SAINTS & DINNERS, an unforgettable trip to New Orleans
Written by Jeffrey Cohen
Located in the heart of New Orleans’ Central Business District, just steps from the historic French Quarter, the Windsor Court Hotel is a haven for the discriminating traveler, providing unmatched elegance and luxury with superior service and style. The European- style hotel was built in 1984, undergoing substantial renovations and improvements over the intervening years. Now a crown jewel of the New Orleans hotel scene, Windsor Court offers state-of-the art amenities, as well as exquisite dining in The Grill Room and the Polo Club Lounge, one of the city’s most posh venues and a favorite of visiting celebrities. The hotel is also a small museum of sorts, featuring paintings, sculptures, tapestries and furnishings by more than 60 artists dating from the 17th to the late 20th centuries, in a collection valued at more than $10 million. Much of the artwork is British in origin, with an emphasis on pieces that depict Windsor Castle and British royal life, and include originals by William Powell Frith and Thomas Gainsborough.
Arriving late on a rather blustery fall morning, my son and I were in town for his first-ever visit and, almost equally important, his first- ever New Orleans Saints game. As a native of the Crescent City, I make a point of visiting at least once a year with my wife, catching up with friends and trying new restaurants. This time, our trip presented me with an opportunity to share some of my favorite haunts, both old and new, with a newcomer, a task I always relish. The hotel staff greeted us like old friends, but as we had arrived well before check-in time, our room was not quite ready, so we walked a few blocks to the trendy Warehouse District to one of my favorite eateries, Cochon Butcher. Producing all the meats for their sandwiches in-house, as well as an array of house-made pickles, jellies, jams, mustards, and sauces, Butcher also bakes its own bread and offers a fine selection of knives and kitchenware. Enjoying a burger and a quarter of my muffaletta, my son was so entranced by the flavors that we returned for lunch the following day. Something of a foodie at the age of fourteen, he was smitten with the Big Easy’s food culture from his very first bite. Like so many who visit New Orleans for the first time, he came away with a hook in his mouth, figuratively speaking. Even though the city may lie geographically in the south, it is not a southern city. As one local chef put it, “New Orleans is a Northern annexation of Haiti.” This is especially true of the food.
Next up was a prearranged private horse-drawn carriage tour of the French Quarter, courtesy of Royal Carriages. My son got a kick out of the street actors and mimes painted silver or gold from head to toe, standing still for hours, and was as enamored as I always am with the stately French and Spanish-inspired architecture with wrought iron balconies and courtyards. Taking it all in, he said, “Dad, this doesn’t feel like any other city in the country.” I answered matter-of- factly, “There isn’t another city like this in the country.”
After an impromptu dance with some hip-hop artists outside St. Louis Cathedral (everyone dances in New Orleans, and by that I mean everyone), it was back to the hotel to check into our expansive two- bedroom suite. Luxurious in every way, our accommodations featured Italian marble bathrooms, separate dressing rooms and private balconies with stunning views across town and the Mississippi River beyond. Following a quick shower and change of clothes, it was down to the hotel’s prestigious restaurant, The Grill Room, for a spectacular dinner prepared by culinary director Igor Krichmar.
Easily one of my favorite meals anywhere, the renowned chef conjured up a menu that began with Wagyu tataki and an impeccable Dover sole for me, and a saffron-poached lobster for my son. This was followed by meltingly tender steaks, all accompanied by wines carefully matched to the food by the highly polished and knowledgeable sommelier. The attention to detail, from the creative and complicated garnishes to the presentation and service, frankly blew us away.
The next morning, we were back at the Grill Room for a magnificent breakfast of freshly baked pastries and crawfish and andouille omelets, while a lively jazz trio set an appropriately upbeat tone for the day. We sat and enjoyed the music for a while before heading out into the city. Grabbing an Americano from the hotel’s Café Anglais, it was back to the Quarter for some shopping – specifically Saints gear for the next day’s big game, and even more sneakers for my son’s never-ending collection. Lunch again at Cochon Butcher was followed by a de rigeur stop at Cafe Beignet for beignets and cafés au lait.
For me, no trip to New Orleans is complete without dinner at Pascal’s Manale, the restaurant where what is known as barbecue shrimp was invented, and once again, my boy was thoroughly impressed. “Yours is good, but this is...” he enthused as he pushed another buttery crustacean into his mouth. A nightcap of a Sazerac (for me, of course) and live piano jazz at the Polo Club Lounge rounded out our day’s adventures, and we retired to bed eager for what the next day might offer.
Located on the fourth floor of the hotel, adjacent to the heated outdoor pool, the fitness center became a regular stop before breakfast each day. On Sunday, we headed there for a quick workout followed by a refreshing dip, then it was out onto the streets for some pregame festivities on our way to the Caesars Superdome. The city was in party mode (when isn’t it?), even more so than usual; the experience was like hanging out with 70,000 of your closest friends. Indeed, it was a childhood friend who kindly provided us with the family’s great seats; the dome was one big party – more like a British soccer match than a football game. While we didn’t win, a minor detail like that didn’t begin to dampen the festive spirit all over town. The day could hardly have been better from almost any perspective. sl