Savoring Summer

Savoring SummerAs summer descends upon the city and nature sets the temperature to “broil,” the typically straightforward task of choosing a place to eat can be rendered onerous by the heat. Therefore, in an attempt to simplify the decision making process, we’ve posited some typical dining quandaries along with some proposed solutions. So get out there and get a bite to eat before summer smothers us all.

I have some friends in from out-of-town. What restaurants can I take them to that are not stuffy, but fun and full of local flavor?

Dick and Jenny’s on Tchoupitoulas Street is one option. Notable for changing up its offerings every few months, one recent highlight from chef James Leeming’s menu includes a grilled “pain perdu” of duck confit with apples and brie, paired with watercress and mango chutney. Appetizers consistently shine here as well, and it can be a wrenching decision to choose just one. Thankfully they offer an appetizer sampler entrée, which makes for a great way to experience a broad cross-section of their starters.

The raucous Jacques-Imo’s on Maple Street is another fun place. Despite sometimes uneven food, its vibrant energy and funky environs ensure that you and your guests will have a memorable evening. High-octane favorites here include the deep-fried roast beef poor boy and the alligator cheesecake. Also, a bonus of going with a larger group is that reservations can be made for parties of five or more, allowing you to bypass a wait that can pass the two-hour mark on weekends.

If you are looking for a place a bit more subdued but no less intriguing, consider the nearby Dante’s Kitchen. It maintains a somewhat similar eclectic atmosphere but without all the chaos. Look for local products to sneak their way onto the menu in imaginative ways, like its Barq’s root beer candied sweet potatoes. Dante’s offers a great (and reasonably priced) weekend brunch as well.

What restaurants are breaking the rules with cutting-edge menus right now?

Stella! stands out with its imaginative and ever-changing menu. Chef Scott Boswell constantly challenges himself by turning out appetizers like his “BLT” of foie gras, duck pâté, heirloom tomatoes, and smoked bacon scented with truffles and
100-year-old balsamic vinegar.

Chef Kevin Vizard of Vizard’s on the Avenue is notable for whimsically reengineering staid dishes. His “green eggs and ham,” featuring baby spinach, paneed egg, lardon, manchego cheese and roasted shallot vinaigrette, transforms a salad into something robust and playful. His scallop flan is another dish that presents familiar ingredients in unfamiliar ways.

At One Restaurant and Lounge in the Riverbend neighborhood, chef Scott Snodgrass paints from a broad palette of influences to create such entrées as a sesame-crusted halibut in a ginger and miso broth served with basmati rice and topped with squash blossoms. He keeps things grounded in regional influences as well, as seen in his cochon du lait entrée accompanied by pork cracklings and sweet and sour red cabbage. The open kitchen and energetic vibe quickly turned this place into a favorite destination.

Where can I get seafood that has not been meuniered, smothered with
crabmeat or otherwise blackened?

There are plenty of places you can order these traditional standards. A more difficult challenge is finding a seafood restaurant that eschews these preparations in favor of more variegated influences. RioMar in the Warehouse District is one. Chef Adolfo Garcia offers four different preparations of ceviche, including a tempestuous Panamanian version featuring habañero pepper. Can’t decide? Order the ceviche tasting, which offers a sampling of each. Bacalitos, or fried salt cod fritters, make for a tasty nosh, and the escabèche presents an intriguing flavor profile through the use of piquant ingredients such as caperberries.

GW Fins is another restaurant specializing in the fruits of the sea. Taking his cue from what’s available each day, chef Tenney Flynn creates daily specials built specifically around the best of what his purveyors have to offer. The menu changes constantly, but recent highlights include sautéed grouper with vanilla lobster jus, fennel and sugar snap peas. The smoked oyster appetizer maintains a steady presence on the menu and is not to be missed.

What is a good spot for patio dining?
A lush courtyard and terrific food are hallmarks of a quintessential New Orleans meal. Thankfully, there are plenty of places that satisfy these criteria. In the French Quarter, Bayona’s romantic courtyard adds a sultry lacquer to the dining experience. The oft-overlooked Martinique offers a jewel of a patio with high brick walls and elaborate plantings transporting guests to the French Caribbean as they dine just steps from the hustle and flow of Magazine Street.

Savoring SummerRioMar’s ceviche sampler

It is 1 a.m., but I don’t want cheese fries.
Where should I go?

Late-night dining options used to be fairly limited to stereotypical bar fare. Delachaise has taken bar dining to a new level with its well-composed menu offering pomme frites fried in duck fat and specials that can include seared foie gras in a balsamic reduction over a bed of ramp-studded grits. The extensive selection of wine and cocktails ensures that whatever you order can be matched with the perfect drink.

Where can I take out-of-town guests for a taste of traditional New Orleans dining?

Some restaurants define themselves through constantly reinventing their menus. Others are definitive for having perfected what they do over generations of refinement. Among such keepers of the flame are old-guard French and Creole establishments in the French Quarter such as Antoine’s. The nation’s oldest family-run restaurant, its elaborate dining rooms are infused with the patina of history. This is the birthplace of oysters Rockefeller, a dish which has spawned countless, pale imitations which invariably fail to measure up to the original. The souffléed potatoes make for a regal treat, as does the pompano Pontchartrain. Also, the accompanying sauces ordered á la carte let diners accessorize their entrée. Since Katrina, Antoine’s has expanded its service to include a Sunday jazz brunch.

Galatoire’s is another local institution steeped in tradition. Businessmen and women turn off their office lights early on Friday before heading out to lunch here, which tradition dictates shall stretch well into the afternoon. This restaurant is notable not for a celebrity chef but rather for a menu polished over the past 100 years through its four generations of family ownership. Dishes such as their poisson meuniére amandine showcase impeccable seafood served in classic preparations. Along with great cocktails and a waitstaff that can border on family, Galatoire’s remains a snapshot of old New Orleans elegance frozen in time.

Savoring SummerBrun Trumble serving at the Camellia Grill

I’m really glad this place is back.
The reopening of each remaining shuttered restaurant represents its own small victory for New Orleans. Notable places that have flung their doors open recently include Camellia Grill, under proud new ownership and following extensive renovation. Locals and tourists alike can now sit elbow to elbow at the crowded counter, enjoying freezes, omelets, pecan pie and camaraderie into the wee hours. Finally, Fortuna smiles upon us once again.

Where to eat:

713 St. Louis St.

430 Dauphine St.

Camellia Grill
626 S. Carrollton Ave.

Dante’s Kitchen
736 Dante St.

3442 St. Charles Ave.

Dick and Jenny’s
4501 Tchoupitoulas St.

209 Bourbon St.

GW Fins
808 Bienville St.

8324 Oak St.

5908 Magazine St.

One Restaurant and Lounge
8132 Hampson St.

800 S. Peters St.

1032 Chartres St.

Vizard’s on the Avenue
2203 St. Charles Ave.

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