Restaurant Reviews - Dinner

Bayona Restaurant - The Bon Ton Cafe - Olivier's Creole Restaurant
Brigsten's -
The Red Fish Grill - The Pelican Club - Tujague's
Eating is serious business in New Orleans - It is one of the main attractions of the city. Our basic advice is NOT to eat anywhere that isn't recommended by someone else. So read up. Search the web for New Orleans Food. Have a list ready before you leave home. Everyone has heard of  Breakfast at Brennan's, Antoine's, & Commander's Palace and lately Emeril LaGasse's places around the city -- and these are certainly great places to eat (and a bit pricey too!) and shouldn't be missed. But we want to draw your attention to a few absolute gems of gastronomic wonderment - places that we think are just too good to pass up but often do not get the attention they deserve.

The food in New Orleans comes in all varieties as a result of the city's strategic historical and geographic locations, but the two cooking styles most associated with New Orleans are Cajun (Acadian) and Creole. Both are wonderful (one can have some pretty interesting conversations with locals about the differences between the two), but as far as we can tell, we seriously (but not exclusively) prefer Cajun recipes and Cajun fare, also sometimes known as Louisiana pot cooking, family cooking.

The following reviews constitute our most enjoyable big meals while dining in New Orleans.
We think everyone should start their First Big evening in New Orleans with a meal at Bayona Restaurant:

#1  Bayona Restaurant 430 Rue Dauphine 505-525-4455 - Last Visit March 2006 - Walk up Bourbon, left on Conti one block to Dauphine and right half a block to the Bayona sign.  Open for Lunch 11:30-2:00 M-F, Dinner 6:00-10:00 M-TH 6:00-11:00 F-S. Moderate to Expensive.    Bayona is the kind of place you want to savor. It could exist in any major city - San Francisco, New York, or Paris - and still be a standout. Thankfully, Chef Spicer's chosen Dauphine Street in the Quarter. Everyone here is committed to a rare, quality dining experience.  The atmosphere is friendly and the service is as good as it gets.  In a city that is reknown for pleasing the customer, that is saying something.  In the past, we made the reservations online from home about a week before we'd leave for the trip. When we checked into the Hotel Monteleone, we had a message waiting for us from Bayona just to confirm our time that evening. It was a nice way for people to let you know they are taking care of you.  This time, we called from home, just to make sure of the post-hurricane hours.  Chef Susan Spicer is a tireless campaigner for the restoration of New Orleans culture and cuisine, and it was a comfort to us to know she had reopened as soon as she could get the necessary permits cleared.
The Rooms- there are three dining rooms in this restaurant (we think it was a residence at one time). We were seated in the main dining room which was decorated with tasteful floral arrangements, including a little arrangment on our table.  There are two other rooms that are equally pleasing - one small room with four or so tables, and an upstairs room as well - and on nice evenings the staff opens the patio area for dining outside. 
The Service- We found the staff at Bayona very friendly and exceptionally helpful.  It is the mark of good waitstaff to always be ready to serve without hovering, and our waiter pleased us at every opportunity. Susie (being the adventurous diner that she is), ordered an appetizer which she found exceptional enough to note it to our waiter. On his next pass by our table, he had in hand a printed recipe for the dish to give her.  Never in a hurry, it seems like everyone working is having almost as much fun as we did.  At one point, while we were looking over desserts, apparently I was audibly indecisive.  Another member of the staff walking by our table stopped to offer some assistance.  I asked her which was her personal favorite, which she eagerly provided, and she stopped back by to see if her suggestion had met with approval.  This seems to happen with regularity, as if everyone is keenly interested that we are really enjoying our selections and ourselves.
We quickly found that, while we were never kept waiting, no one was in a particular hurry for us to move through the meal.  With service at this level, the food had better be good - and it is very, very good.  Count on at least 2 hours, and if you are lucky and take your time, you will remember this meal forever.
The Food -  Make no mistake, this is a different kind of restaurant for New Orleans or anywhere else. Our feeling that Chef Spicer is a thoughtful, adventurous artist is shared widely among many other foodies. Thankfully she's chosen Dauphine Street.  The term mediterranean has been used to describe her work, but that is too limiting.  Thoughtful, creative and surprising might come closer.

