Taking It Easy in the Big Easy
The French Quarter at Dusk,
courtesy of The Windsor
in the Big
By Barry Bassis and
Demetra M. Pappas
he driver who picked us up at Louis Armstrong International Airport told us that he had to turn down his last job. The call came soon after he started making red beans and rice and he could not interrupt cooking. Food is a high priority in New Orleans, which is one of the reasons it is our favorite American city to visit. Almost everywhere we dined, there were wedding and bachelorette parties. Here, you can ﬁnd
splendid food in luxurious surroundings for less than the cost in most other parts of the country. Within a couple of hours after we arrived, we took a short walk to dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro (201 Royal St., 504-523-2078) in the French Quarter. For a spicy start, order the gumbo ya-ya; for a less spicy starter, try the seafood gumbo. The rack of lamb was tender Suite at The Windsor Court
100 • Resident April 2011 and cooked exactly as ordered. Save room for dessert, especially the classic bread pudding. The Windsor Court (300 Gravier St., (888) 596-0955; www.windsorcourthotel.
com) is a deluxe, English style hotel; we had a spacious suite with a balcony overlooking the Mississippi River. The Grill Room (504522-1994) is the hotel’s award-winning restaurant, where we enjoyed both lunch and dinner. Chef Drew Dzejak’s cuisine makes imaginative use of the freshest ingredients, like crabs and scallops, and sommelier Sara Kavanaugh will ﬁnd the perfect wine to accompany your meal.
For late night entertainment, we paid a visit to Irvin Mayﬁeld’s Jazz Playhouse in
the Royal Sonesta Hotel (300 Bourbon St., (504) 553-2299, www.sonesta.com). The featured performer was Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown, an engaging trumpeter-singer. “The Very Thought of You” was romantic while “St. James Inﬁrmary” had rowdy new
lyrics courtesy of Brown. As a special treat, the Grammy-winning trumpeter-composer-bandleader Irvin Mayﬁeld joined the
group for the last number. Preservation Hall (726 St. Peter St., 504522-2841) presents traditional jazz in a room with no frills and no ampliﬁcation. The music ranged from a rollicking “Sweet Georgia Brown” to a reverential piano solo version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow.” On Sunday morning, we headed to the House of Blues (225 Decatur St., 504-310-4999) for the gospel brunch. The artists performed “When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Amazing Grace” along with folk tunes, such as “The Hammer Song” and “This Little Light of Mine.” The food was served cafeteria style but with an omelet station. On every trip to New Orleans, we have a meal at Arnaud’s (813 Rue Bienville, 504523-5433). We began with the addictive soufflé potatoes in béarnaise sauce and Shrimp Arnaud. If you have trouble deciding on a main course, try the delicious combination of Veal Tournedos Chantal (which is sautéed and served in a wild mushroom sauce) and Crawfish O’Connor (baked in a brandy-infused Creole tomato based sauce). Another Creole gem is Broussard’s (819 Conti St., 504-581-3866), an elegant restaurant with a lovely courtyard. Have a classic local dish, like oysters Bienville, and follow it up with the restaurant’s version of bouillabaisse, which is spicier than the Hotel Le Marais
On the day of our visit, it was too cold to sit outside at the Court of Two Sisters (613 Royal St., 504-522-7273), but we had an enjoyable time indoors, listening to the live jazz and sampling the bountiful brunch buffet. As the Amy Sharpe trio played “Ain’t Misbehavin,” we wondered if we were misbehavin’ by overeatin.’ Commander’s Palace (1403 Washington Ave., 504-899-8221) has an illustrious history from Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse to the current chef Tory McPhail. Situated in a Victorian mansion in the Garden District, this is the ultimate in New Orleans dining. The menu is always changing but one perennial is the three soup sampler: turtle, seafood gumbo and soup du jour (black-eyed pea soup on the day of our visit). The ribeye with Tabasco onion rings and osso bucco were delicious but we had to save room for the bread pudding soufflé and strawberry shortcake. The Palace Café (605 Canal St., 504523-1661) has the look of a French brasserie but this restaurant serves inspired riffs on Creole cuisine. Crabmeat cheesecake with pecan crust turned out to be succulent as was the andouille-crusted drum fish. Having started with one winning cheesecake, we ended with another, this one containing blueberry cobbler.
Breakfast at Brennan’s (417 Royal St., 504-525-9711) is the best possible way to start the day, including local specialties like turtle soup and grillades and grits. End with the dessert the restaurant created: bananas foster, made tableside. For a light meal, stop by Café Beignet (311 Bourbon. 504-525-2611), where you can try the namesake pastry, and also a range of breakfast or lunch dishes, such as catfish po-boy or a crawfish platter. For the last three days, we stayed at Hotel Le Marais (717 Conti St., 504-5252300, www,hotellemarais.com), a newly renovated boutique hotel in the heart of the French Quarter. The room was snug but comfortable; all the furnishings are tasteful and new, with wide-screen televisions and complimentary WiFi; a free continental breakfast is served in the bar area. For dinner our first night, we went to Bourbon Orleans (a hotel owned by the same group) and ate at the elegant Roux on Orleans Restaurant (717 Orleans St., 504- 5714604). We had a feast prepared by executive chef Guy Sockrider, whom we had seen on YouTube preparing turtle soup. His shrimp absinthe is sinful and so was the enormous pork chop. Bread pudding with caramel is a tasty twist on a local dessert.
The Ritz Carlton Hotel of New Orleans (2020 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, 504566-5090), has a new service, “The Velvet Massage.” Inspired by Japanese bath tradition, the treatment begins with a warm exfoliation cream with Cherry Blossoms and Rice Powder. Then, an exfoliating towel massage softens skin and invigorates the body. A unique foot massage based on reflexology revives vital energy complete with a full body massage of melted aromatic Shea butter bringing blissful relaxation. The treatments, which begin on the hour, allow ample time for clients to lounge on beds and coaches, while chatting or reading. The shower area has every amenity imaginable, including exfoliation ocean salts which bathers can mix to their preference.
The Historic New Orleans Collection (410 Chartres St., 504-523-4662, www.
hnoc.org) has a superb exhibition commemorating the centennial of Tennessee Williams’ birth: “Drawn to Life: Al Hirschfeld and the Theatre of Tennessee Williams,” on view through April 3, 2011. The exhibition brings together highlights from the collection’s permanent holdings and dozens of drawings by the legendary artist, who was a self-described “characterist.” The signature linear calligraphic style drawings are accompanied by photographs, playbills and other memorabilia, culled from around the country by curators Mark Cave of The Collection and David Leopold of the Al Hirschfeld Foundation.
For an introduction to the city, Adventures in New Orleans (516 Canal St., 504-5239745, www.neworleansadventuretours.
com) offers historical, architectural and cultural tours that also include the Ninth Ward and ongoing efforts to rebuild both basic buildings and those vying for space in Architectural Digest. Louis Armstrong used to sing “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?” Yes, we surely do. Hotel Le Marais
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