Galatoire's: 209 Bourbon St.; 504-525-2021.
Arnaud's, at the corner of Rue Bienville and Bourbon Street, is the very heart of the Vieux Carré. Founded in 1918 by Count Arnaud Cazenave, it is a labyrinth of dining areas and trysting places including the Jazz Room, where bass, clarinet and banjo players play New Orleans jazz; the main dining room with its Italian mosaic tile floors and sparkling leaded, cut-glass windows and crystal ceiling fans; the dark, quiet Richelieu Bar and a series of upstairs reception rooms giving out onto a wrought-iron-laced second-story balcony from which to watch the revelers below.
Arnaud's signature appetizer, Shrimp Arnaud, at $8.95, is spicy and hot, marinated in the restaurant's tangy Creole Remoulade Sauce. Other appetizers include Louisiana Alligator Sausage at $5.95 and Crabmeat Prentiss at $10.95. The entree portion of Crawfish O'Connor, at $20, is filled with tender crustaceans sautéed, flamed in brandy and served in a lobster sauce over jasmine rice. It is hugely rich and heavy -- quintessential New Orleans fare. Other entrees include Petit Filet Lafitte at $27.50, a beef filet stuffed with fried oysters and served with a Creole sauce.
The dessert selection of Bread Pudding, at $4.95, is heavy, chewy, caloric and delicious; the Bananas Foster, at $5.95, is rich enough to end the evening and send everyone home groaning.
Arnaud's: 813 Rue Bienville; 504-523-5433.
RED FISH GRILL
The Red Fish Grill's entry sign, a colorful, cartoon-like carving of a bulging-eyed fish, announces that this is a more casual, less formal New Orleans restaurant -- "Pressed Without the Starch" is how the Brennan family puts it.
Inside, the restaurant, opened in 1997, is funky-modern, with salmon and lime-green walls, metal-sculpture fish and palm trees, even neon fish, hanging from the ceiling.
Its friendliness surpasses even California-casual: "Hi! I'm Roland," a grinning youth proclaims as you enter. "I'll seat you. Rose will bring your drinks and Rachael will bring your food." Roland even pats your shoulder as he seats you, confirming you as a member of the family.
Under executive chef Laura Karwisch, the lunch appetizer portion of Barbecued Alligator Legs, Atchafalaya alligator legs grilled over hickory with a barbecue sauce based on tangy Abita Turbodog beer and served over a warm bacon-potato salad is something new: chewy alligator legs that look like beef ribs in a sweet, not hot barbecue sauce. The potato salad is even more interesting: crisp, chewy, piping hot chunks of potato in a rich, bacon-flecked sauce. Other appetizers include Shrimp Escabeche, Grilled Gulf Shrimp with Roasted Red Peppers and Cilantro in Spicy Chipotle and Orange Marmalade, at $8; Oysters Served Three Ways, Rockefeller style, baked with leeks and parmesan or flash fried and tossed in pepper sauce, at $6.
The restaurant's reputation is made on its lunchtime entree portion of Sweet Potato Catfish, at $12, a mammoth slab of tender, aromatic catfish covered with thin slices of sweet potato, served over sautéed spinach. Any hope of a calorie-conscious meal is dashed by its creamy, andouille sausage sauce.
On the dinner menu, Hickory Grilled Redfish with Louisiana Lump Crabmeat and Pecan Butter, is $24 as an a la carte entree. Softshell Crab with Crabcakes, Jicama Slaw and Roasted Jalapeño Butter is $32 as part of a complete dinner.