For appetizers, Susie had the goat cheese crouton with mushroom and madiera cream sauce. After the first bite she remarked that this was possibly the best appetizer she'd ever had in her life. I had the seared sea scallop with yellow pepper cream and portobello salad. Since we had a friend with us this last time, we had more tasting opportunities - oyster gratin with spinach, Italian sausage and grana breadcrumbs and a crawfish gratin in pastry. Of these, the Crouton and the crawfish pastry were our favorites so far.

For main courses, the grilled veal tenderloin with morells and polenta in a marsala sage sauce is perfectedly prepared. The sauteed Pacific salmon with choucroute and gewurztraminer sauce has been on the menu for many years, and for good reason.  The cider braised niman ranch pork shank with apples, turnips and mashed potatoes will easily please the toughest critic. Each of the ingredients played off the other in perfect balance. As close to having art for dinner as I've ever come.  

For desserts, we opted for two different chocolate treats which finished off the meal in just under 2 hours. On our way out, the manager stopped us to sign the guestbook and inquired if we'd been to the restaurant before. When we said it was our first time, but not our last, she asked if we'd like to take a business card and one of the menus for future reference. 
Bayona the first night and you'll have set the bar for all comparisons to come.-----/

#2. The Bon Ton Cafe (504) 524-3386 - 401 Magazine Street in the CBD about 2 blocks off Canal. Last Visit - March 2006 for lunch. Moderate
11am-2pm for lunch  - 5:00-9:30 pm for dinner on Fridays only during the reconstruction. Closed weekends.  . A short cab ride from the Quarter.
-A family owned dining establishment, with excellent, friendly service. This is a cajun family restaurant and they serve a cajun menu, with a specialty called Red Fish Bon Ton, which is perfectly prepared, and another known as Crab Imperial - a heavenly dish.  Their gumbo is as authentic as a cajun dawlin' and they do things to shrimp and crawfish that elevate these crustaceans to platonic levels.   As we understand the history of the Bon Ton, the restaurant got its start in the mid-1950s across the street from its current location. The idea was to serve the CBD lunch crowd a little bit of home with family cajun recipes. Fifty years later, that's still the focus here - including beans and rice on Mondays (if you don't know why, email us and we'll tell you). Do yourself a favor and make reservations for Friday dinner - or at least lunch during the week. You might have to wait a while at the bar, but it is worth the wait.

-The Room - Candle chandelier, shuttered windows, and nature paintings on exposed brick walls. Red checked tablecloths and plenty of atmosphere. Parking in the lot on Poydras during the day, and quarter meters on Magazine and Poydras.

-The Service - prompt, friendly and courteous, and happy, like most New Orleans family run restaurants. One of my old professors, Dr. Curry first took me there because his aunt (Evan's is the first cajun college professor I ever met) was a waitress there - still working after her first day in the 1950s..  With waitresses who stay on for 20 years or more, the management must be doing something right. Our waitress the previous time out said she was the newest person at the Bon Ton and was in her nineth year! 

-The Food - What I like to eat here is very specific. Ready? Crawfish dishes,   Right now, my favorite is on the Friday dinner menu only, but you need to order the Crawfish dinner:: which is a cup of file/okra based gumbo, crawfish tails with a tomato sauce, a crawfish omelet (think about this) crawfish etouffee and  crawfish Newburg. The dinner meals come with crusty french bread, dessert and coffee.For dessert, try their renown whiskey bread pudding with coffee. $26.Of course if you are out of the crawfish season (June through December) go for the Redfish Bon Ton. Crab Imperial will have you experiencing your taste buds like they were your new best friends.  The Lunch menu is equally tasty - This time out, we had the Shrimp Creole (plump Gulf shrimp in a butter sauce over rice), and crawfish etouffee (perfect).

