Under sparkling chandeliers in a renovated four-story French-Creole warehouse, James Beard Award–winning chef John Besh, whose August empire has doubled in size post-Katrina, celebrates regional ingredients in French style. A devoted Louisiana resident, Besh is involved with artisanal producers and longtime area farmers, which means you might find a salad of heirloom beets with Allen Benton’s cherrywood bacon, mustard greens, quail eggs, and black-eyed pea croutons, or a sugar-and-spice duckling with Anson Mills heirloom Carolina corn grits, roasted duck foie gras, and quince.
Don’t let the phrase “contemporary Cajun” scare you; there’s no trickery about the food at Cochon. Devoted to protecting old-style traditions, chef/co-owners Donald Link and Stephen Stryjewski turn out splendid boudin, andouille, and smoked bacon, which you can also buy at the newly opened Butcher, located in the same building. Order absolutely anything: wood-fired oyster roast, ham hock with lima bean hopping John, catfish court bouillon. And whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the fresh chunk-pineapple and cornmeal upside-down cake, slightly sticky with caramel sauce. The last bite will haunt you for days.
Beignetrhymes with cliché for a reason: everybody hits Café Du Monde, a cornerstone of the historic French Market since 1862, sometime. Despite the crowds, it’s hard to find fault with the hot little pillows of sweet fried dough, served 24 hours a day, seven days a week (except Christmas Day).
Paris, Milan, New Orleans?It seems likely at ultrasleek patisserie Sucré, where you can rev up with a plate of delicate macarons or a chicory coffee–gelato shake. The NOLA Chocolate Collection includes evocative local flavors such as the Meuniere, brown butter and white chocolate ganache coated in dark chocolate; and the Magnolia, dark chocolate with pecan ganache, topped with a pecan half.
After Hours, Big Easy Style
Traces of voodoo have long seeped into New Orleans’s everyday life. So settle in at the International House hotel’s candlelit bar Loa and toast the divine spirits with a champagne-and–pear brandy Laveau 347, a cocktail honoring Marie Laveau, New Orleans’s legendary voodooienne, who’s buried in Tomb 347 in St. Louis Cemetery No.1, on the edge of the French Quarter.
The Columns Hotel, founded in 1883, is on the National Register of Historic Places and feels as haunted as hell. The creaky floorboards and dark corners of the Victorian Lounge give off a catacomb-like vibe. But meeting for a Sazerac, the city’s official cocktail as declared by the state legislature, on the mansion’s wide wooden porch facing the prettiest boulevard in the Garden District, is the perfect way to ease into—or out of—a long evening.
Francine Maroukian is a T+L contributing editor.