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Pleasing the palate in New Orleans
May 2011
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author
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The crème de la crème  
 
A sampler platter of some of New Orleans' most famous dining establishments  
 
NEW ORLEANS—Here's a mix of the upscale to the accessible for your dining venues, but all of them with strong reputations for quality. With the more famous restaurants, of course, you may need reservations, and those may be hard to come in some cases unless you've made them long in advance.
 
On the bright side, though, if you can't get the reservations, there are many other great places to eat, and it will just give you more reason to return to the city.  
 
Antoine's Restaurant 
713 Saint Louis Street
(504) 581-4422
 
More than just one of the city's consistently top-rated restaurants, Antoine's has significant history as well, having served French-Creole cuisine all the way back to 1840. The restaurant offers a staggering 14 dining rooms, each with its own unique history and with memorabilia associated with its many notable guests, like dignitaries from the British royal family to Pope John Paul II, American presidents and military leaders, and performers like Judy Garland and Carol Burnett. Antoine's capable of entertaining events with more than 700 guests. This is not casual dining by any means, with jackets preferred, though not required.  
 
Antoine's is also said to be the birthplace of such culinary classics as oysters Rockefeller, so rich and buttery they had to be named after America's richest man; eggs Sardou, named for Victorien Sardou, a famous French dramatist, and consisting of poached eggs topped with artichoke hearts, ham, anchovies, truffles and hollandaise sauce; and pommes de terre soufflés, puffed potatoes that the restaurant helped popularize. Of course, with the French influence, one of the other many treats here is escargot, with the escargots a la bordelaise said to be particularly decadent.  
 
Bayona 
430 Dauphine Street
(504) 525-4455  
 
Bayona features a trio of dining rooms: the Dyer Room with its trompe l'oeil depicting the Mediterranean countryside; the Bayona Room with its stained-glass accents and picture window; and the main dining room, which is dominated by colorful arrangements of flowers. A patio is also open most of the year, weather permitting, and it greenery, fruit trees and fountain are said to evoke the way that Creole families maintained their private gardens in centuries past. Not bound to the traditions of Louisiana cuisine alone, chef Susan Spicer serves up dishes that bring in elements of the Mediterranean, the Far East, North Africa, France and Italy and incorporate dishes from across the United States. The restaurant also prides itself on being vegetarian- and vegan-friendly  
 
Brennan's Restaurant 
417 Royal Street
(504) 525-9711  
 
Brennan's goes back to 1946, so it doesn't have quite the history of Antoine's, but it does possess quite the reputation for culinary quality, and it's been family-owned since the start. Drinks here include a variety of absinthe-style ones, breakfast fare that ranges from ribeye steak to grillades and grits to veal pecan, and dinners that run the range of regional traditions and new spins, with an emphasis on the many seafood options that abound here.  
 
Café du Monde
800 Decatur Street
(504) 587-0831  
 
This may well be the most famous eatery you can get into in New Orleans that won't require reservations (but perhaps a little patient waiting). The original Café du Monde coffee stand was established in 1862 in the New Orleans French Market. The current incarnation is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and only gets closed down by Christmas Day or if a Hurricane passes too close to the region. The most important fare to note here is the dark roasted coffee and chicory, which is served black or au lait—with the latter being the preferred method and meaning that it is half coffee and half hot milk—and the fresh beignets, which are square French-style doughnuts that are generously dusted with powdered sugar. You can also get white milk, chocolate milk, fresh-squeezed orange juice, iced coffee and soft drinks. But if you go there for any of those things as your primary goal, you may need to re-examine your priorities in life.  
 
The café also has a location at Riverwalk Marketplace at 1 Poydras, Suite 27, and several other locations outside New Orleans, including one at the The Esplanade Mall, located in Kenner, just fifteen minutes from downtown New Orleans—it was the first expansion from the original location in 1985, with the Riverwalk location opening the next year.  
 
Commander's Palace Restaurant 
1403 Washington Avenue
(504) 899-8221  
 
Purchased in 1969 by the Brennan family (see Brennan's Restaurant above), it remains owned by members of the family but is not affiliated with Brennan's—in fact, the family has a rather rocky history and some nasty splits associated with various expansions and disagreements over the years, going back to the 1970s. The original restaurant dates back to 1880, though, having entertained such famous people as Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain.
 
Chef Tory McPhail focuses strongly on Creole cuisine for inspiration and  has a "dirt to plate within 100 miles" policy, meaning that he strives for 90 percent of our ingredients coming in from within a hundred mile of the restaurant.  
 
Emeril's Restaurant 
800 Tchoupitoulas Street
(504) 528-9393  
 
Yes, that same Emeril who made the word "Bam!" and the phrase "Let's kick it up a notch!" so famous in his cable television cooking shows on the Food Network. You also likely know him from the many sauces and other prepared food products that now bear his face and name in grocery store aisles, plus he owns a dozen restaurants nationwide. That said, being ubiquitous doesn't mean he's just a personable and famous face. Emeril Lagasse knows how to cook, and here you can get a variety of fare, including chicken and waffles, burgers, glazed salmon, Thai barbecue lamb ribs, crawfish tails in creole cream sauce, sorghum smoked duck breast, pork chops and steaks.  
 
Galatoire's Restaurant 
209 Bourbon Street
(504) 525-2021  
 
With a pedigree that dates back to 1905, Galatoire's sits between an icons like Antoine's and one like Brennan's on the historical spectrum and is now in its fourth generation of family ownership and French-Creole cuisine, with the owners saying that the same "ageless New Orleans favorites grace her menu" just as they did when it first opened. Among the restaurant's specialty entrees are poisson meunière amandine, grilled poisson provençal, poisson crabmeat Yvonne, Louisiana seafood eggplant cake, crabmeat Sardou, filet béarnaise, veal liver and ribeye bordelaise.  
 