#3 Olivier's Creole Restaurant -  204 Decatur - right across from the House of Blues. (504) 525-7734 Last Visit March 2006 - Very  Moderate$1/2
Olivier's has been serving the five generation old creole recipes of the family matrons for the past 29 years. Owner Armand Olivier, who regularly checks on those dining in the main room, and Chef Armand III, who is responsible for every plate that emerges from the kitchen, are interested in maintaining interest in Creole culture by serving delicious appetizers, entrees and desserts.  The main room is on the street level, and is decorated with exposed brick walls, appetizing lighting, and local art.  They set a handsome table as well. From the time of our first phone call for reservations to when we paid the bill and made our way out onto Decatur, everyone we talked to had insured the quality of our dining experience.  But the food ... that's the point, isn't it

Olivier's makes it a point to distinguish between different methods of food preparation, and this practice is embodied in their Gumbo Sampler, which consists of one cup each of Chef Armand's Creole Gumbo (thickened with roux), Papa Armand's File Gumbo, and Mama Cheryl's Okra Gumbo.  Additional country fare is offered - Creole Rabbit, Broiled Catfish, Breast of Duck, and Poulet au Frommage. On this our first, but not last, visit we began with a difficult choice of appetizers. We chose Pecan Breaded Oysters over the Eggplant with crab and crawfish-

Mr. Olivier remarked that, while the Oysters are great, had we chosen the eggplant, we'd be dancing by our chairs. For entree's, and in keeping with the distinction made here between Creole dishes and Cajun, Susan chose the Salmon and Crab Cakes from Mama Cheryl's kitchen, while I chose a Shrimp Creole from Mama Jeanne's.  Both were as tasty as the should be - seasoned and spiced just exactly right.  For deserts, we had a very light, almost creamy, Bread Pudding.

We can say this with complete assurance - we've eaten this good at few other restaurants in town, but never this good for this price, and never with this much good will behind our decision to dine.--/

#4 Brigsten's Restaurant - 723 Dante (in the Carrollton area) 504-861-7610 - Last Visit March 2006 - Moderate to Expensive $$$
The motto at the bottom of the menu at Brigsten's is "Rebuilding New Orleans - One Plate at a Time", and they sure are! Chef Frank Brigsten trained under Prudhomme, and hasn't stopped exercising his creative sense for fusing traditional methods, fresh local ingredients, and his imagination as far as we can tell.  Seven months after Katrina, and 14 miles out from the French Quarter, Brigsten's will be busy every night of the week - so make reservations, then call the day of and confirm.  The restaurant is in a house-converted-to-restaurant, but the dining rooms are decorated with whimsy and cajun artifacts. The waitstaff is attentive, friendly and willing to answer any quesition for those not too familiar with this kind of food.  And if you bring your camera, they don't mind you taking pictures of your food, or of each other - and they'll even pose for a group shot.

The food is otherworldly - almost essential to happy living, once you've tasted it. Chef Brigsten, who supervises all the cooking, is mindful of how food sounds as well as how it looks.   For example, for appetizers would you like to taste Pan-Fried Des Allemands Catfish with Stone Ground Jalapeno Cheese Grits, Sauce Piquante, Black Bean Salsa, & Avocado Sour Cream?  Well, I did and it was great.  The Shrimp Remoulade with Deviled Egg, Guacamole, & Mirliton was pretty good stuff too.  This night there was an additional appetizer not on the menu (my favorite news) - a crawfish with andouille in a cream sauce that made me happy I had a few more hours to live.

For entrees, chosing among the rabbit, quail, veal, and Kobe beef, Susan chose the  Roast Duck with Cornbread Dressing & Honey Pecan Gravy, I tend to stick with seafood and Brigsten's offers people like me a wonderment - Brigtsen's Seafood Platter, consisting of Grilled Drum Fish with Shrimp & Corn Macque Choux Sauce,Crabmeat Thermidor, Baked Oyster LaRuth, Baked Oyster Brigsten, Deviled Crab and an Eggplant Caponata.  Coffees and splitting a Cafe au Lait Creme Broule made for a perfect evening.  ---- /

#5 The Red Fish Grill - 115 Bourbon 504-598-1200 - Last Visit March 2006 - Moderate$$ We were a little skeptical at first - a seafood house on Bourbon Street? But this Brennan owned establishment has the family reputation behind it and Chef Greg Collier brings his varied and extensive experience to bear on every aspect of the restaurant (among other things, he comes out of Commander's Palace's kitchen).  The Room is expansive with concrete floors with etchings of fish carved throughout, wood paneled walls with seafood themed art hanging on them and from the ceiling - every aspect of the interior is designed to make the diner at home in a New Orleans Casual Seafood kind of way.  There are additional dining rooms (a River side and a Lake side area, and an Oyster Bar).  As we approached the main dining room doors, people were leaving and actually advising passers-by to go inside and eat something.

