Almost every year after Christmas, Sweet Shark and I spend a few days in New Orleans. This time of year the city is decorated for the holidays and the weather is typically cooler and lower in humidity. We love the vibrancy and, of course, the fabulous food, beautiful hotels, and lovely shops in the French Quarter. Our usual stay is four nights, enough time to eat well and shop, but not so long to get tired of eating well and shopping. We leave before the New Year’s celebrations get crazy on Bourbon Street and the Sugar Bowl fans take over.
Our favorite thing to talk about is where we’re going to eat and then what we ate. In order to maximize our eating sessions, we stop at a few places each day for just little bites. Every year we try to combine old favorites with places we’ve never been and mix old traditional establishments with newer restaurants. I want to share my 2014 post about New Orleans with you.
How to Spend Christmas in New Orleans, 2014
So here in chronological order is where we ate in 2014. As a point of reference, in the French Quarter, locations are not given as exact addresses, but as a street between A and B streets. The French Quarter is on a grid, so it’s easy to get around, but I do recommend a map.
Our usual first lunch is the Acme Oyster House on Iberville between Royal and Bourbon, but the line out the door is a block long. We have a cocktail at the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (Royal between Iberville and Bienville) where we are staying (best location in the Quarter) while we decide where to go. Our choice is Pêche Seafood Grill, one of Donald Link‘s restaurants that has been on our bucket list. It’s located just outside the Quarter at the corner of Magazine and Julia. We take a quick cab ride there and are immediately taken with the rustic, but vibrant decor. We sit at the very large bar and order a glass of wine while eyeing what other people are eating. The menu looks enticing. Sweet Shark orders a half dozen oysters and I have a tuna crudo. Sweet Shark declares the oysters sweet and delicious. My tuna is super fresh and tasty. Still a bit hungry, we order fish sticks with the lightest tempura batter. Wonderful lunch.
For dinner, we have reservations at La Petite Grocery at the corner of Magazine Street and General Pershing St. We’ve been here once before and had an amazing meal. Located in an old grocery store, LPG has a charming bar and dining room. Top Chef contestant Justin Devillier from 2013 has been the chef for 10 years and was named 2014 New Orleans Chef of the Year. We are immediately seated – always a good sign – at a perfect table in the center of the dining room. However, as I peruse the menu, I immediately notice a difference from our last visit a few years ago. Although the starters look interesting, the entrees aren’t very enticing. Sweet Shark asks our server for recommendations, but he doesn’t seem enthusiastic about sharing. We decide to share the steak tartar which is very flavorful and beautifully presented, but the portion size is extremely skimpy. Our dining companions order the Blue Crab Beignets which are as light and delicious as we remember them. Both couples order the scallop appetizer, a special for the evening. The scallops are crispy on the outside, sweet and rich, served on a parsnip purée which is silky smooth and well seasoned. Although we weren’t enticed by the entrees, we selected the lamb t-bone. This was our only disappointment. My first bite of the accompanying roasted cauliflower is stone cold and Sweet Shark’s lamb is overdone. We send both back to the kitchen. Our dining companions share a chicken breast dish which they declare very good. When our plates are returned, now definitely hot, the little lamb loin chops are over cooked and don’t have much flavor. I prepare these at home occasionally and I know how good they can be. Overall, it was a good meal; in spite of of our server’s apparent aloofness and somewhat slow service, I would still recommend it.
Commander’s Palace is considered one of the most revered and must-go restaurants not only on New Orleans, but in the country. The flagship of the Brennan family restaurant group, Commander’s is located in the Garden District on Washington Avenue just off St. Charles. Sweet Shark and I had lunch here years ago and he decided it was time for a return visit. Being that it was the Saturday after Christmas, reservations were definitely needed. Do remember that Commander’s requires a jacket for gentlemen (no baseball caps, please!); it’s so nice to see people dressed up. Although the exterior is Caribbean blue and white, the main dining room is restrained and elegant. We were seated immediately for our 12:00 Jazz Lunch reservation. I start with The Commander’s Salad and Sweet Shark orders the Turtle Soup, a New Orleans tradition. As entrees, I have the Pecan Crusted Gulf Fish (OMG) and Sweet Shark enjoys the Eggs Lafourche, a take on Eggs Benedict with braised pork belly and andouille corn hash. We splurge on the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle which is divine.
After returning to the hotel to change clothes (We are stuffed.), we walked the French Quarter and discovered Dickie Brennan’s new restaurant, Tableau, located at the corner of Charter and St. Peter, right at the edge of Jackson Square. A two-story building, which took over the space held by Le Petite Theater for years, the restaurant is light, hip, and cozy. A large foyer welcomes you with a view of a courtyard straight ahead and the bar and casual dining area to the left. We stop for a glass of wine to take in the main dining room around the corner from the bar, then head upstairs to explore. A second bar, lounge area, and two dining rooms, which we’re sure are used for private events and receptions, are all beautifully, but simply, decorated. This is definitely a place we will come back to.
