Think the Nola is all about beignets and hurricane cocktails? Think again. Southern hospitality extends to an air of refinement when it comes to the jackets-encouraged dining scene, and there’s no shortage of fine French fare in the Big Easy, especially in and around the aptly named French Quarter. Check out these top French restaurants in New Orleans for an elegant experience that’s full of flavor.
With platings every bit as stunning as August’s crystal chandeliers, soaring ceilings, and lush fresh floral arrangements, the setting is every bit a feast for the eyes as what comes out of chef John Besh’s kitchen. The Louisiana native and James Beard Award winner — whose staff has also has been nominated for outstanding service — wows those who come here for special occasion dinners with locally-grilled peach salad, the most refined of shrimp etoufees, and, from the degustation menu (items from which can be ordered a la carte), the charred lamb with grilled eggplant, which may be worth the trip to New Orleans alone. Make a reservation at Restaurant August.
Want to get a taste of one of the city’s most famed toques without a hefty price tag? Stop in at Willa Jean’s, where Kelly Fields and Lisa White, who design all the baked goods for John Besh’s restaurant empire, have put together a menu with both unforgettably fluffy biscuits but also a few healthy nibbles to start the day off right, like avocado toast and grain bowls with poached eggs. There are also juices and slushies to temper the toasty NoLa temps, but the desserts here are the real superstars — don’t miss the cookies with vanilla-infused milk and key lime and strawberry shortcake with pistachio and cornmeal. Make a reservation at Willa Jean.
Looking for an alternative to the heavier, sauce-laden cuisine for which Nola is famed and a more modern space? Pêche’s locally caught, sustainable seafood, all artfully embellished with colorful herbs and zesty accoutrements, fits the bill. Jumbo Gulf shrimp get a reboot with a chili glaze and butter beans, and grilled tuna steak with olive relish wins over the locals who frequent here for either a sit-down meal or to enjoy the breeze at the first-come, first-served bar. Oysters (rotating daily) are also a popular treat for those who want to grab a quick bite before strolling through this charming neighborhood and its art galleries. Make a reservation at Pêche.
Crescent City may be all about the service, but at SoBou (South of Bourbon Street), the self-service wine bar is worth cheers’ing for. The all-star team of the Commander’s Palace family of restaurants here likes to say, “Food is always center stage, but stage right are the cocktails and stage left is the wine,” and there’s no shortage of visual or edible treats here. Don’t miss your chance to indulge in sweet potato beignets with foie gras fondue, stuffed quail, or bourbon-braised short ribs. Of course, anything in the Commander’s family needs to include brunch, and SoBou’s adds an extra kick in the form of (artful) burlesque with live music. Make a reservation at SouBou.