New Orleans is deeply tied to its French roots, whether you're looking at architecture, culture or food. Since this is a city all about food, mining its French roots is something many a chef explores. The Creole cuisine that is such a New Orleans hallmark traces its evolution in part to the European settlers who landed here back in the 17th and 18th centuries, many coming equipped with their own personal chefs.
The French kitchen flourished in New Orleans, influenced by other cooking styles as well as infromed by the bounty of fresh seafood and produce that abounded. Today's array of French restaurants, most with a Creole accent, satisfy the Francophile's cravings.
Visitors hungry for le petit déjeuner (breakfast) can check out La Boulangerie for excellent cafe au lait and chocolate croissants. Around lunch time, Lilette can be great for a cocktail and a steak frites. When the sun sets and the stars rise over the Mississippi, it's time for le dîner, with Luke one place for traditional bistro fare.
Wine is as important as what's on the menu, so you can expect hefty lists and informed wine service at most of these spots. Service in general will be excellent, whether you're just nibbling or in for a gourmet affair.
The shadow that Antoine's casts in New Orleans can't be underestimated. The oldest continuously operating restaurant in America, Antoine's is still run by its founding family. In honor of its anniversary, guests can order a special five-course classic menu that serves up an edible history of French Creole dining, dishes like soufflé potatoes, oyster Rockefeller and seafood gumbo. The decor is spaciously elegant and, even though Antoine's still prints its menu in French, the staff is more than eager to help. Check out Antoine's in the French Quarter (between Bourbon and Royal) during your New Orleans stay. Post dinner you'll be calling the Mississippi the Seine.
La Boulangerie is hybrid bakery/cafe located on Magazine Street in New Orleans. The kitchen specializes in traditional French pastries and breads that are on display at the counter. For breakfast, coffee and a chocolate filled croissant can make a great start to a day in the Garden District. For lunch, try a quiche or a mouth watering sandwich on a freshly baked baguette. The whole decor of La Boulangerie is Parisian modeled. It's the type of place you could come to at 6 am with your laptop and stay til 6 pm, enjoying coffee, treats and French fare throughout the day.
If it's a truly French brasserie setting you crave with the emphasis on locally sourced seafood and Southern hospitality, you've come to the right spot. Offering a trendy, convivial atmosphere, top notch service and an extensive raw bars to boot, Luke is a dream come true for shellfish enthusiasts. If selections like fresh local oysters and littleneck clams don't pique your appetite, choose from a host of other menu items like the local crabmeat omelet or the signature Luke burger. If Personable bartenders are always in the house, and the drinks are top shelf. Prices are a little spendy, but a daily $17 special includes a cup of soup and entrees like Tabasco honey fried chicken and cochon de lait jambalaya.
La Petite Grocery leaves the sugary powdered beignets to the Cafe du Mondes of the world, taking its own approach to the beignet. La Petite stuffs their doughy morsels with blue crab and tops them with a savory roumalade. These are a must order appetizer when you visit La Petite Grocery for lunch, dinner or brunch. Positioned on Magazine Street, La Petite is often void of the long wait times associated with other popular local restaurants. If you do find yourself waiting a little bit, you can grab a drink from their innovative cocktail menu and soak in the historic decor of the property.
Cafe Degas is a European style French bistro housed in the leafy Bayou St. John neighborhood along the Esplanade Ridge. A metal-roofed porch enclosed in plastic houses the quirky dining room. Ceiling fans and metal garden tables and chairs with tapestry cushions flank the tight but charming space. Bloody Marys and mimosas compliment the delicious brunch specials that might include seafood crepes, grillades and grits, and calf's liver and sweetbreads. At dinner, you'll enjoy classic French bistro fare. If you're lucky the French dessert that translates to something like floating islands will be on the daily menu, irresistible dollops of meringue floating on a sea of vanilla custard.
Lilette is a decadent French restaurant situated on Magazine Street. Stellar cuisine and a hip cocktail bar make this a sexy destination for a varied crowd of locals and couples on date night. Tempting bites – like eggplant crisps with skordalia, oven-dried roma tomatoes, basil and oil cured olive line the menu. The grilled veal paillard comes served with broccoli raab, almonds, homemade ricotta toast and garlic parsley butter. The one-pound seared Kobe rib eye is a decadent beefy indulgence worth sharing. The wine list includes more than 50 wines, with 11 varieties available by the glass. Sit in the garden if the weather permits.
Patois translates to "local accent", which is fitting for a restaurant that blends French culinary traditions with New Orleans flare and ingredients. Founded by Chef Aaron Burgau, the Uptown restaurant is noted for serving dishes like the Mississippi Rabbit and Hanger Steak at reasonable prices relative to the competition. Patois, housed in a quaint building in Uptown New Orleans near Audubon Park, offers an always intimate and unhurried experience. The local crowd is always lively - read a bit on the noisy side - but the welcome is warm and cuisine always divine. The crispy boudin stuffed chicken and lamb vindaloo are two examples of chef de cuisine Jonathan Lomonaco's tasty handiwork.
Chef Donald Link, whose restaurant holdings include Cochon, Cochon Butcher and Peche, conceives robust modern French fare on Saint Charles Avenue not far from Lafayette Square. In a setting that's casually elegant, chef de cuisine Rebecca Wilcomb heads a kitchen that delivers inspired small plates that deserve careful study - try the Louisiana shrimp with roasted chili grits, okra and mushrooms or any of the housemade pastas, a recent spaghetti with guanciale and fried-poached farm egg was especially memorable. Another winner, the roasted Kurobuta pork belly with black olives and arugula. The wine list is thoughtfully compiled and reasonably priced, including the interesting option of seasonal flights.
Here are a few things N7, the hidden gem of a French restaurant in the upper 9th ward doesn't have: a phone, live music, creole cuisine, New Orleans-inspired decor, a website. Now here's what you will get if you track down this unassuming bistro tucked behind a wooden fence just off of St. Claude Avenue: a gorgeous, candlelit courtyard complete with an old Citroen off to one side; cool retro meets French pop music; a menu that includes expected favorites like steak au poivre and mussels, along with the unexpected presence of mostly imported seafood in a can - think smoked sardines, spiced calamari, escabeche. There's a good rose by the glass, a nice wine list overall and a small bar at which to drink same. N7 is the roadway that goes between Paris and the Italian border, but you probably already know that.
La Provence absolutely justifies the 40-minute drive from New Orleans. Located across Lake Pontchartrain in Lacombe, the restaurant features an intimate farmhouse vibe that could easily conjure memories of the South of France. The chef savors seclusion from New Orleans, and La Provence's out of the way spot only enhances its charm. Meals frequently commence with a series of pâtés and languish well into the evening. Entrees take their inspiration from fine French and Creole cuisines, and service is well above par. Dishes, often infused with greens and herbs from the kitchen garden, include a daily three course seasonal market menu. La Provence is a John Besh restaurant that lives up to its reputation as a culinary destination across the lake.