I received so much great information from this board, and I wanted to post a summary of my recent New Olreans trip in the hopes it might help someone else. This was our first trip to NO, and we had an AMAZING time! My husband and I were originally supposed to go in August, but our toddler got sick and ended up in the ER the night before our trip--no way we were going to leave him with Grandma as planned! Luckily, we were able to push the trip back by a few weeks. While the hotel was a little more expensive and things were a little more crowded than they would have been in August, the weather was a few degrees cooler, and it only rained the morning we left. So Friday morning we boarded a plane in Chicago and were eating po boys in NO by mid-afternoon!
We stayed at the Country Inn and Suites in the CBD. I was extremely pleased with the hotel. For our August trip I had booked the Hotel Monteleone, but a few weeks later it would have been hundreds of dollars more to stay there. It was definitely outside our budget! I'm sure the Hotel Monteleone is lovely (and HUGE props to them for being nice and letting us cancel at the last minute with no penalty), but the Country Inn was actually wonderful. The building isn't exactly luxurious, but it has more charm than the big newer hotels on Canal. I think it's in an old warehouse building, and they've kept some of the original brick walls, beams, etc. The room was fairly small (not miniscule, just cozy), but in an old city I expect that. I had asked for a quieter room because I had heard the rooms near the atrium can get loud, and they accomodated with a room in the back. No noise problems whatsoever! The bed was reasonably comfortable, the bathroom had plenty of counter space, everything was clean, and the staff was very friendly and helpful. They have a free daily breakfast buffet with your standard hotel food, though there was a bigger selection than you get in most free breakfast buffets. There is a TINY pool--just slightly bigger than a large hotel hot tub. As for the hotel location, we thought it was great. It was a totally reasonable walk to the French Quarter (maybe 10 minutes to the start, and 15-20 to really get further in). It's convenient to the Canal streetcar and not too far from the line along the river, and you can get to several major bus lines easily. To be honest, I liked that things were a bit calmer in the CBD. The French Quarter is pretty crazy, and while it was fun I was happy our hotel wasn't like that! We also spent a lot of time in the CBD, and the Country Inn was quite convenient for that. The area felt safe too, safer than some of the blocks further into the CBD. Overall, I thought the Country Inn was a great value, and I'd stay there again in a heartbeat.
Food was the real highlight of our trip. We LOVE food and restaurants, and we certainly took advantage of what NO has to offer! I had done tons of research in advance and had lists of places stored on my phone that looked interesting. Then, each morning we'd make plans for the day and choose from my list based on our mood and where were going to be. Worked quite well, and I felt like we got to try things we never would have tried if I hadn't done that pre-research.
On Friday, we had a late lunch at Mother's, which was just a couple blocks from our hotel. We split a roast beef po boy (we really enjoyed it, though I wouldn't say we loved it) and a cup of chicken and sausage gumbo (fantastic). It was quite a bit of food, and we were both full after. Our hotel room wasn't ready yet so we ended up going to W.I.N.O, a very nice wine bar in the area. We spent quite a bit of time there and got samples of probably a half dozen wines each. It is a great place--they have those pressurized wine taps that preserve the wine and let you select what size pour you want. Prices are clearly marked, and each wine had a description. They have some light snacks available (salami, hummus, etc) but we didn't have any. The owner was friendly and helpful. A lovely way to spend an afternoon! After we checked into our hotel and relaxed for a little while, we headed back out. Our first stop was Bellocq for their happy hour. They specialize in 19th century cocktails, which was kind of fun. I had the Port Cobbler--interesting to try but it was pretty sweet. Hubby had a champagne cocktail with orange liquer (can't remember the name), which was really outstanding. Then we walked on to Cochon for dinner. We loved it! We ordered 4 small plates--boudin (my personal fav), fried livers (cripsy, rich, and delicious), pork cheeks (the grits on the side were particularly incredible), and a special goat meatball (very tender and unctuous). For dessert we had some kind of banana pudding, which was also wonderful. The service was a little awkward--there were 2 servers handling our table though no one really explained that and we had to kind of puzzle it out ourselves. One was great but the other was kind of surly and odd. Still, that was a minor quibble, and overall we had an excellent experience.
