January 05, 2010
YCGTNO Finale - Restaurants
Posted by Trey Drury

If there is one topic that keeps people in New Orleans talking, it is food.  Consistent with this disposition, I have created a relatively mammoth guide to dining in New Orleans during AALS.  Restaurants are divided into the following categories:

I. Dining Out

A. Classics

B. Cutting Edge Cuisine

C. Chef-Centered Restaurants

II. Lunch at the Conference

A. THE Place to Go

B. High-End Lunches

C. Casual Spots that Don't Disappoint

I'm watching a tape of Iron Chef while typing, so expect my descriptions to be especially flowery.  Details of all picks are after the jump.

I. Dining Out    These recommendations are for places to go as a destination.  They are either too far away for a mid-conference trip, or the pace of service is not conducive to a between-meetings bite.

A. The Classics.    Two places say New Orleans to me more than any others - Commander's Palace and Galatoire's.  Commander's mixes familiar creole classics and modern Louisiana cuisine better than any other restaurant.  The food is always delicious, the service is perfect, and the atmosphere is friendly.  Galatoire's has the best dining scene in town.  Lots of regulars, people out to have fun, and great food and drinks.  Usually I don't even take a menu.  I ask my waiter what is good today and follow his recommendations.

There are other classic creole restaurants in town, with great, well-deserved reputations - Antoine's, Arnaud's, and Brennan's, to name a few.  Those are great choices, but they have not adapted as well as the first two to the changing times.  The real exception is if you are looking for a place for a large group.  There are many hidden, smaller rooms in each of these older restaurants, and getting a private room for your group is lots of fun.

B. Cutting Edge Cuisine.    While New Orleans loves its traditions, there are a few places that are keeping pace with the latest culinary trends.  Restaurant August is John Besh's flagship in his ever-expanding empire.  Stella! opened not too long ago (within the last 10 years) on the far side of the Quarter.  Bayona, Susan Spicer's original place, has become a staple in the local dining scene.  Each of them uses local ingredients and respects local and regional traditions, but they all resemble high-end restaurants in New York or San Franciso as much as they do their cohorts in town.

C. Chef-Centered Restaurants.    This group is less homogenous than the rest, but the common denominator is that the restaurants are generally smaller, a little more off the beaten path, and the menu relfects the distinctive perspective of the chef.  The most well-known of this group is Brigtsen's.  Frank Brigtsen won a James Beard award a while back, and this restaurant is 100% his creation.  The food is savory, delicious, and on the gamey side of the ledger (think rabbit, sweetbreads, etc.).  Other great choices, none of which will steer you wrong, are Gautreau'sClancy'sUpperline, and Lilette.  There is one newcomer to this list that I have been loving lately, Boucherie.  Boucherie serves relatively casual food - great ribs, shrimp and grits - done with great skill and care.  Also, the desserts.  Their best known offering is krispy kreme bread pudding.  That's krispy kreme donuts, torn up and made into bread pudding.  Stop drooling.  It's really good.  Also, there is a bacon brownie that may not sound intuitively well-paired but is awesome.

II. Lunch at the Conference.    These picks are places that you can make it to from the conference.  Some of them may be tight, depending on your situation, but they combine great food and an ability to get you in and out in time for your afternoon business.  Also, all of them would make fine choices to walk to for an after-conference dinner.

A. THE Place to Go.    Nothing like burying the lede; but, if I had to give everyone one and only one suggestion, I would tell you all to go to Herbsaint.  It is walkable from the conference.  The food is delicious.  It focuses on regional cuisine but has a distinctive flavor and good variety of dishes.  You can make it a destination, but the staff knows how to get you in and out if you so desire.  Don't pass it up.

B.  High-End Lunches.    There are a reasonably large number of high quality restaurants that are good and versatile enough that you can head there for a great dinner, or you can squeeze in a nice lunch mid-conference.  Red Fish Grill and Bourbon House focus on fresh local seafood.  NOLA and Palace Cafe offer a slightly broader menu of Louisiana cuisine, and Bacco is an Italian restaurant with a Louisiana twist.

C. Casual Spots that Don't Disappoint.    All of these earlier places are sit down, cloth napkin restaurants.  What if you want something more casual?  Here are a few options where you will be as welcome in a t-shirt and jeans as you would in a coat and tie - Acme Oyster House is the best place to go for shrimp po-boys, jambalaya, oysters on the half shell, and other basics.  Mother's has all that stuff and more.  I recommend the debris po-boy here.  Debris is the gravy-filled roast beef droppings that fall off of the meat while cooking. Finally, Cochon Butcher is a tiny gourmet sandwich place where they make sausages and other specialty items on site.

Good luck with your choices.  There are so many options, it's hard to go wrong!

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