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A Delicious Weekend in New Orleans, The Big (Not So) Easy

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I thought I was making a smart move by planning a New Orleans trip over a weekend that didn't include a blowout festival like Mardi Gras or JazzFest — or anything else that would make for jammed restaurants and endless gridlock. But, clueless about sports events as I am, I neglected to find out that the NBA All-Star Game was happening last weekend, so I headed to NOLA with a similarly sports-baffled friend for a few days of eating, drinking, gridlock — and impromptu basketball-star-stalking.

For about the tenth time, I fell madly in love with the city, in all its eternal and ephemeral charms and flaws. These are the highlights and lowlights of my weekend:

Highs:
Friday lunch, a tradition every city needs. There's no place better than Restaurant August for a long, languid lunch of chef-owner John Besh's cornmeal-crusted P&J oysters with buttermilk-and-blue-cheese dressing, and fried buster crabs with bacon. After lunch, it started pouring, so manager Danny Millan offered to drive a couple of stranded, umbrella-less regulars home in his own car--since they live nearby and the busy lunch hour was winding down. That serious old-school service is even harder to come by than a sprawling, stress-free Friday lunch.

Drinks at Saturn Bar, an old, outsider-art-filled dive owned by the Broyard family (relatives of famous essayist Anatole Broyard) in the Bywater.

The classic French 75 cocktail (Champagne, Cointreau, gin, lemon juice) at the new Lüke, another of John Besh's restaurants—this one a brasserie and raw bar—where my delightfully entertaining old friend and I spied on the mix of coupley couples and brave solo diners eating late-night on Valentine's Day.

The inability of Cafe du Monde to ever turn into an annoying tourist trap, touristy though it may be. Doughnuts rarely thrill me, but the beignets here never disappoint.

Lows:
Yet another failed attempt to make it to the old Magazine Street hangout Casamento's (for their coveted oysters on the half-shell) before the restaurant's 9p.m. closing time.

Our inability to spot any NBA players whatsoever, though we did see plenty of basketball-player entourages milling around the French Quarter. We had to make do with the aura of Michael Jordan, who had dinner at Restaurant August the night before our Friday lunch there. And we also made do with the basketball-infatuated (but NBA-star-less) crowd at Harrah's Casino on Saturday night, when we popped in for a 10 minute, failed stalking attempt. Note: Gambling is illegal in Louisiana, but apparently what goes on at Harrah's there is not, officially, gambling. It's games played for cash prizes, perhaps; just don't call it gambling.

Did I mention I love New Orleans?

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Congratulations to Nicholas Elmi, winner of Top Chef: New Orleans, the 11th season of Bravo's Emmy-Award winning, hit reality series.

Already looking forward to next year (June 19-21, 2015)? Relive your favorite moments from the culinary world's most sensational weekend in the Rocky Mountains.