The holidays … Guests visit. Elaborate dinners are held every night. Whether you want to escape the family or you just need to improvise on some holiday cheer, saddling up to the restaurant bar downtown is always a good option, especially when a full and fabulous dinner menu is available.
If you’re taking in The Nutcracker at the Saenger Theatre or just strolling through the French Quarter, Marti’s is a wonderful choice for early or late-night bar dining. Open until midnight seven nights a week, the recently revamped restaurant (which many of you will remember from back in its hey day) has been lovingly restored by the Gautreau’s team. The bar area is dark, a bit of a man cave with an opulent twist. A large mural of City Park’s Peristyle remains behind the bar, and there are several tables bedecked in white linen awaiting diners or drinkers. Here you’ll fine wonderful service, a selective wine list and the perfect food to pair with it. Start with the deviled farm eggs , heaping with lump crabmeat and a little spice provided by a chile mayonnaise. Next, the crab fritters, perfectly fried and floating atop a caper aioli you might take for a better remoulade. A wealth of raw bar offerings (with an actual, visible raw bar) abound, with astonishing platters of seafood, including raw oysters. But chef Drew Lockett, a Louisiana native, has a knack for the meatier side of the menu, turning out perfectly tender steak, which seems like an easy feat, but this is the place to go for it. The grilled quail is a wintertime must, juicy and served with tender sage spaetzle, local mushrooms and a pommery mustard sauce.
Domenica doesn’t have loads of bar space, but it’s truly one of the best bars to dine at year-round and especially to take out-of-towners to during the holidays when the Roosevelt Hotel “decks the halls.” Catch the restaurant at an earlier or later dinner hour and you’ll be happy to saddle up to the bar for a wealth of craft cocktails and the same menu as the dining room. Here chef Alon Shaya’s menu truly shines during the winter months, with seasonal produce on display via daily specials and rustic Italian pastas and appetizers warming the heart for the holiday season. Folks with an evening to kill should order Domenica’s signature roasted cauliflower (served with sea salt and whipped goat feta), which is an absolute head-turner and a must for visiting guests, before strolling through the Roosevelt to the newly reopened Fountain Lounge for some live music (Thursdays-Saturdays) and a dozen oysters from the raw bar. Then mosey over to the Sazerac Bar for some classic cocktails – but make sure to have a reindeer drive your sleigh home.
Sainte Marie Brasserie has gone through some serious changes in the kitchen and at the bar in the past year, and now they’re heating up as one of the most promising restaurants in New Orleans. The cocktail program, overseen by Murf Reeves (formerly of Sylvain and Bar Tonique) features an array of drinks that will put some hair on your chest. From chartreuse specialties to barrel aged booze, Reeves and his team have a knack for creating classic and contemporary drinks perfect for pre-gaming, whether heading to the Superdome or to see A John Waters Christmas at the nearby Civic Theatre. In the kitchen, chef Kristen Essig has been gaining a lot of praise for her thoughtful approach to locally sourced bistro fare. Everything you thought you knew about bistro fare is turned on its head here, and for the better; a crab salad may come stuffed inside a tenderly cooked artichoke, or in a specialty affogato dessert the espresso might be replaced with a dark stout beer with notes of chocolate and coffee doused over a heaping sc oop of bier noir sorbetto. It is these fun elements that Essig uses to her advantage, making Sainte Marie Brasserie a hot spot for dinner and drinks.
The casual bar at Lucky Rooster is perfect for letting loose when it’s chilly outside if you order a Cajun Luau (with coconut hooch and fire-roasted agave syrup) along with the fiery hot Korean fried chicken wings.
Domenica: 123 Baronne St., 648-6020, DomenicaRestaurant.com
Lucky Rooster: 515 Baronne St., 529-LUCK (5825), LuckyRoosterNola.com
Marti’s: 1041 Dumaine St., 522-5478
Sainte Marie Brasserie: 930 Poydras St., 304-6988, SteMarieNola.com