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.
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.
The crisp white tablecloths and wine-colored walls might evoke Paris, but chef-owner John Harris's cuisine can't be contained within a single country's borders. The menu combines French and Italian traditions, yielding unique dishes such as roasted Muscovy duck with cauliflower polonaise, and crab claws with passionfruit butter.
It would be easy to feel lost inside Antoine's. The 14 dining rooms can seat 700, and the menu is printed in French. Luckily, the homey surroundings—the restaurant is housed in a mansion—and rich potato soufflés will make you feel welcome, as will a baked alaska emblazoned with your name.
Not much has changed at this 110-year-old institution since the days when Tennessee Williams was a regular. Visitors are still required to wear jackets, and waiters still wear tuxedos as they ferry oysters rockefeller, turtle soup, and shrimp rémoulade around the fleur-de-lis bedecked dining room.