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NOLA, Revisited

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Story by Hope S. Philbrick

With new destinations awaiting exploration, some places get tossed into the “been there, done that” pile. But New Orleans, Louisiana lures me back again and again.

New Orleans feeds the soul like nowhere else. The smell of Cajun and Creole cuisine, sounds of jazz, beauty of art and architecture, and a festive vibe drift through the humid air in an intoxicating mix. Most inviting are the city’s friendly people: Walk into a bar or restaurant alone and before leaving you’ll likely have made a friend.

Each visit to New Orleans is a unique blend of a comfortable homecoming and the joy of discovery. Here’s a round-up of my favorite finds during my most recent visit.

Where2Stay

Even if you’re invited to stay in plush guest accommodations at a friend’s house, it’s difficult to pass up an opportunity to stay at The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. This upscale hotel seamlessly blends luxury and comfort, and serves up a range of amenities that meets needs you didn’t even realize you had. Designed with an eye for style that marches right up to the edge of opulent, you’ll feel like someone handed you the keys to the castle whether reclining in your guestroom, visiting the 25,000-square-foot spa, sitting in the restaurant or strolling through the spacious lobby. The convenient location on the edge of the French Quarter (on Canal Street, one block from Bourbon Street) ensures you’re never far from the action.

The Ritz-Carlton New Orleans
921 Canal Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
504-524-1331

Where2Eat

Eating is really the only excuse a person needs to visit New Orleans, since the city is one of the nation’s most renowned culinary hotspots. (While in Bergen, Norway, I spotted a “Louisiana Restaurant & Cajun Café”—proof enough that this particular American melting pot is adored far and wide.) But the famed traditional local dishes aren’t the only flavors that dazzle.

A Mano
870 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70130
504.208.9280

‘A Mano’ means by hand and that’s how Chef Adolfo Garcia and Chef Joshua Smith create their Italian cuisine. The menu showcases house-cured charcuterie, hand-crafted pastas and long-simmered sauces made from local, sustainable ingredients sourced from artisan suppliers. At the end of a meal here you’ll want to raise your hands in applause.

Charlie’s Sea Food
8311 Jefferson Hwy
Harahan, LA 70123
504.737.3700

This local favorite was originally opened in 1951 by Charles and Ruth Petrossi as Charles Sea Foods. Today it’s owned and operated by Frank and Marna Brigtsen of the award-winning Brigtsen’s Restaurant in Uptown New Orleans. Faced with the menu at Charlie’s, you’ll puzzle over two questions: Which items should you choose and were you accidentally handed an outdated menu listing yesteryear’s prices? The answer to the second question is, no, the food prices here are indeed surprisingly affordable. On the first question, you’re on your own—but rest assured, you can’t really go wrong whether you settle on a po’boy, fried seafood, grilled seafood, boiled seafood or any other option that catches your eye.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz & Sweet Shop, Inc.
4801 Tchoupitoulas Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
504.891.9788

One bite of a frozen treat at Hansen’s and you’ll feel transported back to childhood. Launched in 1939 by Ernest Hansen, who invented the first ice shaving machine that’s still used at the shop today, and his wife Mary, who created her own flavored syrups, these snow cones are fluffier and tastier than any others. Who knew a snow cone could be gourmet?

La Petite Grocery
4238 Magazine Street
New Orleans, LA 70115
504.891.3377

The food here is presented so artfully that, for a moment at least, you may not want to mess it up. But grab your fork and dig in because the creativity shines through in each delicious bite of the dishes created by Executive Chef Justin Devillier. His menu takes traditional local ingredients in creative new directions.

When2Go

Two distinctive annual events offer wine lovers and cocktail enthusiasts a double shot of NOLA’s festive atmosphere. Both offer opportunities to sip samples, meet with experts, attend educational seminars and mingle with like-minded enthusiasts.

New Orleans Wine & Food Experience

A bacchanalia for wine and food lovers, this event showcases dozens of local chefs (many of whom are nationally known), and shines a spotlight on regional ingredients. Thousands of wines and champagnes from over 175 wineries will be paired with food from more than 75 restaurants at various events throughout the extravaganza, which will next be held May 24-28, 2011. For more information, visit www.nowfe.com.

Tales of the Cocktail

A must for industry insiders and open to general cocktail enthusiasts, this event provides a unique forum to gather and discuss topics as varied as the merits of organic fresh-squeezed juice and the history behind specific cocktail recipes and distillation methods during dozens of seminars, tastings, meals, parties, competitions and more. Tales of the Cocktail will next be held July 20-24, 2011. For more information, visit www.talesofthecocktail.com.

How2GetThere

I’ve traveled from Atlanta to New Orleans by car, plane and train. I found Amtrak to be the most cost-effective option as well as, by far, the most pleasant means of transportation. Read more about the Crescent Line journey here.

4HomeCooks

The Sazerac is the official cocktail of New Orleans.

The Tuennerman’s Sippin’ Sazerac

2.5 oz. Sazerac straight rye whiskey
1 tsp Herbsaint
2 dashes Angostura bitters
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
1 sugar cube
1/2 tsp water
lemon peel for garnish

Put an old-fashioned glass in the freezer. In another one, muddle the sugar cube with the bitters and water. Add several small ice cubes and the Sazerac straight rye whiskey. Stir well. Remove the chilled glass from the freezer, put a teaspoon of Herbsaint into the glass, swirl around to coat the sides and spill out excess. Strain the chilled drink into this glass. Twist lemon peel over the top and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail, and her husband, restaurateur Paul Tuennerman. The couple co-hosts the weekly radio show “The Straight Pour” in New Orleans.

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