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.
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 Jonah Nissenbaum'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.
When Shakespeare imagined a den of witches, he saw them gathered around boiling pots, cackling and talking, casting raw morsels into their cauldrons from the ends of long, sharp sticks. Time revealed his vision to belong to something far less sinister: the bard simply foresaw the fondue restaurant. Today, hundreds of people gather at The Melting Pot’s more than 140 North American locations to cast romantic spells over one another as they share sweets, breads, vegetables, and meats doused in liquid chocolate, melted cheese, or flavored oil. They all wield double-pronged spears—or fondue forks—to suspend the tasty morsels of their choice in the ambrosial liquids before them, which are cleverly heated by stovetops built into each and every table in The Melting Pot's restaurants. The chefs prepare most platters in sizes best shared by two, making the venue ideal for date nights or reunions with twins who left 10 years ago to study the art of fondue.
At The Melting Pot of Baton Rouge, staffers use the restaurant to invest in their community as well. They host charity events, school fundraisers, and even run a program to reward straight-A students with a free fondue dinner.
Chefs at Randazzo’s Family Restaurant drizzle marinara and alfredo sauces on classic Italian pastas and stack fillings such as oyster and soft-shell crab on seafood platters and po' boy buns. Amorous foam fingers slow dance in the glow of several big-screen TVs as waiters plate omelets and other breakfast fare on weekends, and Pac-Man eternally munches his lunch in an attached game room. Randazzo’s catering can also serve up hearty trays of golden appetizers or large pasta pans each capable of serving up to 20 people or five hungry barbershop quartets.