1. Where to Stay
Channel the spirit of John James Audubon at The Audubon Cottages, located in the heart of the French Quarter, where the naturalist lived while completing his Birds of America series in 1820. Tucked into a quiet interior block of the French Quarter, the seven dwellings surround one of New Orleans’s oldest private pools. Opt for two-bedroom cottage one (from $379) to sleep where Audubon resided, or go with cottage seven to shack up in his former studio.
Relive the Roaring Twenties at historic hotel The Roosevelt (from $199), a favorite of the city’s elite since the glory days of that decade. Restored to its former gilt-and-marble splendor by Waldorf Astoria in 2009, it’s the crown jewel of what is now called the Central Business District. Tap into the past with a Ramos Gin Fizz ($13), one of New Orleans’s most renowned cocktails, in the famous, wood-paneled Sazerac Bar or by the rooftop pool.
Go minimal at Hotel le Marais (from $150), a small boutique hotel opened in the French Quarter last December. Instead of the often heavy and rococo décor of other area hotels, the rooms here feature sleek contemporary design that pays homage to Paris’s Marais district and New Orleans’s famous swamps with striking black-and-white portraits of local wetlands.
2. Where to Eat
Get a primer in local culinary argot at Patois, Aaron Burgau’s nouveau Orleans restaurant that doubles as the fictional Brulard restaurant on Tremé. After being hit hard by the oil spill and the resulting slowdown, the restaurant had to switch largely to west coast catches; today, however, the almond-covered whole fish, served with satsuma meuniere ($25), is back to being locally harvested redfish, served the same day it’s caught.
Scoop up local gulf tuna crudo with cucumber, saffron, and hazelnuts ($16), at Domenica, John Besh’s pizzeria-restaurant at the Roosevelt. Co-owner and chef Alon Shaya spent a year apprenticing in Italy and learning Mediterranean flavors before returning to meld them with local products, like wild mushrooms served with gnocchi ($14), and Louisiana veal served with arugula and lemon ($24).
Reap the benefits of loyalty at Red Fish Grill, a boisterous, bright, seafood restaurant on Bourbon Street. Throughout the spill, chef Brian Katz never switched from his Gulf suppliers which means today he’s given first pick for product like red snapper, served here glazed with mayhaw, a Southern fruit ($30).
Discover the depth of Gulf seafood and imagination at the Tennessee Williams-inspired Stella. Chef Scott Boswell, a Louisiana native, has worked in Tokyo, Florence, and Provence, and the globetrotting shows in his chef’s tasting menu ($125), which includes Louisiana Gulf shrimp and shiitake mushroom risotto with English peas and virgin olive oil, and Canadian lobster with American paddlefish caviar.
3. What to Do
Pick up a rod at the Lake Pontchartrain Trestle, where you’ll mingle with local fishermen and catch redfish and spotted trout. If you’re in need of a little guidance, let Captain Kenny Kreeger, of Lake Pontchartrain Charters (985-960-3068), pilot you out to the choice spots ($200 per person; two-person minimum) where fish populations are finally rebounding (thanks to a series of artificial reefs) since oil seeped into the basin in 2010.
Check out fresh mirliton and collard greens, freshly-caught red snapper, and sheepshead every Saturday at the Crescent City Farmers Market in the flowering Warehouse District. Though New Orleans used to bustle with markets, by 1995, when Crescent City opened, the only remnant was the largely potemkin French Market. Crescent City operates three days a week, but Saturday, its biggest day, offers everything from organic satsumas from the L’Hoste Family Farm in Braithwaite, to clover honey from Paw Paw’s Honey.
Skip a pork-laden meal at ever-popular Cochon for Cochon Butcher next door, where you can purchase a variety of artisanal meats, salumi, and sausages. Sandwiches include a pitch-perfect muffaletta with house-cured meats ($12), of course, while the deli case holds homemade headcheese by the pound ($10/lb) and fresh duck rillettes ($19/lb). Afterward, make a picnic out of your purchases at nearby Woldenburg Park to see tankers and steamboats chug up the Mississippi.
4. Insider’s Tip
Commander’s Palace gets knocked around a lot for being a tourist trap—which it is—but the excellent wine program and chef’s table are often overlooked. Drawing upon a selection of 2,500 wines, sommelier Dan Davis and chef Tory McPhail will craft a fully customized five- to eight-course meal with pairings for up to twelve people ($200 per person). Served at a table made of old wine boxes from the wine cellar’s extensive collection, the menu matches a progression of wines based on theme, region, or year.
5. Oddball Day
Spend a day exploring the city’s idiosyncratic establishments, both old and new. Bypass the French Quarter and head to Frenchmen Street, a less touristy version of Bourbon Street, for brunch at the original Praline Connection, where you can have fried soft-shell crawfish (($7-$9), a rich gumbo Zaire ($6), and crispy fried chicken livers ($8). Next, poke through the junk shops for old Mardi Gras uniforms at Le Garage Antiques and Clothing (1234 Decatur St.; 504-522-6639) and Collectible Antiques (1232 Decatur St.; 504-566-0399). Then, stock up on used books and old vinyl at Faubourg Martigny Bookstore, a neighborhood institution with a strong selection of LGBT titles. Afterward, channel New Orleans’s most famous witch, Marie Laveaux (buried at the Saint Louise Cemetery in a grave that’s been marked by admirers) at Witchy Living, New Orleans’s premiere witch boutique, where you can also explore herbs and essential oils. Later, have a happy hour orange-blossom sazerac ($9) at The Three Muses, a new bar where part-owner Sophie Lee sings standards nightly. Then make your way by foot or cab to the Garden District, another one of New Orleans’s up-and-coming neighborhoods. Eat in a renovated townhouse that houses Dominique’s on Madison, where chef Dominique Macquet (previously of Dominique’s) reprises his imaginative French-infused cuisine like roasted and cured leg of lamb “farci” with mint-oil whipped potatoes ($24) and wagyu beef with creole crème cheese stuffing ($9). Then, stop for chicory fleur de lys chocolates ($30/box) at haute sweet shop Sucré before heading to one of the city’s best dance clubs, Republic New Orleans, for one of their occasional BOUNCE nights, where recent performers have included Big Freedia and Rusty Lazer. Finish at 3 a.m. at Café du Monde, a tourist trap by day that transforms into a reliable Veselka-type establishment by night.
Check out The Historical Gumbo Trail for information on great restaurants across Louisiana, as well as superb oral histories about New Orleans’s most famous food.
Head to the online home of Gambit, an alternative weekly, for great arts listings and events.
The blog at Defend New Orleans (you may have seen their T-shirts on Brooklyn hipsters) is a good resource for music, food, and general NoLa happenings.
With a tagline of “Blood. Alcohol. Content,” NoLA Defender reads like The Awl of New Orleans.