Top spots for New Orleans dining

Top spots for New Orleans dining
January 25, 2013
Michael Bauer

an Francisco and New Orleans have a lot in common when it comes to food. Sure, the products and cooking styles are different, but both cities have a passion for food. Both elevated restaurants to a high form of entertainment when most other places saw dining as sustenance.

I've always contended that there are two cities where people go specifically to dine: New Orleans and San Francisco. Both have a free-wheeling spirit that seems to intensify the pleasure afforded by food and drink.

I love visiting New Orleans. I've been there five times since Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and have witnessed a sleepy city wake up with new energy in terms of restaurants. Yet it's also a city that loves tradition; it's exciting seeing both play out today.

For those lucky enough to be heading to New Orleans for the Super Bowl, here are some of my favorite places, in alphabetical order. For everyone else, consider a visit sometime soon.

Arnaud's French 75: I discovered this place for cocktails through the New Orleans Times-Picayune restaurant critic Brett Anderson, who says bartender Chris Hannah pours the best drinks in the city. The bar is Old World, and its one of the best places for a Sazerac, the signature New Orleans cocktail. If you leave yourself in the bartender's hands, you'll be surprised and satisfied.

813 Bienville; (504) 523-5433.

Brigtsen's: The homey decor and friendly service goes right to the heart of the Cajun-Creole dining experience. Chef-owner Frank Brigtsen creates excellent seafood dishes, such as broiled gulf fish with a crabmeat Parmesan crust and lemon mousseline sauce; or sauteed scamp grouper with shrimp and a corn-bell pepper sauce. For a treat, try the seafood platter featuring a half-dozen preparations, such as oysters Bienville or grilled drum fish with crawfish.

723 Dante St.; (504) 861-7610.

Cafe Beignet: I like to go to Cafe du Monde for chicory coffee and beignets, but I discovered Cafe Beignet when I went to Anderson's wedding last Christmas. He suggested it for guests, saying it was "less iconic and atmospheric than the nearby classic, but the beignets are better." It's true: The beignets are much lighter.

311 Bourbon St. and 334-B Royal St.; (504) 524-5530.

Carousel Bar: I also have a soft spot for this 1949-era bar in the Hotel Monteleone, where the bar looks like an ornate carousel and it actually revolves. It can be quite interesting after a couple of Vieux Carre cocktails, invented at the bar (a mix of rye, cognac, dry vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud and Angostura).

214 Royal St.; (504) 523-3341.

Central Grocery: This Italian-style grocer is the birthplace of the muffuletta, a New Orleans sandwich made with Sicilian sesame bread, salami, mortadella, ham, mozzarella and provolone, all topped with a tangy olive salad. There's always a line, but while you're waiting, you can look over all the shelves of pastas, cheeses, olive oils and other products. There are a few communal seats, or take the sandwich to go.

923 Decatur St.; (504) 523-1620.

Cochon and Cochon Butcher: At Cochon, chef Donald Link's second restaurant, he's crafted an exciting meat-centric menu with such things as sugar-glazed pork cheeks with mushrooms and roasted corn grits; fried boudin with pickled peppers; and baked ham hock with baked peanuts and charred radishes. The adjacent Cochon Butcher offers exceptional charcuterie, wine and sandwiches (I'll have the pastrami with sauerkraut on rye).

930 Tchoupitoulas St.; (504) 588-2123.

Dooky Chase: There's a real contest as to who makes the best fried chicken in town. When I'm at Willie Mae's, I like that one; at Dooky Chase, I'd swear Leah Chase's is the best. Chase was a pioneer in the civil rights movement, and her restaurant is filled with Victorian antiques and local artwork. She also does great fried catfish, collard greens and peach cobbler. It's open for lunch Tuesday-Friday; dinner on Friday.

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