Don't cry for me, New Orleans

Over the years, I have taken a lot of business trips but never quite like the one we’ll be taking in a couple weeks. We’re closing Lark from Tuesday, February 20, through Saturday, Feb. 24, to take a field trip to New Orleans.

Joining us will be our bar manager, Billy Burg, and chefs Jennifer Tillou and Olivia Eckert. Richard and I have visited New Orleans several times over the past few years. He’s an inveterate researcher and planner. If you ever need advice on where to eat in any city, just ask him. He’s your guy. He loves researching restaurants all over the country to find the hidden gems as well as the renowned spots. He has planned the itinerary for our New Orleans trip, which has us visiting 36 restaurants and bars over five and a half days. 

Any itinerary that includes “lunch #2” is a bit daunting, however whining about eating and drinking in New Orleans definitely does not deserve any sympathy. This is a lot better than sitting in a conference room brainstorming a marketing campaign.

I absolutely adore this city. On our last few visits, we have largely avoided the French Quarter, especially Bourbon Street. The Quarter is flooded with tourists and, on our last trip, a lot of drunk people walking around with neon-colored fish bowls of sugary booze in the middle of the day. Just not my thing. There is so much more to the city than the Quarter … the Warehouse District, Uptown, the Bywater and Garden District all offer wonderful experiences for shopping, dining and just soaking in the architecture and vibe that is NOLA’s alone.

Its rough edges are part of its charm for me. It’s got that worn elegance of Europe and the feel of the Caribbean. There’s simply no other place like it in the country. After Hurricane Katrina, you can feel the resurgence of pride and love of the city. One of my favorite things is talking with Lyft drivers as we cross the city — firefighters, teachers, bartenders, musicians, retirees who drive to supplement their income. Most of them love to talk about their city and share their stories. Ask them where to eat. They know.

So where are we eating? Turkey & the Wolf, Casamento’s, Commander’s Palace, Cochon Butcher, Peche, Maypop, Brightsen’s, Upperline, Willa Jean, Shaya and Herbsaint to name the highlights. The culinary influences are all over the map, from creole to Israeli to “Asian Southern.”

Where are we drinking? Bouligny Tavern, Bar Tonique, Latitude 29 (amazing tiki bar), Cane & Table, Cure and French 75 among others. The amount of creativity in these bars is astounding. I expect our spring cocktail menu will be heavily influenced by this trip. 

We’re visiting my favorite stop twice—Bacchanal is a unique spot in the Bywater. It’s an old house that’s been converted into a wine shop where you pick your bottle, have them make you a cheese and charcuterie board, pick up your wine glasses at the back door and grab a table on their huge backyard patio and listen to gypsy jazz and swing. It’s heaven. Come early so you can get a table and make new friends. The last time we went, we ended up being part of a bachelor party. The guys were sweethearts and we had a wonderful time. If you go to New Orleans, put Bacchanal on your itinerary. It’s relaxed and fun without the noisy, crowded feel of Frenchman’s Street (which is also great for listening to jazz). 

The whole purpose of the trip is inspiration. It’s hard not to get inspired there. The most visible end result will be our NOLA Night Out dinner on Tuesday, March 13. For reservations, contact us at or call (608) 563-1801. Just don’t be mad if we don’t respond while we’re closed. We’ve got a lot of “research” to do.

Joan Neeno