We purposely did not make dinner reservations this evening ~ sometimes you just have to wing it. Our first stop is the new Richard Fiske’s Martini Bar, on Dauphin between Bienville and Conti, now owned by former staff of the Bombay Club which had been tucked behind the Prince Conti Hotel. (We had been stopping in there for a pre-dinner cocktail for years.) The new location has similar decor – lots of dark wood and dark green painted walls, but is not as reserved or formal. It’s new location on the corner with open doors to the street takes away some of the “dress-up” ambiance of the old Bombay Club (which is still in it’s old location). Our second stop of the evening is the newly re-opened Brennan’s on Royal. Known for its Breakfast at Brennan’s, the totally remodeled restaurant has a current, upbeat feel, which it desperately needed. The large bar and lounge area is all white and wood. We’ll have to put dining here on our bucket list for next year. Now for dinner: we head back to Dickie Brennan’s Tableau, and we are rewarded for our return. We start our meal with a sampler of three appetizers – shrimp remoulade, a tasting slaw topped with sweet crab meat, and tiny crab claws. All are fresh and delicious. For our entree, we select the Creole Court Boullion, basically a fish stew with rice. It is so good – rich, a bit of spice, the seafood just briney enough that we’re sure it was caught that morning. Our service was very attentive. Oh, did I mention the delicious bread? Hot, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside. Today’s lunch and dinner are everything dining in New Orleans should be.
It’s Sunday and we decide we have to get into Acme Oyster House on Iberville between Royal and Canal; we arrive at 10:45. (Yes, I know it’s really early, but we are on eaters on a mission since the Acme is one of three places that we always must visit.) Already a few people are in line, but by 11:00, we are seated at the bar in our usual seats, exchanging greetings with our favorite bartender, Terry Lee, or T.Lee, as we call her. Within minutes the front dining room, oyster bar, and bar are filled. The back dining room (for the tourists, haha) will be filled soon. Sweet Shark orders a glass of Chardonnay and a dozen oysters. I order an Arbita and a bowl of seafood gumbo. (I have to confess here that I don’t like raw oysters. I’ll eat them fried, grilled, or smoked, but not raw.) We are in Acme heaven.
For the rest of the day, we walk, flitting in and out of shops. Our second must-stop place is Mr. B’s on the corner of Royal and Iberville, across the street from the Monteleone. Another of the Brennan family restaurants, it’s an institution for lunch and dinner. The past few years, we’ve used it as a mid-afternoon snack stop and we always get the same thing, the duck spring rolls, which are so crispy, served with a spicy dipping sauce. A Pimm’s Cup for me and a glass of wine for Sweet Shark complete our first afternoon snack. Mr. B’s also has amazing bread – loaves of crispy French rolls – so good.
We walk more ~ that’s the trick in New Orleans to eating so much ~ you have to walk everywhere! We have dinner reservations at Arnaud’s, one of the oldest restaurants in New Orleans; this is our plan to have a meal at one of the older, established restaurants. Next door is the bar French 75, the home of Chris Hanna, one of the well-known mixologists in the city. There we have a cocktail, a Brandy Crusta for me and a French 75 for Sweet Shark. The hostess leads us into the main dining room, which is very large and very beautiful, decorated for Christmas with large wreaths on the windows. The tiny black-and-white tiled floor, dark woodwork, and lead-glass windows are reminiscent of a classic and traditional restaurant. Our table (the hostess tells us that it’s the owner’s table, but she will not be dining in tonight!) has the perfect view of the entire room. The waiters are dressed in formal attire and it’s oh-so lovely. Did I mention that our meal is wonderful?
Our last day, we take a cab to Magazine Street to shop, walk and eat. Unfortunately, since it’s Monday, many shops are closed. We stop in Pizza Domenica, one of John Besh‘s casual restaurants. He is one of our favorite New Orleans chefs. Because we know we want to restaurant hop today, we just order a small flatbread. Back in the French Quarter, we walk to Muriel’s off Jackson Square for one of our favorite dishes, the Shrimp and Goat Cheese Crepes. At Muriel’s you can go upstairs to where supposedly, there are ghosts. It’s a beautiful setting. Do not miss Muriel’s.
More walking and window shopping before we stop in Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse for a happy hour glass of wine. For dinner, we have reservations at GW Fin’s on Bienville between Bourbon and Dauphine. Sweet Shark discovered this fabulous seafood restaurant a few years ago and we have eaten there every year since. This is where I had my first grilled oysters and I can’t get enough. And their biscuits are some of the best you’ll ever have.
Another fabulous trip in New Orleans. Time to head home to the New Year. I’ll share New Orleans 2015 in the new year.