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New Orleans Restaurants - Overview

A picture named Galatoires.jpg 

Recovery Status for Fall 2006, updated September 2:


New Orleans is well on its way back to re-claiming its place as a fully functional tourist destination.  The  recovery was aptly demonstrated with decisions to hold Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest celebrations in Spring 2006 as usual, as well as by Tulane's "miracle" graduation ceremony that featured past Presidents Bush and Clinton.   In fact, all five New Orleans universitiesóTulane, Loyola, Xavier, the University of New Orleans, and Dillardóhave reopened


All but a few of the 13 airlines that serviced the City are shuttling flights in and out of the City.  Taxis, bus service and the street care are functioning.  Touro, Tulane and Charity hospitals have all been reopened for months.  It is reported at the close of summer 2006 that 103 out of 140 metropolitan area hotels are open, with over 70% of the original 38,000 hotle rooms available. Of these rooms two-thirds are open to visitors, while the remaining third is contracted to various agencies.  Ninety percent of downtown hotels are open, however, the Fairmont and the Ritz Carlton continue to be closed for renovation.  Both are expected to re-open by the end of the year.  Remediation contractors in all the restored hotels conduct room-by-room assessments against EPA standards. After remediation work is completed, the clearance process includes visual inspection, as well as sampling for airborne fungal spores and ongoing monitoring.  Restaurants are re-opening daily with any of the famous chefs back in their aprons, including Paul Prudhomme, Susan Spicer Donald Link and John Besh. Before any establishment serving food can be reopened it is examined by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals for compliance with all regulations regarding water safety and food handling.  To give you a better sense of the situation you should call ahead to your hotel and favorite restaurants to be sure they are ready for you or check on the site here for opening status.  Air and water are safe for visitors (government air testing results).  Harrah's Casino, the convention center and Riverwalk are open, as are museums including Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Contemporary Arts Center, the National D-Day Museum and the Aquarium of the Americas.




Click here for expense account recommendations.


Click here for great, middle-priced suggestions.


Click here for some great bargain places.


Restaurant Guide Overview:


For heavenís sake, plan your meals carefully in New Orleans.  There is no food like it anywhere and the experience is a prize.  Thereís a certain food hype in New Orleans that you detect as soon as you arrive in town, a kind of electricity thatís like having a major celebrity show up at a party.  Youíll see lots of advertisements and publicized references to restaurants and area chefs.  When dining in New Orleans you may detect vestiges of many cultures.  The table settings, crystal decanters of water and warm baguettes, hark back to the French bistro.  Meanwhile, the table service is likely to be by dedicated, lifelong food service professionals and the experience a distinctive old South aspect.  The spiciness of many of the dishes has Spanish/Caribbean etiology.  But the flamboyance and the food combinations are uniquely New Orleans.


New Orleans is noted for a number of signature dishes, and itís a good idea to become familiar with these (see my food glossary to help with this).   A number of traditional dishes also have a special flair, including duck dishes and a kind of extraverted brand of Italian cuisine.  Traditional Asian cuisine offerings in New Orleans are the least affected and most on par with what you might find in another city of similar size.


A word about pricing: my restaurant recommendations are presented in four categories: the first category is simply our two highest-ranked, ďmust visitĒ restaurants regardless of price (they are, incidentally, on the expensive side).  The second category is the most expensive restaurants that are on the high end of the price spectrum relative to any major U.S. metropolitan area.  Perhaps these are good choices for expense account diners.  The third category consists of great restaurants where locals dine - the prices are still high, but these are more conservative than the wantonly pricey expense account class.  The fourth category consists of quality restaurants at reasonable prices relative to a southern population hub like Atlanta or Orlando.


But before parsing this information into price categories, let me set out a short list of the best restaurants in the city.  Most agree these are Restaurant August, Bayona, New Orleans Grill, Peristyle, Brigtsen's, Dick and Jenny's and Jacques-Imo's Cafe, the last two of which are surprisingly inexpensive.  Restaurant August is likely best all around for lunch, with its grand room, nice location, and super price fixe choices on the $20 menu.  Right across the street the recently upgraded New Orleans Grill in the Windsor Court Hotel probably has the most wattage for a luxe New Orleans dinner.


