Though she grew up in New Orleans, Cara Benson cultivated her pastry skills at the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. Homesickness soon kicked in, however, and after a year of working in Lower East Side kitchens, Cara moved back home to take the title of pastry chef at Muriel's Jackson Square. Three years later, Cara can be found in the kitchen of her own eatery, Tartine, where she draws on French culinary influences and her extensive pastry training to bake bread in-house. Ingredients such as onion marmalade, pickled carrots, and steak pistou grace these grains in the form of sandwiches and open-faced tartines, while daily-made bagels and quiche grace plates at breakfast. Meals unfold inside Tartine’s cozy dining room or on the back patio, which doubles as a teatime party locale capable of accommodating 30–45 people.
A Zagat-rated boutique restaurant named French Restaurant of the Year by New Orleans Magazine in 2009, Flaming Torch swaddles palates with menus of gourmet continental French cuisine. Chefs gather fresh, locally sourced ingredients to create brunch, lunch, and dinner menus that include imported-cheese plates, fish, pasta, and crepes that change daily. Diners pair entrees with a cadre of ever-rotating American and French wines. The intimate Victorian dining room, ideal for impressing a first date or bribing a traffic cop, is flush with natural light, dark-blue walls, wood accents, and crystal chandeliers.
As chefs simmer authentic New Orleans shrimp étouffée and watch gulf shrimp blacken, chicken and andouille-sausage gumbo bubbles in a pot nearby, filling the kitchen with a spicy aroma. Marigny Brasserie’s menu earned a "good to very good rating" across the board from Zagat, thanks in part to its menu of creole favorites and its wine list. Diners at the bar can peer over at a stained-glass inset of the Marigny Triangle, while those who choose to eat outside can catch a glimpse of Frenchmen Street in person. On some nights, guests can taste spicy shrimp while listening to musicians tune guitars and fill their maracas with fresh bees.
Chef Greg Picolo uses seasonal ingredients to whip up contemporary Creole cuisine with classic French and Italian touches for lunch and dinner. Evening appetizers include escargot and Louisiana crawfish bordelaise gnocchi ($15), as well as salads such as the house smoked salmon rillette topped with poached egg and toffika caviar, served with a caper remoulade ($12). Dinner entrees such as the roasted duck twirl duck confit, herb risotto, and sautéed spinach in a ballroom of seared foie gras and grilled peach jus ($36). Lunchers and brunchers can enjoy the B.L.T. salad, a melding of frisée lettuce, apple-smoked bacon, and hard-cooked egg served with a delicate creamy vinaigrette ($10 at lunch. The Bistro also boasts brunch specials on weekends and an extensive wine list to quench the palates of diners and housebroken lemurs.
Located in the Warehouse District, steps from the French Quarter's centuries-old streets, Tomas Bistro channels old-world traditions in a rustic former factory space. Chef Guy Sockrider's seasonal menus?which are crafted from local meats and Gulf seafood?marry classic Creole spices and French cooking techniques to create a fusion cuisine deeply rooted within New Orleans' unique history. The Zagat-rated bistro's warm walls, secluded patio, and well-stocked wine racks transcend the building's industrial origins, whisking patrons away to Parisian cafes without the stress of keeping the coat room stocked with magic carpets.
Justin Devillier was a star in NoLa's culinary scene well before he became a chef-testant on Top Chef: New Orleans—he was nominated for a James Beard award in both 2012 and 2013. At La Petite Grocery, he shows off his flair for simple, French-Southern cooking, whipping up dishes such as shellfish stew with collard greens.