New Orleans had once been a favorite location for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s annual trade show. Nothing against Las Vegas, but the mix of swamp-deep food and musical roots can’t be duplicated in the Nevada desert. The NCTA had been planning on holding its 2006 show in New Orleans, but Hurricane Katrina scotched those plans. Cable vowed to do its part to help rebuild the city by bringing its top executives—and their expense accounts—back for the NCTA’s biggest get-together as quickly as possible.

The NCTA is making good on that promise, and will be hosting the Cable Show May 18-20 Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. That means you can do your part and stretch out at some of the finest restaurants this country has to offer. To help you do that, Chuck Klein Productions presents its top 10 NOLA eateries, with a few fast-food spots thrown in for good measure.

There’s no curfew in the Big Easy, and there are lots of late-night and all-night joints to explore. Note: This fun city has its share of unsafe neighborhoods. A good rule of thumb: If you’re venturing outside the heart of the French Quarter, take a cab. Most clubs will be glad to call you a taxi for the trip back, or just get a card from the driver who drops you off. Some drivers are amenable to sticking with you for the night for a flat rate that can be quite reasonable, and it’s a good way to go if club hopping is your thing. Take care and have a ball.

Keep in mind that here, as everywhere, clubs and dining establishments can open and close, change hours, dark nights, credit card policies and even move with very short notice. Many restaurants are closed Sunday or Monday or possibly even Tuesday. So do call each place that you plan on trying and, of course, don’t hesitate to mention CKP.

As before, this list is comprised of our personal favorites, plus those of local friends and associates. In addition, we’ve included input from national and local food critics, various city guides and calls to the establishments themselves.

We’ve used the following abbreviations to give you an idea of each restaurant’s location: CBD-Central Business District; GD-Garden District; FQ-French Quarter; FM-Faubourg Marigny; MC-Mid City; UT-Uptown; WD-Warehouse District.

While we have tried to make specific comments in the brief reviews, ratings, from K – KKKKK, are overall ratings, most heavily influenced by the food, but also factor in ambiance, décor and service. Our $ estimates are based on one dinner with a cocktail and tip: $ under $20; $$ $20 to $30; $$$ $30 to $40; $$$$ over $40.

We hope you enjoy our recommendations, and we’d like to hear from you about anything you especially loved or loathed. Plus, we’re always interested in any new finds you come across that are not in our guide. Let us know by phone, fax or e-mail (guide@ckponline.com). Also, remember, we post past and present guides at www.ckponline.com.

The Top 10

August– 301 Tchoupitoulas St. CBD (504) 299-9777 KKKKK $$$$: Brilliant chef-creator John Besh pretty much owns the No. 1 spot in town. The menu fuses a Mediterranean style with a Louisiana accent, and the results are food magic. Try the arugula salad with lavender-grilled figs, Serrano ham and goat cheese, then follow with the rabbit lasagne. For dessert, the goat milk cheesecake with rosemary-honey ice cream will leave you utterly fulfilled. Can’t say enough about what a great meal you’ll have here.

Bayona– 430 Dauphine St. FQ (504) 525-4455 KKKKK $$$$: As we explored the post-Katrina food scene, all of us at CKP exhaled a sigh of relief to find all-time fave Bayona quite intact and better than ever. Star chef Susan Spicer keeps things lively with genius combos like her lamb loin with goat cheese-zinfandel sauce and stellar desserts like the toasted pecan roulade with caramel mousse and pecan syrup. For flavors like you wouldn’t believe, we urge you to check this place out. The 200-year-old cottage setting is utterly enchanting.
Brigsten’s– 723 Dante St. UT (504) 861-7610 KKKK $$$+: One of the great dining traditions in New Orleans, Brigsten’s dusted itself off after Katrina, and continues to charm and delight its many and loyal fans. Set in a beautiful cottage, softly lit and cozy with Victorian furnishings, you always feel like you just came home when you dine here. Chef-owner Frank Brigsten is a quiet but mighty presence…dazzling in the kitchen, and on occasion strolling through the dining room to chat with and pamper the customers. Try the fresh catch seafood platter, which includes delicacies like grilled drum fish with shrimp and corn macque choux sauce, baked oysters Rockefeller and crabmeat thermidor.

Commander’s Palace– 1403 Washington Ave. GD (504) 899-8221 KKKKK $$$$+: A stellar 6 million dollar post-Katrina facelift made this legendary eatery even grander and more elegant than ever. Service is nearly psychic, and the haute Creole cuisine is impeccable. The atmosphere is both elegant and fun and it’s perfect for groups. If you’re in town for the weekend, try to make it for the jazz brunch. Reservations and a jacket are recommended.