Saturday we woke up early and had some fruit and coffee in the hotel before walking over to Cafe du Monde to split an order of beignets and cafe au lait, both of which we enjoyed. We spent a little time walking around the Quarter and French Market before hopping on the streetcar by the river and heading back to the hotel to drop off some purchases. Then we caught the Magazine bus and took it to Casamento's for lunch. I'm so glad we did! Great local place with customers who've obviously been coming there a long time. We had a half dozen raw oysters to start, and then split a small oyster loaf (I didn't love it, but hubby thought it was good), a cup of seafood gumbo (rich broth and tender, flavorful seafood), and fried crab claws (one of my fav dishes of the trip--I wish we had gotten a large order instead of a small one because these were seriously amazing). We each had an icy cold Abita Amber, perfect with the meal. When we were done it was getting pretty hot. We decided to walk over to Hansen's and get a snoball. Even though we got there just as they opened the door, we still had to wait in a line. Well worth it! I had the cream of nectar--so unique! While I wouldn't want one all the time because it's SO sweet, I was glad I got to try one, and it was quite refreshing in the heat. We walked around a bit more before catching the Magazine bus back to the hotel. After a couple hours of cool off time in the room, we went to Domenica for their happy hour, which we planned to use as an early dinner. We were very impressed with the restaurant and especially the happy hour. They have a list of cocktails, interesting wines, and pizzas for half price from 3-6 every day, including the weekend. We each had some lovely wines, and we ordered the Cotechino pizza, which had an amazingly flavorful pork sausage that literally melted in your mouth. The pizzas are neopolitan style and we thought the one we had was fantastic, even if we had paid regular price. (Pizzas were about $12 regular price I think. In chicago a place near our house makes similar pizzas that aren't nearly as good and charges $16, and there's no happy hour special!). We could have easily ordered two pizzas and made a meal for about $12, but we were greedy and wanted to try a meat and cheese plate too (not part of happy hour). We let the kitchen choose the selection, and they sent out some solid albeit mild proscuitto, a creamy and rich mozzarella di buffalo, and a heavenly liver mousse, which was so buttery we wanted to lick the dish clean! After dinner, we walked around the FQ some more (finally walked down Bourbon St, which was smelly, dirty, and obnoxious and definitely not our scene, but at least we can say we've seen it) and eventually took a pedi cab over to Snug Harbor for the 8pm show. The vocalist we saw was just ok, but the band was great, and the experience was wonderful. Snug shows are a little costly from what I saw, but you won't get pressured to buy food or drinks if you don't want to spend more. The focus is on listening to the music. If you want to actually hear and appreciate some jazz, it's a great choice!
Sunday was our splurge day. This trip was a celebration of our anniversary, so we decided to go all out on Sunday. We started with an early brunch at Brennan's. I had a brandy milk punch (I am sad they don't serve this up north anywhere because it's my new favorite brunch drink!) and hubby had a gin fizz (he's a gin hater but he liked this so much he had 2). We each ordered the prix fixe, which is a truly ridiculous amount of food. I started with the turtle soup (yummy) and my husband had the baked apple (we both loved it but agreed it's not an appetizer, it's a dessert). For my entree I had Eggs Shannon, which was fried trout, creamed spinach, a poached egg, and hollandaise. (I liked it but didn't love it, I felt like the spinach kind of overpowered things). My husband had the Eggs Bayou Lafourche, a poached egg with andouille and hollandaise (we both thought it was the better of our entrees). For dessert I had the famous bananas foster (tasty but no different than I've had it any other place) and hubby had the pecan pie (excellent). Service was spot on and everyone we encountered was friendly and helpful--even the bathroom attendant was delightful! I am glad we did the brunch, even though it was insanely over-the-top. After brunch we did some window shopping in the FQ and then decided to take a group carriage tour. We just went to the front of the carriage line up in Jackson Square--the driver we got was pretty good. He definitely seemed to know his history, and everywhere we went he was waving to someone he knew. Certainly a touristy activity, but it was nice to hear a little bit of history and get out of the sun for a while. By mid-afternoon we were both just a little hungry and since I still hadn't had the chance to try a muffaletta yet and Central Grocery was closed, we headed over to Cochon Butcher. We split a muffaletta, which we didn't quite finish. I really enjoyed the sandwich and wish I could have tasted the Central Grocery version. I was fascinated by Cochon Butcher too. So many fantastic looking sausages and meats! I would have loved to take some of it home with me. We then walked back to our hotel and took a food-induced nap. :)
