Thanks to those on this Board who helped us navigate the NO landscape. My family of 4 (including two Chowhoundish teens) spent Thursday through Sunday sampling the goods. I have visited before, but it was the first time for the others. Sorry I didn't take notes, but here's a general rehash of our experience.
Thursday dinner at GW Finns: This was one of the few places open late enough to seat us for dinner after our flight from Los Angeles. Lucky for us. While I agree with those who have commented that the decor is modern urban anywhere USA, the food is not. We had truly spectacular seafood including swordfish, a local whitefish, and a great version of gumbo. Our server called the biscuits "culinary crack cocaine," and I think my boys would agree (not that they would really know). Finns is not quintessentially New Orleans, but the ingredients are top drawer and the chef clearly knows his stuff. We enjoyed it immensely.
Friday lunch at Muriels: This was impromptu, as our morning French Quarter tour ended at Jackson Square, we were hungry, and Muriels was right there. I think this is a wonderful looking restaurant with a great location - it has a nouvelle plantation feel with a little bordello thrown in for good measure. With one exception, our food was the most mediocre of the trip. My wife had a wonderful pecan-encrusted drum fish. The sampler of seafood gumbo, crawfish etouffee and jambalaya was disappointingly bland as was the turtle soup. Again, I like the way this place feels, and perhaps if you know what to order you can have a really good experience. The service was extremely friendly and efficient.
Friday dinner at Brigsten's: Yes, it was excellent. Our server was the best of the trip: warm, friendly and professional all at once - a tough combination to pull off. The rabbit tenderloin appetizer was quite good and my oldest son said his roast duck was the best he'd ever had. The seafood platter, as many have said, is a great way to try the different preparations - I particularly loved the crab thermidor. The pecan pie made my brains fall out. If I were to quibble, I might mention the small tables and somewhat cramped quarters, but these are minor and everyone at Brigsten's is friendly and helpful. It's no wonder the place is so popular.
Saturday dinner at Commander's Palace. I've been to Commander's a number of times and always thought of it as sort of New Orleans Central - the pulse of the city. I couldn't wait to take my family. Ah, the expectations game. Our meal at Commander's was not at all bad. I had a very good veal chop and my boys enjoyed the filet and ribeye. However, my wife's gulf fish was actually quite dreadful: soggy with an unpleasant and fishy aftertaste. The 1-1-1 soup was not the killer I remember, and maybe I've grown tired of the various bread pudding concoctions, but the souffle was not as good as renditions I've had elsewhere. Also missing was the buzz I remember getting from this place - can't explain it really. The service was professional though a bit distant. I have a true affection for Commnander's Palace, but this was the least satisfying experience I've had. I will try again.
Sunday Brunch at Mr. B's Bistro: This really felt like New Orleans. Barbeque shrimp, gumbo, shrimp remoulade, catfish fingers. I had the single best dish of the entire trip - an oyster gratin with bechamel sauce and an andouille crust. All four of us dipped every last piece of bread we could find in that sauce. The pecan pie was almost as good as Brigsten's. The jazz trio was superb - particularly the clarinetist, and they circulate throughout the restaurant so everyone gets a taste of jazz with their brunch. The servers were friendly, and while the meal was slow and leisurely, it was exactly what we wanted. All in all, my favorite NO meal.
I also want to mention that the muffulettas at the Central Grocery did not disappoint - the bread is special and all the ingredients fresh and delicious. Long lines to be sure, but we thought this was one sandwich that lived up to its hype.
Sorry for the verbiage, but again thanks to all those who post the great information on this board.