When you think of travel entertainment, you have to put fine food at the top of your list. New Orleans is always an adventure, as it changes in a nice way, but always keeps its charm. Having visited New Orleans over many years, I recently explored and am enthused over a handful of fine dining establishments – some adventurously experienced for the first time and some old time favorites.
First off, I was impressed with the credentials of Chef Guy at the Sheraton New Orleans Hotel, my home base for this visit. He offered me a tasting of a variety of his special creations, including: a bouillabaisse with three fish varieties, and a seafood and andouille gumbo. The appetizers were fish and chips, crawfish and a springroll wrap, followed by a redfish poorboy, muffallata, and a Creole crab cake. His homemade meatloaf with shitake demi glace was accompanied with a sweet and sour brisket. For desert try the Banana Crème cheesecake, or the praline, and pecan bread pudding.
In addition to fine dining the Sheraton New Orleans offers a club level of accommodations with access to the Club Lounge where morning continental breakfasts and evening appetizers along with beverages, are offered to the busy traveler wanting either in and out breakfasts and a quiet lounge with an expansive view of the Mississippi river. Besides big screen TV’s, there is an immediate online computer for your efficiency. And should you be in room 4928, your view of the crescent Mississippi river commerce through floor to ceiling windows, will tempt you into never leaving your room.
Another boon of staying at the Sheraton is that its location on Canal Street is in the middle of dining action, half way between the French Quarter and the Warehouse district. A long walk or short cab ride is Meson 923 on South Peters in the warehouse/arts district. From the wrap around 2nd story balcony where you can soak up the local ambiance or from the elegant interior dining rooms, Meson 923 may become your new favorite New Orleans dining locale. Opened just over a year, inside a once corner market, Chef Baruch Rabasa offers fine meats and fish combinations on evenings only. I had the tiny tiny Greek salad morsel as an amuse bouche, scallops with balsamic and basil topping, and a huge filet of beef with rare Pomme Anna, baby spinach and pengourd truffle sauce. They are rightly proud of their beverages including creative Martinis, including their signature, “Liquid Seduction” made with the exotic Chartreuse, which is flamed during the creation process.
Just a few blocks from the Sheraton is one of John Besh restaurants called Domenica, inside the Roosevelt Hotel on St Baronne Street. Domenica is known for its pizzas and pastas along with its gourmet dried meats and imported cheeses. If you order the affettati misti your table will explore a sampling of cured meats, cheeses, olives and candied nuts, along with a basket of fresh puff pastry. My apple and mixed green salad along with an entrée of pocket pasta with spinach in a lemon cream, was a refreshing choice. Of course I had to try their signature Banana Zuppa Inglese, reminiscent of the best comfort banana and wafer pudding of your youth.
La Provence, another restaurant in the John Besh group, is located on the north shore of Lake Ponchatrain. It boasts fresh farm to table offerings by Chef Erick Loos IV, including their own bacon and ham to accent their local vegetables. I was privileged to have veteran restaurateur Steve Norman Rockwell as my waiter and to meet bon vivant, and cosmopolitan mixologist and poet Joyce Bates, as my dinner entertainment. In a rural setting similar to a French country house, La Provence is a world away from the hustle and metropolitan nature of the Crescent City. Don’t miss their Warm Goats Cheese salad with roasted beets, sylvetta argula and their house cured mangalista bacon. I confess I’m not usually a fan of pâté, but the Chicken Pâté Mousse was a taste treat – which I almost made a meal of, in itself.
About an hours drive outside New Orleans, is the national treasure of Plantation Road, with its hand full of restored and nostalgic reminders of another age. Even though the rivers edge no longer is home to loading docks for steamboats, passing over head the road are industrial pipes taking current day products to the river’s edge. As a plantation enthusiast I had to make a quick pilgrimage to Oak Alley, for a dose of beautiful inspiration, on my way to lunch at Houmas House Plantation on the other side of the river.
Owner Kevin Kelly, has created a dream estate with expansive gardens to embrace the historic plantation main house. Chef Jeremy Langlois of Latil’s Landing, surpasses expectations in excellent cuisine to compliment the lush landscape of Houmas House. It’s easy to see why his Latil’s Landing was honored by Esquire magazine as one of the top 20 restaurants in America. The site of several movies, and many weddings, the plantation today is a destination unto itself with future plans of a Steamboat museum and over night cottages to accompany the expansive gift shop, pavilions and dining experiences. My Eggplant Belle Rose topped with lump crabmeat and hollandaise along with Tornadoes of Beef with oyster mushrooms and brandy demi-glace was incomparable. And don’t miss the home made bread selections and butter creations.
It wouldn’t be a trip to New Orleans without a French Quarter visit to the Court of Two Sisters. It continues to be the icon of big easy atmosphere in its courtyard where the best Jazz brunch is presented everyday from 10 to 3 pm. The expansive buffet continues to delight patrons, and the made to order Eggs Benedict and Omelets are a special treat. Dining in a secluded historic courtyard, accompanied by a jazz comb, is the real New Orleans experience, and your best dining bargain. As we know, New Orleans is an adventurer’s delight.