The restaurant is known for seafood - local, fresh, and good. Check out their menu online, but be warned - eat something first because it will excite your appetite.
This time out we had the
Red Fish Grill Signature BBQ Oysters, flash fried and tossed with a Crystal BBQ sauce and served with housemade blue cheese dressing. as appetizers.   For entree's - the Pecan Crusted Catfish, pan sautéed, served with a wild mushroom and English pea popcorn rice finished with Creole meuniére aioli, and the Hickory Grilled Redfish served with smoked pork pontalba potatoes, exotic mushrooms, and topped with Louisiana lump crabmeat and lemon butter sauce.  

This restaurant is a solid entry in the new New Orleans experience. We'll be back on every return trip. ---/

#6. The Pelican Club (504)523-1504 - 615 Bienville / 312 Exchange Alley. - Last Visit - March 2003 for Dinner - Moderate-Expensive$$$. Open at 6:00 -10:00 p.m. for dinner. Chefs Richard Hughes and Chin Ling combine Asian, Creole, and many other flavors into some truly unique dishes.  This was our Nov. 99 culinary surprise!!  A total dining experience.   The Room is Nicely lit - not moody or dark, but very pleasant - roomy chairs and crisp, white table cloths. There are three rooms - one a bit cozy and the larger front rooms. We felt quite welcome in either, but the cozy room is quieter.  The Service - Just terrific - the wait staff was first rate - attentive and unobtrusive.  Not one misstep for our somewhat troublesome party of five in '99 (Barb is a vegetarian, and Alan has a seafood allergy).  The Food - Start off with soups - traditional Louisiana seafood gumbo for some of us, others chose the crab and lobster bisque. Both were quite very good, though not exceptional (you expect great gumbo and get it). 

For a very special starter, do yourself a favor and try the PELICAN CLUB BAKED OYSTERS (Served on the half shell with apple smoked bacon, roasted red peppers, Parmesan and garlic herb butter).  Let me just say this again - For a very special starter, do yourself a favor and try the PELICAN CLUB BAKED OYSTERS .  

The entrees were remarkable!  The VEGETARIAN NAPOLEON Portobello mushroom, herbed goat cheese, roasted red peppers, spinach, grilled squash and zucchini, served with aged balsamic glaze and saffron risotto $19 This dish will ignite a steady series of  ah's and oh's. Our favorite is the PECAN & COCONUT CRUSTED TILAPIA with gulf shrimp, pineapple, peppers and onions. Served with new potatoes, stir fried vegetables, corn maque chou and a citrus beurre blanc $19. This was a thrilling constellation of tastes.  The filet of beef  is quite satisfying with its preparation and flavor.  For anyone interested in great value in the early evening, there's the 3 COURSE PRIX "EARLY DINNER"  5:00 - 6:00 PM NIGHTLY (ORDER MUST BE IN THE KITCHEN BY 6:00) All in all, this was a favorite dining experience for us - one we will revisit again and again. ----/

