This spring, there are so many options for fabulous, savvy dining. Whether you’re in the mood for cocktails, small plates, a filling brunch or the feeling of springtime in gay Paris, look to these fine restaurants and cocktail lounges for guiltless luxury.
Go Because: Antoine’s is the oldest family-run restaurant in America. It is the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller. Bing Crosby ate here; so did Pope John Paul II. Seminal gourmand M.F.K. Fisher declared it a sin to eat Oysters Rockefeller anywhere but at Antoine’s. So why aren’t you there already? Antoine’s offers myriad à la carte options, with the most decadent menu you’ll find in New Orleans. Sunday Jazz Brunch offers Bloody Marys at $5.75. Try the eggs Sardou, also invented at Antoine’s, and a side of pommes de terre soufflés – the puffy fried potatoes also made famous at this timeless restaurant. The Hermes Bar has happy hour everyday from 4 to 8 p.m. and features live music until 9 p.m.
Best Deal: The $20.12 prix fixe lunch menu. Choose from appetizer, entrée and dessert, such as shrimp bisque, veal Isabella and pineapple upside down cake. The jazz brunch special, at $29 per person, also features three courses with options such as a fresh spring salad with Louisiana strawberries and softshell crab Florentine, and includes a complimentary mimosa.
Hermes Bar’s happy hour also offers $2 domestic beer, $3 imports and $4 house brands.
When to Go: Brunch on Sundays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (reservations required); lunch Mondays through Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.; and happy hour from 4 to 8 p.m.
Contact: 730 St. Louis St., 581-4422, Antoines.com
THE GRILL ROOM AT WINDSOR COURT
Go Because: You want to indulge in their impressive wine collection, with over 600 labels, and the classy lunch menu that changes seasonally to offer the freshest ingredients available. Entrée selections include local and organically outsourced foods, like the Gulf fish sandwich on brioche with sliced pickles and a cured tomato slaw, and free-range chicken breast served with Swiss chard and bacon in an anise broth. While the Polo Lounge doesn’t do happy hour, the Cocktail Bar downstairs offers a “Classic Cocktail of the day” for $5 from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesdays through Fridays. Additionally, each guest of Cocktail Bar is welcomed with a booze amuse, a take on an amuse-bouche, featuring a cocktail or punch of the day.
Best Deal: Easter brunch is $85 per person, featuring both traditional and innovative options for appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert, all with an emphasis on the freshest and best local produce. Diners will have the challenge of choosing just one item for every course. The “Bacon and Egg” appetizer features pork belly, a Niman farm poached egg, parsnip and garlic chips. The “Crispy North Shore Soft Shell Crab” entrée comes over a baby heirloom tomato salad with sea beans and Opal basil in a white balsamic mignonette. You can add caviar and champagne for two to your brunch at an additional $100, which also comes with validated valet parking.
When to Go: Easter brunch, April 8 (reservations required); lunch Mondays through Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and Saturdays 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; happy hour in the Cocktail Bar, Tuesdays through Fridays, 5 to 7 p.m.
Contact: 300 Gravier St. (inside the Windsor Court Hotel), 523-6000, GrillRoomNewOrleans.com
Go Because: The historic French Quarter restaurant also offers the opulent French 75 Bar, manned by renowned bartender Chris Hannah, which was recently nominated for a James Beard Award and was also named one of the top five bars in America by Esquire magazine. In the bar, try the “Pisco Derby” – pisco, lavender syrup, lime and grapefruit juices. Sample from a menu of small plates, gougèrs and housemade charcuterie. In the restaurant, dine like a movie star with the best service in the city. If you’ve never had café brûlot, Arnaud’s is the place to try the glowing hot cauldron of voodoo brew that comes served with a side of history lesson.
Best Deal: Dixieland jazz accompanies a four-course prix fixe brunch menu (price varies based on entrée, with the average at $30) including Irish coffee or Arnaud’s coffee. Traditional appetizers include turtle soup, gumbo and oysters on the half-shell. Seafood abounds with entrées such as “Savory Crabmeat Cheesecake,” “Shrimp Clemenceau” and the decadent Gulf fish meunière featuring the freshest fish gently fried and topped with Arnaud’s signature meunière sauce accompanied by Brabant potatoes and fresh baby green beans. Save room for bananas Foster or crêpes suzette for two.
