Jun. 23rd, 2010

Best Gems of New Orleans

City Guides: Any American, or foreigner for that matter, could spend a lifetime visiting America's array of cities and towns. It should be mandatory for all to visit one unique city for a full Americana experience: New Orleans. Oozing culture New Orleans is unapologetic for its quirks and imperfections. New Orleans is a delight for curious travelers. On a recent visit, I uncovered a few of the city's best gems.

SPA: Giddy would be a mild description for how I felt when I found that New Orleans was home to one of the three Guerlain Spas within America. A skincare, fragrance and make up brand for over 180 years, Guerlain makes the spa experience a complete, precise journey of rejuvenation. I admired the elegant yet modern motifs of the spa's lobby while my therapist guided me to an enormous treatment room complete with a bathtub, shower, waiting area and plush massage table. One of Guerlain's guiding philosophies, which few spas master completely, is customization. My therapist gathered several of my massage preferences and needs while I enjoyed a foot soak, telling me a few techniques and oils she planned to use to optimize my relaxation. Out of the several dozen spa treatments I've reviewed, this experience at the Guerlain was one of the best, period.

DINE: Most cities seem to debate the best of their fine dining options, but its oddly clear in New Orleans that the consensus claims the Grill Room, within the Windsor Court Hotel, to be the best for fine dining. As Louisiana's only four-star/four-diamond restaurant, The Grill Room is under the helm of Executive Chef Drew Dzejak. Chef Dzejak evolves the restaurant's breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner menus constantly to reflect seasonal flavors. Within a gorgeous green house-like nook of the restaurant, I savored a delicate brunch of shrimp and grits, a specialty of the restaurant. Although perhaps New Orleans most formal dining option, the Grill Room's staff, from hostess to general manager, still radiated a friendly, authentically welcoming disposition-a hallmark trait of New Orleans' people.

STAY: One of the South's grandest properties, The Roosevelt Hotel, still remains a symbol of New Orleans, as it has for over 100 years. A recent $145 million restoration has elevated the Roosevelt to a new level, most notably through handsome additions such as the Rooftop pool, the Guerlain Spa, and luxurious room and bed furnishings. There's something I love about historical properties that cherish their past but update their offerings to suit the needs of discerning travelers, and the Roosevelt is just that kind of refined, regal hotel. It was fun to uncover a few of the moments and tidbits of gossip that have defined the Roosevelt for so many years. Elvis stayed at the Roosevelt while shooting King Creole. The lobby's clock was featured in the 1867 and 1878 Paris exhibitions. Yet, new offerings like the casual, fun Domenica restaurant, an Italian creation of Josh Besh, and a sharp cocktail menu in the pool area, kept me exploring the hotel to uncover more details that would delight me.

LISTEN: Right on Bourdon Street, in the thick of New Orleans famed debauchery row, is a jazz gem: the Irvin Mayfield Jazz Playhouse. Housed in the newly updated Royal Sonesta Hotel, the Playhouse showcases the Grammy award winning Jazz trumpeter, Irvin, along with Jazz icons that include Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown and Shamarr Allen. It's an intimate, ridiculously fun and alluring scene. Get to the Playhouse early for a good seat.
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