Cuvée– St. James Hotel, 322 Magazine St. CBD (504) 587-9001 KKKK $$$$$: Cuvee gets raves all around for inspired contemporary Creole cuisine and an amazing wine list. The exposed brick walls and crisp linens create a sophisticated yet comfortable backdrop for intense flavors like a crepe filled with rabbit confit; a crème brulee of foie gras, apples and chevre; or braised veal cheeks with a roasted garlic and white bean puree.

Emeril’s– 800 Tchoupitoulas St. WD (504) 528-9393 KKKK $$$$: Bam! This is where celeb-chef Emeril Lagasse first struck out on his own. The rest, as they say, is history. It’s a first-class act with no pretension. If you can wrangle a reservation, you’ll be talking about your meal for the rest of your trip. A seat at the chef’s bar includes a heck of a culinary show. Jackets recommended.

Galatoire’s– 209 Bourbon St. FQ (504) 525-2021 KKKK $$$: After a century of serving, Galatoire’s still wows diners with decadent French Creole food and impeccable service. Start with turtle soup or the rich fried oysters and bacon in pastry and just try to save room for pompano topped with buttery lump crabmeat. Jacket and tie required at dinner and on Sundays.

Herbsaint– 701 St. Charles Ave. WD (504) 524-4114 KKKK $$$: Susan Spicer, of Bayona fame, is the talent behind this more affordable warehouse district find. Cuisine is French-American with a bit of Southern soul, and you can mix and match with their selection of small plates. Try the fried frog’s legs…simply divine. Also great, the cane-braised short ribs and the coconut macadamia nut pie. Local foodies (both budding and pro) adore Herbsaint.

New Orleans Grill (formerly The Grill Room)- Windsor Court Hotel, 300 Gravier St. CBD (504) 522-1992 KKKK $$$$+: The posh one. The exquisite décor, unforgettable haute New American cuisine, stellar service and 10,000-bottle wine list will knock your socks off. It was always a little too formal for Chuck, with so many top-notch, more relaxed places in town, but he never disputed that the Grill Room was a No. 1 dining experience. Now that the very talented Greg Sonnier (co-creator of legendary Gabrielle, which was sadly devastated by Katrina) is creating his magic in the kitchen, Chuck won’t miss it. To impress or just be impressed, this is the place. Dress up—everyone who’s anyone will be there.

Stella!– 1032 Chartres St. FC (504) 587-0091 KKKKK $$$$: The shout of a name might mislead you…Stella! is as warm and serene as a whisper, and the food is a dream. Chef Scott Boswell’s inventive New American cuisine gives more than a nod to local ingredients, with Stella-r dishes like veal and gulf shrimp dumplings, paneed veal loin and crispy veal sweetbreads and tandoori-spiced Atlantic salmon. You definitely want to consider the seven-course tasting menu and totally enjoy the creativity and artistry of the chef. Stella! is expensive, but nobody is complaining.

Following are four of the best known and fabulous fast-food spots, for those with trimmer expense accounts and those who know you don’t have to drop the big bucks for shattering meal.

Café du Monde– 813 Decatur St. FQ (504) 581-2914 KKK $: You haven’t done New Orleans till you’ve stopped by the city’s most famous open-air café for coffee and pastry. Watch the daily show that is the French Quarter, and enjoy a plate of warm and always fresh beignets (ben-YAYS)—puffs of deep-fried dough rolled in powdered sugar. The strong, chicory blend coffee will make you forget fancy coffee house cappuccinos and lattes. Open 24 hours.

Central Grocery Company– 23 Decatur St. FQ (504) 523-1620 KKK $: More of a deli than a restaurant, Central Grocery is home to the best muffaletta in town. This unique (and enormous) Nola sandwich features a crusty round bread filled with ham, salami, provolone, mozzarella and fabulous garlicky olive salad. One sandwich easily feeds two. Eat in on the Grocery’s bar stools, or take your goodies across the street to the riverfront.

Domilise’s Po-Boys– 5240 Annunciation St. UT (504) 899-9126 KKK $: Whether it’s juicy roast beef, fried shrimp or the traditional oyster po’ boy, no-frills Domilese gets our vote for the best po’ boys in town. Even the Neville Brothers stand in line here. Closed Thursdays and Sundays.

Felix’s Oyster Bar– 739 Iberville St. FQ (504) 522 4440 KKK $: Took a hit from Katrina but back up and running. A little noisy, a little sloppy, but the raw oysters are great and it stays open late. Stand at the bar and savor those yummy treats alongside a couple of icy beers. So good.

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