When To Go: Brunch Sundays, 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. (reservations required); the French 75 Bar is open daily at 5:30 p.m.
Contact: 813 Bienville St., 523-5433, ArnaudsRestaurant.com
Go Because: You miss Paris and dejeuner, and because the courtyard is decked with tropical plants and a fountain, tucked away in a quieter part of the French Quarter and perfect for springtime. The 200-year-old cottage boasts dining rooms alive with flowers, color and sunlight, as well as food that feeds your soul. It is impossible to leave here without a smile on your face. Chef Susan Spicer is a culinary legend, a member of the James Beard Hall of Fame and supposedly even a consultant for the chef storyline in “Treme.” Bayona, winner of numerous culinary awards, is a cure for all your ills, whether it’s wanderlust or just plain hunger.
Best Deal: Three-course lunch with complimentary champagne for only $24. Start with a goat cheese crouton with mushrooms in Madeira cream, or indulge in Bayona’s famous cream of garlic soup. While most menu items change daily to offer the freshest local foods possible, every dish here gives that feeling of falling in love again. Entrées range from deceivingly simple, such as sautéed sweetbreads with sherry mustard, to playfully innovative. Try the smoked duck with cashew-peanut butter and pepper jelly sandwich. With desserts like the almond and satsuma panna cotta with kumquat compote, you know you had better save room.
When To Go: Lunch special Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (reservations recommended).
Contact: 430 Dauphine St., 525-4455, Bayona.com
Go Because: Recently named one of the best bars in America by both Esquire and Travel & Leisure magazines, Bellocq is the brainchild of the owners and bartenders behind Cure. Neil Bodenheimer, Kirk Estopinal and Matthew Kohnke have created another innovative approach to mixology at this swank new hotspot located in the hip Hotel Modern, with emphasis on the finest aperitifs, digestifs and spirits. In honor of famed Storyville photographer Bellocq, the bar also features burlesque performances and other scandalous entertainment. Need food before or after you drink? Chef Dominique Macquet’s Tamarind is also located within the hotel and features a bevy of innovative Vietnamese cuisine with a French twist. Lunch specials abound, such as the banh mi and “Soup of the Day” for under $16 dollars – try the cured, confit Colorado lamb belly.
Best Deal: Happy Hour at Bellocq means drinking the finest craft cocktails you can find in the city at $5 per glass. Choose from specialties such as their Sazerac, Apple Brandy Sling, 19th Century Martini and the adventurous Rio De Janero Jockey Club. Sparkling, white and red Wines are also $5 a glass.
When To Go: Happy hour at Bellocq, Mondays through Thursdays, 5 to 7 p.m.
Contact: 936 St. Charles Ave. (inside The Hotel Modern), 962-0900, TheHotelModern.com/bellocq
SANTA FE TAPAS
Go Because: Known for their savory paella and an eccentric tapas menu, including pulpo gallega, bacaloa viscaina, Gulf fish escabeche and other dishes that are rarely found in New Orleans, this Garden District wine and food mecca is a perfect excuse to enjoy brunch, lunch or happy hour. Lunch goers will find a new spring menu that includes many seasonal favorites, new salads, sandwiches, quiches and rotisserie chicken. They are also home to another rarity: vegan brunch, lunch and dinner options. Not to mention a popular Thursday wine pairing, where six wines are paired with six “tapitas” and presented by wine experts and the executive chef, as well as live jazz on Saturdays.
Best Deal: Happy hour features two-for-one margaritas, a perfect pairing for Santa Fe classics like tenderloin tacos, enchiladas and fajitas, which are available on their lunch and dinner menus, as well as a slew vegan and vegetarian options.
When To Go: Jazz Brunch Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; brunch Sundays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; lunch Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; and happy hour daily, 4 to 6 p.m.
Contact: 1327 St. Charles Ave., 304-9915, SantaFeTapas.com