First some quick background - I've been a fan of the forum for years, but have never before posted. I used the community a few years ago to plan my 10-year anniversary dining throughout Scotland, and was really impressed with the recommendations made on this board. This has become my go-to forum for special trips.
I just got back from a 4-day reunion in NOLA with some high school buddies in honor of our 40th birthdays this year. I spent a lot of time reading these threads to distill the suggestions into a broad mix of experiences and prices. I tried to select the top recommendations, which boiled down to the following list: Clancy's, Commander's Palace, Luke, Casamento's, GW Fins, Johnny's, Galatoire's, and Cafe du Monde. Here is my report.
The first night we arrived and ate at Clancy's. This restaurant doesn't seem like it "belongs" as it's dropped right in the middle of what seems like a residential zone. We were driving through neighborhoods and were sure our GPS was giving us incorrect directions, when suddenly we discovered the restaurant at the corner. They had an extensive bar, but no beers on tap - so my Guinness came from a bottle, as did my friends' drinks. They offered us the option of sitting upstairs, but it was late and the crowd was thinning, so we opted to wait for a table downstairs. I ordered the Red snapper which was _delicious_. It was a balanced seafood flavor with some butter, and light but distinct spices. I like fish, but this was simply amazing. Even the bread served on the side was fantastic. It was a terrific start to the vacation, and not too expensive given the quality of the food. This was probably in the top 2 meals I ate in NOLA, and I would easily (easily) eat there again.
The next day we had lunch at Commander's Palace. Per the recommendations I called ahead and made reservations. We took a streetcar so we wouldn't have to drive and park, and though it was raining we were seated in the Garden Room when we got there. They brought us through the kitchen on the way to the table, and they were in the process of filming a documentary there so they had a camera crew around (but it wasn't intrusive). It actually added to the ambiance ("if they film documentaries about it, it must be good!"). We had our fill of the no-more-than-three $0.25 martinis, and I ordered the Turtle Soup as had been advised. It was good, but the sherry was a bit strong for me, and made the overall dish a little tart for my taste. For the main course I ordered the Caramelized Quail, which was exquisite. It was prepared with a coffee glaze and served on asparagus. The bird was de-boned except for the drumsticks (how do they even do that?) Every bite was an experience. My friends ordered some of the other dishes, and we each shared. We all agreed the quail was by far the best. The service was also something to marvel at. The waiter was attentive, friendly, and engaging. In addition to helping with the menu, he also shared some recommendations for other nearby places, as well as the path to becoming a waiter there. He wasn't the least bit snooty as you might expect in a high-end restaurant. Presentation is a key part of the "show" there - when they came out to serve us four waiters would come at once holding our plates, and then put them down in front of us simultaneously. When our 6" glass of water was sipped, bringing it down to 5.8", they would come and swap out the _entire glass_ with another one that was completely full. When you think about the extra kitchen duty that simple step drives, you realize they put a premium on presentation. The food looked beautiful, and tasted delicious. For desert I had the vanilla bread custard with brandy, which put me over the moon. It was expensive, but surely better than dinner prices, and a real experience not to be missed. It's simply as good as advertised on the forum here. Afterward we walked through the traditional New Orleans cemetery right across the way, and it really is as spooky (and fun) as it seems in the movies.
That night we decided to eat at Luke, and had the $0.75 oysters as an appetizer. We ordered 18 to be shared. When they were done I wished we had ordered more. The oysters were briny but smooth, and when paired with a cracker or sauce went down overly easy. You could make a whole dinner out of just eating those. The horseradish sauce was powerful, stinging the top of my nose and bringing tears to my eyes with every bite. So I had it with almost every one of my oysters. Luke also serves half price happy hour drinks from 3-6, and since we got there at 5:45 they allowed us to "round" the timing so that we could get one more set of drinks at half price after 6 PM. The vibe in there was much more "modern chic" than either Clancy's or Commander's, but still relatively casual.
For Friday we tried very hard to do Galatoire's at lunch. As someone else on the board recommended we got there at 11:30 AM since we didn't want to do the reservations for upstairs, but instead wanted to be in the main room which is first-come. The line goes down the street, and the clientele dress up for the brunch. I don't mean dress up in a traditional suit and tie, I mean dress up like southerners or dandys (and I really don't mean that derogatorily). i.e. The men are wearing spats, bowties, colorful pocket kerchiefs, and jackets on nice slacks. The women are wearing formal dresses and are all made up to be elegant. We were wearing jackets, but on nice jeans. I would say we stuck out like the visitors that we were. Unfortunately apparently people start getting on a waiting list hours before, though I didn't see much of a line at 11:30 when we got there, so the Maitre-D informed us that we would be able to eat there. It does look like it would be a unique experience, but it didn't work out for us. As a result our lunch plans got reset, and we had to settle for an entirely ordinary pizza due to plans we couldn't move.
