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Carousel Bar & Criollo Restaurant

New Orleans: classic and cutting edge

In a city famous for letting the good times roll (Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Wine and Food Experience, anyone?), New Orleans boasts a gastronomic fusion of French, Spanish, and African flavors. Some cutting-edge new, some timeless classics (2012 marks 200 years of statehood for Louisiana), the dining options are skewing more sophisticated than ever, and there’s no better time to make a foodie pilgrimage. — Janet Thomas

M Bistro at the Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans, 921 Canal Street, (504) 524-1331, ritzcarlton.com/neworleans
Executive chef Vinny Russo describes his style of cooking as “fresh, flavorful, inviting, and simplistic.” A master at preparing fish, he infuses Italian, French, and Asian
influences into the cuisine. Signature dishes include cajun benedict, rabbit confit, oysters Bienville, frog legs, and roasted cobia. Dine in style at the chef’s table in the kitchen, at one of three velvet-draped booths, or in the semi-private wine room. Or time it right at M Bistro’s main dining room and you can be serenaded by Jeremy Davenport, the hotel’s headline entertainer.

Sainte Marie Brasserie's Crawfish Mac & Cheese

4oz. cooked macaroni
3 oz. crawfish
1 TBL of butter
2oz. Gruyere
2oz. Bechamel
2oz. Cream
drizzle of truffle oil
1 oz. peas
pinch of garlic
pinch of shallots
salt and pepper to taste
1 TBL breadcrumbs

Start with a hot pan. Melt butter in pan. Add shallots and garlic, sauté until brown. Add crawfish and peas. Cook for 2 minutes. Add your cream, béchamel, and macaroni. Mix ingredients in pan. Add gruyere cheese, salt and pepper. Simmer till cheese melts. Mix well to maintain creamy texture. Add truffle oil. Top with breadcrumbs and put into a preheated 450 degree oven to brown the top!

Restaurant R’evolution, Royal Sonesta Hotel New Orleans, 777 Bienville Street, (504) 553-2277, revolutionnola.com, sonesta.com/royalneworleans
Chef John Folse wrote the book on Cajun and Creole cuisine — literally (an 852-page encyclopedia, plus several others, to be precise). His latest achievement is Restaurant R’evolution, opened with friend and co-executive chef Rick Tramonto. Savor specialties like taffy apple foie gras, sheep ricotta gnocchi with lobster, charcuterie boards, and caviar staircases in one of seven impressive dining spaces, each cleverly depicting a different room in a Creole mansion. While at the iconic Royal Sonesta, don’t miss the powerful show at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, especially when Grammy- and Billboard Award-winning jazz trumpeter Irvin Mayfield takes the stage.

Sainte Marie Brasserie, 930 Poydras, (504) 304-6988, stemarienola.com
Located in New Orleans’ Central Business District, Sainte Marie is a modern French brasserie inspired by the legendary champagne houses of France. Sample innovative dishes like spicy tuna tartare and an exquisite lobster (or crawfish when it’s in season) mac & cheese (see celebratedliving.com for the recipe!). In a nod to history, New Orleans-based artist Tommy Hebert hand-painted a map on the walls that gives diners an idea of the city’s engineering layout during the 1800s.

Galatoire’s Restaurant, 209 Bourbon Street, (504) 525-2021, galatoires.com
To “lunch” at Galatoire’s, especially on a highly coveted Friday, is to experience a culinary rite of passage, a social achievement, a delightfully bona fide event. Lines of locals and tourists dress up — and queue up — early for the famed oysters rockefeller, delicate trout meunière, and melt-in-your-mouth soufflé potatoes. This hours-long, time-honored tradition has been going on in the heart of the French Quarter for more than a century.

Carousel Bar & Criollo Restaurant, both in the Hotel Monteleone, 214 Royal Street, (504) 523-3341, hotelmonteleone.com
The historic Hotel Monteleone recently completed a $25 million renovation and expansion, including a facelift of the famous Carousel Bar & Lounge (fear not — the actual carousel on the revolving bar remains the same). A lovely addition is the new Criollo Restaurant & Lounge, featuring a menu infused with traditional Creole flavors of French, Spanish, Italian, Caribbean, and African.