First off, I'd like to thank everyone on the board for their excellent suggestions when I posted last month looking for recommendations. Your help was invaluable, and went a long way to making our trip unforgettable.
So, the trip report:
Dinner 1: Cuvee. Great wine list, decent food. I had the shrimp and mirliton napolean for a starter, salmon on a bed of crabmeat and brie orzo for my main course. Was not impressed with the fried mirliton in the former: found it a bit soggy and uninteresting. The main course was better, especially the orzo, which practically outshone the salmon (which was still very nice). Fiancee had the short rib starter and duck main course. Enjoyed both. We shared the 'quartet of chocolate' dessert, which was probably the best thing about the meal (aside from the wine)
Verdict?: Cuvee struck me as somewhat of an expense-account restaurant --a little more pretension than skill. The food was very good, and the wine was excellent, but I'm not sure I'd go again. Having said that, our server, Kenneth, was superb --knowledgeable without being patronizing, courteous without being smarmy. Excellent, excellent service.
Dinner 2: Galatoire's. I was so, so excited about going here. Lived up to most of my expectations. Had the crabmeat maison for an appetizer; crabmeat was incredibly sweet and delicious. F's oysters rockefeller were very tasty. Our server, Shelley, recommended that I have the fish of the day, black drum, with crabmeat and shrimp on top. Very rich, very good. F had lamb chops bearnaise. Split an order of souffle potatoes, which were entirely different from what I had expected, but still good. Finished the meal with cafe brulot and pecan pie.
Verdict: I think half the fun of Galatoire's is just *being* there. Still, I was a little indefinably disappointed, maybe because I had built it up so much in my mind. I can't fault Galatoire's for anything, though. Unsure if I'd go back for dinner --maybe lunch instead. And next time I'll remember to pack the alka-seltzer --both F and I were sick-ish that evening, probably from a surfeit of rich food (or too much cafe brulot).
Dinner 3: Brigtsen's. I'm not sure I can express how much I enjoyed my meal here without using naughty words. Had the crawfish shortcake appetizer and blackened tuna main course. Practically licked the plate. I particularly enjoyed the deceptively simple sides that came with the tuna; they balanced the dish perfectly. F had the rabbit and andouille gumbo and the beef tournedos. Too full for dessert (Damn it. Good coffee, though). Pure bliss.
Verdict: Brigtsen's, I think I love you. Will you marry me?
Seriously, words fail me. Would like to give a big messy kiss to all the chowhounds that recommended Brigtsen's. Best meal of the trip. Also very impressed with the reasonable wine list and the lovely, lovely service. Will go back as soon as possible.
Dinner 4: Bayona. F felt that this trumped Brigtsen's as the best meal of the trip. I disagree, but it was a close second. I ordered from the daily specials menu: the oyster and artichoke soup and the grilled tuna with artichokes in a lime sauce (I really like artichokes, okay? Cynarin be damned.) Soup was incredible; light, delicious, with a touch of anise (herbsaint, I suppose?). Gave F a taste, and he nearly stole the whole bowl. Tuna was perfectly cooked, sauce was an interesting mix of creamy and tart. F had the shrimp and black bean cake appetizer, and lamb main course. Rounded out the meal with a cheese plate and a dessert of mini-beignets and doughnuts with coconut ice cream, which was hands down the best sweet plate I had all vacation.
Verdict: Would go back in a heartbeat. In particular, I'd like to go back when it's warm enough to sit in the courtyard. F and I really liked the innovative and reasonable wine list (the sommelier was great, too). A small quibble: when we turned up for our reservation (on time), one of the hostesses was oddly snotty. In front of us, she declared loudly and huffily to the other hostess that she "had no idea" whether any tables were free, and then rolled her eyes and flounced off to check. Excuse me?! How unnecessarily rude. When we attempted to make small talk while waiting for our coats at the end of the meal, she was equally prickly. It was a jarring note, especially since everyone else in N.O. was so wonderfully friendly and nice. The rest of the staff at Bayona, however, were excellent.
So that's my report. Thank you again for all your recommendations. I can't wait to go back to New Orleans. Best food, best people, best city in America.