ‘food for the soul’ — doused with sinfully succulent sauces and a frou-frou presentation. My main course, Slow Roasted Half Duckling with Ginger Peach Sauce, became the entrée of choice for Atlanta attorneys Jerry Thomas and Andréa Young-Thomas, following my recommendation when they dined there nights later. “Upperline’s duck is a showstopper that everyone should experience,” agreed the Thomases. upperline.com
The Pelican Club: The uber-chic Pelican Club oozes elegance and culinary excellence. White table cloths, contemporary paintings and a dutiful wait staff in an intimate environment set the mood. My better half and I gorged ourselves on appetizers like Crispy Calamari served with a delectable soba noodle salad, and “Barbecued Shrimp” presented in a clay pot with rice noodles melded in a zesty sauce. But it was the mouthwatering mega-platter of Maine lobster, shrimp and scallops that bolted The Pelican Club to the top of our return-visit list. pelicanclub.com
Commander’s Palace: We were food-smitten when the Palace’s chef greeted us with an elite treat — Gulf Oysters & Caviar, cold-smoked, corn-fried oysters with root vegetable mignonette, capers and caviar. And, admittedly, I’ve been on a blueberry binge ever since I tried Ponchatoula Blueberry Salad — blueberries, farm greens, goat cheese, honey-roasted pistachios, elderflower vinaigrette and blueberry vinegar. Meanwhile, hubby can never resist Turtle Soup a New Orleans’s specialty. At Commander’s Palace the soup is finished tableside with aged Sherry. My Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish with crushed sweet corn was to die for. Nonetheless, I couldn’t’ resist bites of my husband’s Praline Lacquered Texas Quail (a smoky stuffed quail laced with praline-sugarcane lacquer). And, we found no shame in diving two BIG spoons into the Ponchatoula Strawberry Shortcake. commanderspalace.com
Café Adelaide’s: Let’s just say that our final brunch at the Loews Hotel’s Café Adelaide wasn’t a light ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ kind of spread. As if we needed urging, we were prompted to try Shrimp and Tasso “Corndogs” (not your childhood corndogs from the country fair) and an inventive Corn Fried Oyster Cobb Salad. Eight days of devouring haute Creole fare and it was time to hit the gym cafeadelaide.com
More Belly Bliss: Other star-performers include the famed Antoine’s (antoines.com), atmospheric Muriel’s (muriels.com), and Dominque’s (dominiquesonmag.com), masters of tropical French cuisine. AT