For dinner we went to GW Fins. Since we were a little early we went to the bar, and the bartender recommended the Old Fashioned. I figured I'd do it, even though I'm not a big fan of the drink generally, as I assumed his recommendation meant that he would prepare it particularly well. It was fine, but my conclusion is that I'm just not a fan of bitters, so while it was an experience I don't know that I would order it again. For a fan of the drink it would probably have more to offer however. Once seated we ordered the Crispy Pork Belly and Smoked Sizzling Oysters as appetizers. The Pork Belly was an interesting rendition, and very good. The oysters were prepared by separating the meat from the shell, with the shell warmed up to I think 500 degrees, with the meat put back on the shell to grill it (after a fashion). He advised we flip the meat after a minute or two in order to continue cooking it. They were tasty, and prepared differently, but in my opinion not as wonderful as the oysters at Luke. For the main course I ordered the Scalibut per the waiter's recommendation. This seems to be a unique dish to GW Fins, and is a mix of Halibut and Sea Scallops on a risotto bed. It was very good and worth getting. One of my friends remarked, and I've subsequently seen in the reviews here too, that it felt "corporate". Not bad mind you, but once inside you feel like the restaurant could be anywhere. There's nothing distinctly "New Orleans" about it. Overall though the food is good, and the service is good, and those are really the most important things.
The next morning we had breakfast at Cafe Du Monde. The line extends about a block past the establishment, and you have to order and then sit and wait for the food to come. We each ordered a coffee and beignets (they come 3 to a plate). The beignets were good - they're like fried dough with powdered sugar sprinkled on top - but I'm not sure they're worthy of the reputation of the place. When we asked the (surly) waitress if we could get a refill on the coffee, she asked "do you see that line outside?" which was a pretty clear indication that you don't come here to relax, but only to have the experience and say you've done it. We've done it. I don't plan to go back.
For dinner we decided to eat at Casamento's. Others on the board here commented on their oysters, so we had to try them. I also wanted to compare them to Luke's now (which had set the bar for me). We had the oysters on the half shell for the appetizer, and the first thing I noticed was that these oysters were much meatier than the ones we had at Lukes. However, they had a bit of dirt or shell in them, so they wound up being a little "crunchy". They were still very good, but it was a grittier (pun intended) experience than Luke's. I ordered the Oyster Loaf for the dinner per recommendations here, and it was good though I think wasn't on the same level as some of the other dishes I'd had in New Orleans. Partly it suffered from just being later in the trip, and also from being a very small and grittier place. For those going to Casamento's for the first time, be aware that it's a tiny little restaurant, and there's a waiting line to get in so either get there just when they open (they close after lunch for a few hours) or be prepared to wait for a table to free up. Also, they only take cash, so plan for that. It's a real "hole in the wall" kind of environment, but very different from some of the other places we'd been, and we were glad to change the routine a little bit (and to bring our average meal spending down).
Finally, on our last day before departing we decided we couldn't leave NOLA without experiencing a Po' Boy. In my research it seemed like there were a few shops that could suit, so we settled on Johnny's (the CH review said it's "perfectly fine" which isn't exactly a sterling endorsement, but was good enough to be worth trying). I got the fried shrimp sandwich per the advice here. This was another cash-only place, and they too had a line going out the door starting at 11:40 AM so it's a popular place in the French Quarter. The sandwich itself was fine, but dry. It was just bread and fried shrimp, and I guess I expected either more butter or mayonnaise. One the side they provided lettuce and a slice of tomato, and since I got the meal I also had a bowl of gumbo. The gumbo wasn't great, but it was "perfectly fine". Overall I would say the sandwich didn't live up to its hype, but I fully recognize that it might have been that I chose the wrong sandwich type to really experience a Po' Boy, or perhaps just got unlucky that day with the preparer.
So there you have it, our wonderful dining experience selected based on everyone's feedback here. We never got to Arnaud's which we wanted to do, couldn't get in to Galatoire's, and didn't have enough time to try Brigsten. But I think we got a pretty complete dining experience, and it really was thanks to all of your input. So though I've never posted here before, I thought it my duty to report back finally so that anyone else trying to figure out a short stay in NOLA could have a summarized view of the current board consensus. Thanks to everyone for sharing your views; you really helped make our reunion an experience we'll always remember.
*Planning note for first-timers to NOLA - if you're going to try the various restaurants advised on the boards here you'll need a car. I didn't realize that until we got down there, but some of these places are across the city, so expect to drive 20+ minutes in any direction to get to a restaurant that's recommended here. Originally (without really considering it) I assumed that all the restaurants were local to the French Quarter, but they're not.