Nina Compton is Bringing the Caribbean Heat to Creole Country

I absolutely love how full of super old school places the New Orleans high-end dining scene is. There are tons of these places that remain as popular, famous, and incredible as they were when they opened well over 100 years ago. But, of course, that's not all that New Orleans has to offer. There are plenty of young upstart chefs doing extremely innovative things, evolving the long-standing culinary traditions.

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A Hot, New, Sexy, Southern Date Spot in the French Quarter

Let's face it. If you're in New Orleans, you're gonna end up in the French Quarter. Where you're there to take in the history or to check out the Bourbon Street madness – to drink a hurricane at Pat O'Briens or any of the other drunk-magnet bars – you're bound to end up there. Since you're definitely going to be there, you're gonna need to know of a few great places to eat. Despite it being a very touristy area, there are still many actually great places to eat. There are famed oyster halls like Acme, cheap eats classics like Central Grocery and Cafe Du Monde, and the many famous, super old-school, French dining parlors. But, you can still definitely choose wrong and end up with a really bad meal. If you want something new, exciting, and different, I've got just the place. This restaurant, Sylvain, is a hot addition to the French Quarter dining scene that's perfect for a civilized, sexy, date night full of great Southern food and cocktails.

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California Freshness at Rusty’s Southern in the Tenderloin

I always get really excited when new restaurants open, especially when they are close to enough to my home that they can easily become part of my regular dinner rotation. This particular new opening in the Tenderloin was only under a week old, but I couldn't help but find myself drawn to it. Rusty's Southern may be in a dicey part of town, but this spacious spot is serving up affordable, California-inspired takes on North and South Carolinan Southern classics. In a town desperately in need of more Southern food, what more could you ask for?

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Magnificent, Modern Southern Cuisine at Odd Duck in Austin

Another day, another awesome, upscale dinner out in Austin. This place called Odd Duck is the sibling restaurant to chef Bryce Gilmore's also amazing, tasting menu-only hot spot Barley Swine which I had visited only a few night earlier. Similar to Barley Swine, the theme of this meal seemed to be small plates with either a pickled element, runny egg yolks, or both. The menu leans heavily toward Southern gastropub fare with plenty of clean, modern, cheffy flair and even a bit of molecular gastronomy trickery thrown in. The vibe of the decor matches the tone of the food with its use of mismatched country miscellany carefully arranged by an smart, upscale, interior designer's touch. This restaurant is pretty well known in the Austin food scene as one of the more exciting places to have a meal and it makes sense why. It has such an interesting menu that continues to experiment and evolve over time – the fervor is only going to grow as this place continues to get the industry recognition it rightly deserves like the James Beard Award Rising Star nod it just recieved.

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A Meticulous, Experimental Tasting Menu at Barley Swine

*Editor's Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit. Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration. I've experienced a variety of Austin's lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin's more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.

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Hipsterized Southern Brunch at Sweet Woodruff in the Tendernob

20140713_144635_edit *Editor's Note 1/2/17: I'm sad to report that this eatery is no longer open. If the divey dinner aesthetic of Han's represents the "Tenderloin" part of the Tendernob neighborhood, then Sweet Woodruff would represent the "Nob Hill" portion. Only one block away from Han's but a world of difference away in vibe you'll find a completely opposite brunching experience with a much more trendy and modern take on the meal.

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Impeccable Modern American Cuisine at Scratch in Mountain View

It's not always easy to find quality restaurants in Silicon Valley, but Mountain View has proven time and time and time again that there's some really excellent places to eat and drink on their main downtown drag. There are not many restaurants that I have loved enough to eat at multiple times out here, but Scratch has sort of become my go-to, not-sure-what-I'm-in-the-mood-for dinner and drinks spot.

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Upscale, Meaty, Cajun BBQ Paradise at Cochon Restaurant in NOLA

Last December, on a two-day trip to New Orleans, I had one of the most incredible meals of my life at Cochon Restaurant. We indulged in a variety of amazing specialties like Fried Alligator, Fried Boudin, Rabbit & Dumplings, Sweet Potato & Hog Jowl Casserole, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie. After spending two days in rural Opelousas, Amy and I drove to New Orleans for a 24-hour stopover and made sure to have a reservation to return to Cochon for another insane meal. Located in the Warehouse District of New Orleans, only about a 15 minute walk south of the chaos of the French Quarter, Cochon, helmed by executive chef Donald Link, serves up mighty fine, upscale takes on hearty, Southern and Cajun cuisine. Whether you're in town for Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, or for no particular reason at all, I urge you to make Cochon one of your dining destinations. DSC_3360_edit

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Hangover Busting Southern Comfort Food at Kelly’s Country Meat Block in Opelousas, LA

DSC_3314_edit Like I said in my previous post at Palace Cafe, a friend’s wedding brought me to the literal middle of nowhere Opelousas, Louisiana. As it often occurs at weddings, many drinks were drunk which led an absurdly hungover morning. Before hitting the road to embark on a two hour drive to New Orleans, we knew needed some comfort in the form of a hearty, greasy fried food-filled meal. A quick search of the Opelousas area led me to discover a little shop called Kelly’s Country Meat Block & Diner, more commonly referred to as Kelly’s Diner.

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Old World Cajun Cuisine at Palace Cafe in Opelousas, LA

DSC_3296_edit How on earth did I end up in Opelousas, Louisiana? Well, my girlfriend, Amy, is from Texas and Louisiana isn’t that far. Some of her friends from high school ended up working in Lafayette, Louisiana and we all ended up in the area for their wedding. As is my usual plan of action wherever I am, I had to find great food. Since I was in Cajun country, I knew that was the kind of food I needed to get for lunch. After a bit of online research, I decided on a spot in downtown Opelousas, right near the courthouse called Palace Cafe.

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