NOLA Restaurant 
534 Saint Louis Street
(504) 522-6652  
 
The second of three restaurants Emeril Lagasse owns in New Orleans (see Emeril's above), along with Emeril's Delmonico, this is arguably one of the two most famous of the three, next to Emeril's itself. Crab cakes, crispy duck liver, yellowfin tuna, salmon, angel hair pasta, ham and goat cheese paninis, stuffed chicken wings, filet mignon and seasonal fish are among the many offerings. 

For a much wider selection of popular dining options, from the fine dining like most of the above to the more middle of the road and the all-out casual, click here and here.


Fillin' ya belly
 
A roundup of some of New Orleans' most famous edibles

NEW ORLEANS—Both in music and in food, there is much crossover, but do remember as you stroll, listen and eat your way through New Orleans—particularly with that eating part—that Cajun and Creole are two different traditions. They do share a common French origin, but Creole also brings in heavy Spanish influences. Over time, "Cajun" came to refer largely to those Acadians—members of a French colony founded in the 1630s—who settled in 1755 in the then-French territories of Louisiana after being ousted by the British from their colony. The word "Creole, " which means "a child born in the colony," referred to descendants of early French and Spanish settlers, but eventually narrowed to indicate native-born Louisianans of French and/or Spanish descent.

When it comes to food, Cajuns brought recipes hailing not only from France, but also well over a century of living in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Cajun cuisine often focuses on hearty seafood dishes that may be cooked in one large pot and then served over rice, two prime examples being jambalaya and crawfish étouffée, and it often thought of as more common—or even "country"—fare of New Orleans. Creole recipes were developed in New Orleans and are often associated with a more urbane and cross-cultural vibe, bringing in cuisine traditions not only of France and Spain but also other European countries and African ones as well—such dishes tend to be focused on rich sauces, and shrimp Creole and grillades are two of the most well-known examples.
Regardless, both traditions yield great food, so let's share a few of them with you, along with other fare found in the city.

Andouille and boudin
Two of the most famous types of sausage found in the area. Andouille is a spicy pork sausage often used in gumbo, jambalaya or with red beans and rice. Boudin is also pork and typically spicy, but comes in two forms: boudin blanc, which focuses on pork and rice, and boudin rouge, which is blood sausage.

Breakfast time
One could simply call the beignet a square donut with no hole, but that probably means you haven't had one yet. Lighter than a donut and served warm and sprinkled with powdered sugar, beignets can be messy but are delicious. They go perfectly with cafe au lait, which is a coffee served with steamed milk—often with a chicory-based coffee used for the task. Also there is couche-couche—Sometimes spelled as "cush-cush" or "kush-kush" and rhyming with the word "push." This is a traditional French/Cajun breakfast dish made by browning or searing cornmeal in a pot with a little oil, then serving it with sugar and milk in a bowl. Or you can try pain perdu (pronounced "pan pair do"), which is French bread that is prepared and served in much the same manner as French toast.

Making rice extra nice
Filthy only in name and a pleasure for the palate, dirty rice is a pan-fried rice cooked with green peppers, onions, celery, stock and giblets. Another popular choice in New Orleans is red beans and rice, often thought of as a Monday night tradition. The dish consists of kidney beans served with rice, seasonings, spices and chunks of hot sausage.

Étouffeé and jambalaya
Generally served with crawfish (a freshwater shellfish also known as a mudbug), étouffeé is a "smothered" dish featuring a dark roux (a tomato-based sauce) of seasoned vegetables that is poured over rice. Jambalaya, on the other hand, is a rice-based dish that takes a kind of "everything but the kitchen sink" approach, employing poultry, tomatoes, cooked rice, ham, shrimp, chicken, celery, onions and an army of seasonings.

Grillades, grits and gumbo
Three of the most important G-words in Louisiana. Grillades are thin slices of beef served with a tomato roux. Gumbo is a thick soup stock that uses filé (ground sassafras leaves) and is served with rice, okra and various meats, such as andouille, duck, chicken, shrimp and/or crabs. Grits are ground hominy grain—typically served as breakfast fare in a similar fashion as oatmeal—and can be paired with shredded cheese, sugar, molasses, syrup or just about anything else, depending on how sweet or savory the person wants it.

Some H-words
On the food side, you have hush puppies, which are fried cornmeal-bread balls, and on the beverage side is the Hurricane, an alcoholic fruit punch drink popularized at Pat O'Brien's and so named because of their potential impact on you.

Sandwich fare
The two most famous sandwiches in the city are the po-boy and the muffuletta. The muffuletta is typically a huge sandwich served on round Italian bread—often 10 inches across—and filled to bursting with Cappicola ham, Genoa salami and sometimes mortadella; provolone cheese, or sometimes mozzarella; a marinated olive salad; and sometimes pickles. The po-boy is a sandwich served on French bread—crispy and flaky outside and soft on the inside—split open to accommodate everything from oysters to shrimp to soft-shelled crabs on the seafood end, and everything from ham to roast beef and gravy on the landlubber end of things.

Sweet treats
The praline is a New Orleans invention that is not the same as the French confection, instead being made—in its classic form—as a sort of brown sugar-based, pecan-filled flat candied patty. Variations of pralines can exist with featured items other than pecans, too. Another local favorite is crème caramel, which is a glazed custard, and then there is the famous Bananas Foster, a flaming dessert with, of course, bananas as the main ingredient.


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