The 14th annual Tales of the Cocktail recently swept through New Orleans, closing out July with more than 200 seminars, tastings and competitions plus special dinners, pairings and guest bartender appearances at bars and restaurants throughout the city. Bar professionals and cocktail enthusiasts alike flock to the Big Easy to taste and toast the newest and best in the spirits industry each year for Tales. Now that we’ve properly recovered and pieced together all the delicious memories, we’ve settled on the top 10 places where we enjoyed the best food and cocktail pairings this year.
While the food at this CBD-area kitchen normally reflects its rustic Louisiana design, the cuisine leaned further east for High West whiskey’s happy hour, with bites like crispy pork belly wrapped in charred Napa cabbage with pickled veggies and nuoc cham. The briny, umami notes in each bite paired well with the refreshing tropical sweetness in the Cofresi’s Inspiration, a cocktail made from High West oat whiskey, white rum, verte absinthe, coconut milk, pineapple and lime.
Rarely does a restaurant accomplish a cocktail program on par with its food program (or vice versa), but this island-inspired French Quarter restaurant has found just that balance. The Guyanese rum ribs, made with Trubridge Duroc pork, were intoxicatingly crispy, accompanied by cool coconut-marinated cucumbers and tostones The punchy Absent Stars, a fruit-forward creation made with bitter Campari and floral rhum agricole, danced with the tropical notes of the dish. For dessert, a simply ingenious tiki creation called Scotch and Coconut (a scotch, añejo and coconut old fashioned with a coconut water ice ball) was life-changing paired with a featherweight coconut rice pudding.
If Sucre’s French pastries are any indication, the baked goods here are made, not only with love, but with detailed precision… and the rest of the menu at the restaurant above their French Quarter shop are no exception. Salon was one of the restaurants participating in Tales Restaurant Week, offering a special menu in honor of the cocktail festival. After a bowl of French onion soup towering with puff pastry and a Marcona almond and grape chicken salad on a croissant came the piece de resistance: a platter of Sucre’s signature desserts (pistachio macaron, raspberry petit four, chocolate eclair, wedding cake chocolate and salted chocolate) paired with an impossibly creamy, boozy brandy milk punch (served in a clear glass shaped like a milk jug).
Bombay Sapphire held their Most Imaginative Bartender Spirited Dinner at the award-winning Shaya on Magazine Street. And a simply refreshing gin and tonic was precisely the best accompaniment to Chef Alon Shaya's hot pita served with an array of flavor-packed dips like lutenitsa (Bulgarian roasted peppers, eggplant, garlic and tomato), curried fried cauliflower hummus, lamb hummus and labneh with anaheim peppers and radishes.
Lustau hosted a rum tasting followed by a sherry-paired lunch at Donald Link’s flagship restaurant Herbsaint, located into the now-bustling CBD. The standout dish, a cannelloni stuffed with fresh ricotta, submerged in ham broth and topped with butter beans, coordinated perfectly with the salted caramel finish from a glass of nutty amontillado.
Fords Gin’s martini and oyster pairing was the perfect respite from the heat, tucked in the upstairs of Seaworthy, the Ace Hotel’s brand new restaurant and raw bar. The 86 Co. designed three different martinis to accompany oysters from three coasts. An East Coast Village Bay oyster paired well with a dry sherry-tinged martini and an olive, while a West Coast Kushi oyster topped with rosemary lemon mignonette balanced the slight sweetness of Lillet Blanc in the West Coast martini. Lastly, a Murder Pointer oyster from Alabama’s Gulf Shores was dabbed with mustard and buttermilk, then served with a martini sweetened with Cocchi Americano and a stout reduction — for a whole new take on Guinness and oysters.
A tall glass of Misty Slipper Sangria (rum, rosé, brandy, melon, Montenegro, lychee) is a refreshing, floral and just slightly sweet creation that goes well with many of the flavorful seafood dishes at Compere Lapin; but especially the cold Gulf shrimp marinated in roasted jalapeño jus… resist the urge to lick the plate.
Café Adelaide Ladies Who Brunch event brought together some of the family members behind Commander’s Palace (like Lally Brennan and Ti Martin) for an epic pairing of cocktails and brunch courses. Standouts included this braised pork belly with grilled peaches, white trifled bean salad, cornbread croutons and a poached quail egg served with a nightly sweet, herbal thyme-infused whiskey stirred with peach, lemon and Demerara.
At The Cocktail Brunch Italiano, guests strolled the courtyard of the Hotel Mazarin and tasted 18 different types of amari, liqueurs and vermouths. Inside, the bar prepared a menu of drinks to accompany Italian bites, like this creamy tiramisu, made complete with a Pick Me Up & Put Me Down. Served in a vintage tea cup, the cocktail was made with creamy Zabov Classico, earthy Amaro Sibilla, spiced rum, espresso, tiki bitters and nutmeg.
SoBou burlesque brunch was the only appropriate way to close out a week of lavish eating and drinking. A cherries jubilee and white bread chocolate bread pudding went hand in hand with the Karmic Alarm Clock, a buzzy digestif made with Cajun spiced rum, Cynar, curry-caramel syrup and cold brew, with a salty rim; the pairing was just as sweet — and bold — as the talented burlesque dancers.