The Greatest Escape

Excursions can mean extraordinary meals.

The salt baked crab from Kim Son

Steven Hronek

December is upon us. Friends and family come to town and suddenly you’re shuttling them around to the ends of the earth. Lucky for you, great meals can make any excursion seem like a holiday.

Westwego Seafood Market.

Why: The Westwego Seafood Market (100 Westbank Expressway, Westwego) is a great place for locals and visitors alike to experience Louisiana’s fishing heritage. Surrounding a gravel parking lot, families man their booths, sitting atop coolers that keep their day’s catch extremely fresh. Because it’s a sin to leave the market without a piece of fresh red snapper or pounds of live shrimp or crabs, you’ll want to eat lunch first and take your purchase home to enjoy for dinner. Families that learn how to clean a fish together stay together.

Dine at: Kim Son. Easy to access from the expressway on your way to the market, Kim Son is home to excellent Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine.

Any dish that’s “salt-baked,” such as squid, scallops or even tofu, is one to try. A heaping plate of salt-baked crab comes stacked high, a mountain of crab really, served with a large empty bowl and a large shell-cracking apparatus. The salt baked crab isn’t the food of first dates; it’s a dish you must work for and should, because it’s amazing, succulent and rewarding. It is a dish for friends and family who no longer care what they look like, who can have buttery sauce running down their faces, 14 napkins balled up around their plates and crab meat stuck under their fingernails and still have a conversation going. It is for those lucky few who understand that the road to happiness is paved with lots and lots of crab shells. Also, they have a killer mai tai, in case you’ve been dragged to the mall next door.

The Mahalia Jackson Theater.

Why: The lights on the big, bright sign for Louis Armstrong Park are reason enough to lure you in. On December 17 legendary singer-songwriter John Prine visits the performing arts center. Christmas week welcomes the Cirque Holidaze, an extravaganza of double-jointed elves and fire-eating Santas, or so I hope.

Dine at: The Rib Room. Offering a chic, French-centric, à la carte menu until December 24, this Omni Hotel staple will delight any Scrooge.

Executive chef Rene Bajeux (who was raised in Alsace Lorraine, France) summons his roots for the “simmer, sautes, santé” menu, exploring classic dishes such as a duck and walnut pâté with fig compote or escargot with basil garlic butter and Pernod. A roasted half-duck with root vegetables, sweet potato and thyme jus will warm you up for that brisk walk (or pedicab ride) through the French Quarter.

The Roosevelt New Orleans.

Why: Not visiting the Roosevelt New Orleans during the holidays is a mistake. A leisurely stroll through the marvelously ritzy lobby offers a warm respite from Canal Street’s heavy foot traffic, and it’s free. Family photos are a “must” in these decked marble halls with snow-covered trees and gorgeous chandeliers. The Sazerac Bar serves up Huey P. Long’s favorite stress reliever, and loyal denizens often dress to impress.

Dine at: Domenica. A selection of crispy wood-fired, oven-baked pizzas are sure to please groups with picky eaters. Foodies can opt
for more refined flavors – clam and garlic pizza, or wild mushroom pizza with fontina, bacon and yard egg. Every day from 3 to 7 p.m., Domenica offers a happy hour with half-price all pizzas, wines by the glass, beer and selected cocktails. Pizzas can also be ordered to-go, if you’re
on the run.

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