"New Orleans right now is like having a six-room house and, after the hurricane, only the living room is left," said writer Pableaux Johnson at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in Oxford, Miss., last month. The sense of community and hospitality endures. Here are five recommended restaurants in the Big Easy that are open and once again dazzling their guests.
A treasured locals hangout Uptown near Audubon Park, Clancy's offers contempo Creole with an emphasis on seafood. Cheeky fried oysters with brie is the requisite dish to jumpstart the evening. And go for anything (veal, soft-shell crab) scattered with lumpy crab meat. With a canny wine list and potent drinks, the bar's a good place to addle your senses. 6100 Annunciation St. 504-895-1111.
A trip to New Orleans is never complete for me without lunch or dinner at this Central Business District highlight. The dining room feels a bit starchy, but the genuine, look-you-in-the-eye servers put you at ease. This is a great place to try thinner-style Creole gumbo and fried frog legs, a local specialty (yes, they do taste like chicken). For dessert? Always the chocolate beignets. 701 St. Charles Ave. 504-524-4114. www.herbsaint.com.
Chef John Harris' food doesn't really have close associations with New Orleans culinary traditions -- but that doesn't mean his thoughtful cooking isn't worth the drive up Magazine Street. Start your meal at this tiny, Parisian-inspired bistro with the house cocktail, Lillet Blanc flavored with vanilla bean. In summertime, the corn soup with avocado and crab tempers the stifling heat. If the kitchen is serving black drum -- a firm, flaky fish -- order it. 3637 Magazine St. 504-895-1636. www.liletterestaurant.com.
John Besh's timeless, welcoming restaurant is a marriage of tradition and innovation. Mix and match your meal to get a combination of local and global flavors: One person at the table should indulge in the legendary gnocchi with crab meat and truffle starter, for example, while another orders the ham hock "soup and salad." (Hopefully, you'll come with folks who like to share.) Dinner is definitely a splurge, though consider the much more affordable lunch if you're on a budget. 301 Tchoupitoulas St. 504-299-9777. www.restaurantaugust.com.
Often when you're dining in a town different from your own, the front-of-the-house person who welcomes you makes as lasting an impression as the food you're eating. And JoAnn Clevenger, Upperline's owner and manager, makes a warmly memorable impact. Her chef, Ken Smith, makes mean fried green tomatoes, garlicky duck confit and a nicely nuanced shrimp curry. 1413 Upperline St. 504-891-9822. www.upperline.com.
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