#7. Tujague's Est. 1856 - 525-8676 - 823 Decatur at Madison across from the Cafe du Monde on the edge of Jackson Square. Open 11:00-3:00 for Lunch 5:30-10:30pm for Dinner - Moderate$$  - Last Visit - Jan. '97.
Tujague's has this reputation for inconsistency and arrogant service (this out of the guidebooks!), but that has never been our experience. Over the years we've found the food to be very good and the allegedly snotty waiters have never materialized in our presence. Any place that's been in business for 135 years must be doing something right. Eating dinner at Tujague's requires dedication though, so plan 2 hours, take your time, and make an evening of it.  The Rooms - When you are told there'll be a wait, think of it as an opportunity. The cypress bar has a history all it's own, and if you are lucky, you'll have to have a drink here before being seated in one of the dining rooms. I've been seated near the front window, sequestered in nearly private back rooms and placed upstairs. Each time there was plenty of interesting memorabilia on the walls (i.e. newspaper clippings, family photos, tiny bottle collections) to enhance conversation. When we encounter sparkling, heavy silverware, gleaming white dishes, crisp white table cloths and comfortable arrangements, our confidence starts to build.  The Service - Waiters are attentive - hot french bread is replaced as it is consumed and your water glass stays full even when the place is crowded (These people know what they are doing!). The most telling impression we had is that no one is in a hurry, but the next course arrives exactly as you finish the previous one. Waiters have always answered our questions about the food preparation or the city with the serious pride of New Orleanians. We couldn't be happier with the way we were treated. The Food - They make choices simple at Tujagues. From their table hote menu, choose between two entrees (five courses for lunch and seven for dinner). French bread and butter, a small creole salad, a simply heavenly crab & spinach bisque, shrimp remoulade (their remoulade is nearly as famous as Arnaud's and every bit as tasty), Brisket with an exciting horseradish sauce, entree of fish or beef, a pretty good bread pudding (maybe not as good as BonTon's), and coffee to finish up. - Forget what the travel books say about this one - Every time we go we see local families and business people coming in and out of Tujague's with smiles on their faces.
Randy J., an experienced visitor to the city, recommends, if you aren't ready for a big meal, to "take Jimmy Buffet's advice and try Tujague's brisket sandwich in the bar for lunch - $7 or $8 for the sandwich which was plenty for two. We thought it was the best sandwich we had ever eaten -- the kind of impression that lingers for days like a good book ..."
#8. Here's some never-before-reviewed places
- suggested by Jennifer & Kipp in their own words ...Mr. B's Bistro - 201 Royal Street - a few local people told us about this restaurant & raved about their BBQ shrimp ...and it was... so delicious.  (We) also ordered the grilled shrimp salad & I have to say that it was the best grilled shrimp salad we have ever eaten! And to top it off, for desert, we had the white chocolate brownie with vanila ice cream. It was to die for!
Also Royal Cafe - 700 Royal Street, near St. Peter - a few local people told us about this restaurant as well.  We had dinner outside on their balcony.  The combination of the romantic setting & the best food made it our favorite dining experience.  For the appetizer, we ordered the Cresent City Boulette--crawfish tails within shredded potatoes with crawfish nantua sauce ($6.95).  This was definitely a tasty & unique appetizer.  Our entrees were the Rack of Baby Back Ribs ($19.95) and Louisiana Crab Cakes ($19.95).  They claim to have the best BBQ ribs & we believed them!  And the crab cakes were so tasty & filling. The best thing was desert--we ordered "New Orleans most famous desert"--Bananas Foster--freshly sliced bananas, banana liqueur, with vanila ice cream on top.  Even though we were full after eating our entrees, we ate the bananas foster to the last bite! they have a website at  and from Carole and Jamie from Australia. In their own words ...The top of our list is Emeril Lagasse's restaurant NOLA - 534 Royal Street - Telephone (504)522 6652. Emeril now has three restaurants in New Orleans (his third having only just opened) and they are probably all superb if NOLA is anything to go by. You MUST reserve a table well in advance as it is so popular, and confirm on the day (we saw someone disappointed because they hadn't done this though they did get a table later on). There is a ground level food bar with a view of the kitchen, and two upper dining rooms - lots of friendly, highly professional staff (again the baby was made very welcome), interesting photographs on the brick walls, and a noisy, happy atmosphere. The food is an interesting blend of local flavours with some classic French and Asian touches that make reading the menu an experience in itself. Carole opted for a set menu of a "Taste of Nola" - four smaller size courses that started with a Tuna Wellington, then a smoked duck salad, followed by a fillet mignon that she said just melted in the mouth, and a fried peach dessert with amazing chocolate sauce. The rest of us opted for appetisers and entrees and we were all delighted. With such a buildup you would expect it to be reasonably expensive ( entrees around $24, and the Taste of Nola was $42) but it was totally value for money and a wonderful place to celebrate our big night out in a very special city.--- Thanks guys!

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