But putting five-star chefs and the latest buzz aside, in terms of local culture let me recommend two signature New Orleans dining experiences in case you only have two meals in town and need to cut to the chase.  The two experiences are the 19th centrury French Quarter dining room experience and the uptown Garden District. 


(French Quarter) Galatoire's (209 Bourbon Street - 504-525-2021). It is easy to make a case that Galatoireís is THE New Orleans restaurant.  Most restaurant polls or reviews will place Galatoireís near the top, but in terms of it's charm and heritage, few can touch it.  Galatoire's appears to have been left on Bourbon Street by accident, a timeless holdover from the days of gaslight streets.  Victor Bero opened Victor's Restaurant on the site in 1830 and, in either 1897 or 1905 (there is authority supporting both dates) a Frenchman named Jean Galatoire bought the establishment.  Jean hired French chefs who have since passed down the traditional Creole recipes by oral history.  The restaurant remains family operated to this day.  Its fixtures are classic 19th century New Orleans: bent wood chairs, two-paddle ceiling fans, crystal water decanters, mirrored dining room and pendulum clock. The table service usually combines officiousness with an old school southern congeniality.  The extensive a la carte menu at Galatoireís is virtual dictionary of classic New Orleans dishes.  This is the restaurant to visit to sharpshoot prized examples of local signature dishes .  Galatoire's was gutted in August 1999 and completely restored after a century in business.  Unfortunately, after the renovation an upstairs was added that robs patrons of the classic main room and sometimes provides second-rate, tourist-class service.   I would not recommend accepting a table up there. Galatoire's has some rules: jackets required for men in the evenings and all day Sunday and they usually only honor reservations for the undesirable tables upstairs.  Because there're a little fussy, and because the classic, 19th century French Quarter dining experience is so rare and wonderful, I'll recommend an able alternative to Galatoire's, which is Arnaud's (813 Bienville - 504-523-5533).  Anaud's shining main dining room is probably more enchanting than Galatoire's, though Galatoire's is more popular locally.  Arnaud's has also branched out into a secondary, Siberia dining area that should be avoided for the same reasons as Galatoire's tourist overflow eating area.  



(Uptown) Commanderís Palace (1403 Washington Avenue - 504-899-8221). The Brennan family is the culinary royalty of New Orleans. Ella Brennanís headquarters is Commanderís Palace restaurant, consistently rated among the very best in New Orleans.  The Victorian mansion with a lush, green courtyard is located in the deepest recesses of the old Garden District.   At Commanderís the Brennan culinary and hospitality professionalism is closed to a tight focus.  The famous contemporary Creole cuisine, the decor and the service embrace world class standards and the unique flair of New Orleans.  Emile Commander opened Commander's Palace restaurant at its present location in 1880, after which the Giarrantano family ran it until 1944 when Frank and Elinor Moran bought it. In 1948 the building was nearly gutted by fire.  Since the Brennan's acquired it, Commander's has established a legend of its own as the dining place of well to do locals and savvy visitors.  The wives of legislators and Federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals judges abound in the lunch hours and with the evening comes a parade of local power and influence.  If you are staying uptown, then Commanderís epitomizes Garden District haute cuisine; if you are staying in the French Quarter then Commanderís rounds out your visit with a fine view of the local citizenís uptown New Orleans.  Jackets for men are required.  The best prices at Commanderís are to be had of the weekday prix fixe menu.  The weekend jazz brunch is compromised by a more limited menu and the festive air to which the event aspires is not captured as well as similar offerings in the French Quarter (Arnaudís jazz brunch is a better choice, if they will seat you in the glistening main dining room).  


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Last update: 9/5/2006; 8:34:56 PM.