The sweater weather lasted longer than normal this year, but spring is finally in the air and that means it's prime time for restaurants with outdoor dining. Here are four favorites across town.
912 Royal St., New Orleans
Appreciative out-of-towners often say the French Quarter makes them feel as though they've left the country for a spell. Cafe Amelie can achieve the same effect on locals too. A meal here certainly makes me feel as though I've been transported to some country estate-turned restaurant. The restaurant is centered on a lush courtyard of flowers, framed by weathered brick and stonework and furnished with antiques. The cooking is straightforward, with an emphasis on fresh simplicity rather than culinary daring. Seafood is always of excellent quality, like the plump, perfectly cooked shrimp coated in a sweet-hot orange and pepper sauce. Salmon has a crust of seasonings and a slather of assertive, creamy horseradish sauce.
600 Poland Ave., New Orleans
What started out as a neighborhood wine shop with a sideline in casual events in its backyard has morphed over the years into a unique destination for food, music and wine united by a seductively lush, laidback atmosphere. You still enter through the wine shop. But what had been an ad hoc collection of patio furniture in back now feels like an outdoor dining room, with couples and groups seated between the greenery and local bands performing in the corner. Queue up at the kitchen window to order from the eclectic, reliably good menu of Mediterranean flavors. The second floor has been developed with its own bar and a pair of dining rooms (where bands sometimes perform as well). With the many windows open, it still feels like you're outside. It can be a haven if the weather turns.
625 Chartres St., New Orleans 504-265-8123
Sylvain is an unusual newcomer to the French Quarter. It's a casual place just off Jackson Square, yet it's mercifully free of New Orleans culinary cliches. Rather, this place is in step with the gastropub trend, with a mid-range menu built around upscale remakes of comfort food. The main dining room has the feel of a tavern, with bare wood tables, simple Americana decor and a prominent bar. Tables in the narrow courtyard look directly into the kitchen, while in the far back there's one of those hidden, shaded, brick-lined cloisters that summon the full romance of the French Quarter.
Brisbi's Lakefront Restaurant & Bar
7400 Lakeshore Dr., New Orleans
The revival for New Orleans lakefront dining is entering its second season thanks to a pair of restaurants that opened directly on the water here last summer. The Blue Crab is one, with its old fashioned New Orleans seafood house menu and fishing camp atmosphere. Meanwhile, Brisbi's is the more contemporary of the two, with an updated menu and a more modern look. It also has the larger deck, which functions like an elevated, covered patio with tremendous views of the lake. This is a great happy hour destination (the oyster bar has specials too). A second bar below the restaurant is literally steps from the docks.