Sunday evening, we started off by tasting some classic New Olreans cocktails. We started at the Sazerac Bar for a Sazerac and a Pimm's Cup, two drinks I will definitely be recreating at home. The Bar is just an amazing space too, with beautiful murals and a classy, old-fashioned vibe. I'd recommend you pop in there, even if you don't want a drink, because it's such a gorgeous space. Afterwards, we did some more walking around the FQ while waiting for dinner. We decided to stop at French 75 at Arnaud's to get their eponymous drink. I loved that bar as well. It's small and cozy, and it feels very chic and French (maybe not exactly authentic, but French with some added American glamor). We chatted with the great bartender and had just a lovely time! At this point it was time for our dinner reservations though, so we headed over to Muriel's on Jackson Square. The staff here was really superb. Our server and his assistants all had excellent knowledge of the menu. They were helpful with wine as well, and when they didn't know something they consulted with the sommelier and offered spot-on recommendations. For a starter, we had the crab imperial, which was rich, sweet, and amazing. (This was another dish where we had to refrain from licking the plate!) Next, I had the blackened redfish with a crab butter sauce. I wasn't sure what to expect but this seriously blew me away--it was so fresh and flavorful. The server recommended getting a crab cake on the side, and while I enjoyed it and thought it went well with the fish, I probably would have been ok without it too. Hubby had the BBQ shrimp, one of his favorite dishes and something he had looked forward to all trip. I am not a huge fan of shrimp so I only had one bite, but the sauce was fantastic and the cornbread was amazing soaking it all up. For dessert we had the warm apple cake. While chatting we had just casually mentioned to our server that we were celebrating our anniversary, so with dessert the restaurant gave us each a complimentary glass of dessert wine with our cake--great choice as it took the cake from great to fantastic. I thought it was a nice touch and definitely added to the already wonderful hospitality of the meal. At this point we weren't quite ready to head back, so we strolled over to the river and sat watching the ships and enjoying the cool breeze for a while. We agreed we wanted one last drink to remember NO, and we had such a nice time at French 75 we decided to head back there. A group of people came in after us and orderd this incredible flamed coffee drink (don't remember the name, unfortunately). The bartender put on a wonderful show, elaborately slicing an orange peel and studding it with cloves, then heating up the mixture, flaming it, and pouring the fire back and forth. It was quite a display and we were fascinated! After dishing it up for the party that ordered it, the bartender brought over two tiny glasses so we could sample it too. Certainly a great example of langiappe! The drink itself was ok--a spicey, holiday scented coffee. Nothing I'd order myself but I am delighted I got to see the show and even have a taste. A really magical way to end our last night in NO!
I will say this was one of the best vacations we have ever taken. New Orleans has so much history and the culture is unlike any other. Everywhere we looked we saw beautiful buildings, heard great music, saw people having fun. We didn't have a single bad or even mediocre meal. Frankly, the only disappointing food was the pralines I bought at the airport. (I had bought one praline at Evans in the FQ and it was so great. The ones from Praline Connection in the airport were not nearly as good--too hard, not enough pecans.) I was sad we didn't get to spend more time in other areas of the city. I would have liked to do more shopping on Magazine and get further into Uptown. We didn't see much of the Garden District, and I had hoped to get up to City Park, but we found we were better off taking it easy in the heat than pushing ourselves to see too much. I hope we can get back to the city again in a few years, because we certainly fell in love!