Men Who Like to Cook - David Latt

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Which Credit Cards Offer the Best Award Miles and Benefits Programs?

With the summer travel season approaching, now is a good time to look through the credit cards in your wallet. Every week unsolicited credit card offers arrive in the mail.  I don't need any more credit cards, but it's good to check out the offers. Are the terms as good as the credit card offers you're receiving in the mail?  Maybe it's time to switch.
NOT ALL CREDIT CARDS ARE CREATED EQUAL
Not all credit cards have benefits. Many are just "credit" cards.  In the simplest terms, with these cards, the bank advances you money. You are expected to repay what you borrowed at the end of the month. If you don't repay all the money you borrowed, you pay interest on the balance. That's pretty straight forward.

But since there are credit cards out there that not only loan you money but also give you a goodie bag of benefits, why not use those cards?  Banks want your business. That means you can have credit and goodies too.  And that is a very good thing.

Over the last month, I received offers from Barclay, Citi, American Express, Bank of America and Chase asking me to apply for one of their credit cards. The banks will pay me to use their money.

They'll pay me in the sense that they are offering cash back
or miles to be used to buy airline tickets, hotel stays and other purchases. The devil's bargain is simple. All I have to do is use my credit card as often as possible. Merchants pay the bank when I use my credit card. The bank hopes I will spend a lot of money, carry an outstanding balance and occasionally miss a due date so I have to pay late fees. My plan is to pay my monthly balances on time so I get the miles without having to pay interest or fees.

GETTING A CREDIT CARD IS LIKE GETTING MARRIED
As in any marriage, it is important to get to know your prospective mate before you tie the knot. The bank's agreement is a prenup. You should read those terms very carefully.

1. BENEFITS: Carefully read the terms of the agreement. Since there are many different types of benefit programs, compare and evaluate which credit cards give you what you need. Some cards give money back bonuses. Others focus on miles that can be converted into free airline travel while some are designed for travelers who want free hotel nights.  For sites that compare different credit card offers, see the list at the end of the article.
I use credit cards to accumulate miles toward airline travel, so I want a credit card that accrues miles on a 1:1 basis, or better.  Which means when I spend $1.00, I get 1 mile or point credited to my account.  One of our Master Card accounts did not charge us an annual fee. The miles were accumulated on the basis of 2:1. $2.00 spent for 1 mile credited. When our use of the card was low, that made sense, but in time we used the card more and more, so the advantage of no annual fee was not worth the miles we lost.

With some cards you accrue miles on a basis of 1:2 ($1.00 spent for 2 miles credited). That is the case with some Bank of America plans when the card is used to purchase groceries and gasoline products. With some American Airlines plans, purchasing American's products will add more bonus points to your account. Some plans give cash back instead of miles. Other plans sweeten the pot by crediting back a percentage of the miles you used to purchase airline tickets, as does American Airlines with its more expensive cards. Spend 25,000 miles to purchase a round trip ticket and the card credits 5,000 miles to your account.
Notice how many times I have to say "some plans." It's worth your while to read the fine print and pick the best card for you.

2. ANNUAL FEE: Typically, when you sign up for a credit card, the first year's fee is waived. This isn't always true, but it might be the case, so check. Annual fees typically range between $50.00  and $100.00. High end cards charge high annual fees, as much as $450.00 or more, but in return the benefits are highly prized by travelers--entry into airport lounges, free baggage allowance, discounted prices on airline products, bonus points, special offers, no foreign transaction fees, concierge services and much more.
3. AIRLINE VS BANK CARDS: Many credit cards are affiliated with specific airlines. Use a VISA card issued by American Airlines and the miles accrue for flights on American Airlines. There are many cards which accumulate points and miles that can be used on any airline. Those cards proudly tout their non-affiliation as an advantage because you can pick and choose airlines for the best deals. Personally, I have not used this type of card. I have cards which are tied to airlines: American, Southwest and United. These are airlines that fly where I tend to travel. As with any card, carefully read the fine print to see if your purchasing and travel needs are best served by a particular card's agreement.

4. SIGNING BONUSES: Many credit cards--well actually most these days in the push to sign up more customers--offer a signing bonus. The annual fee may be waived for the first year as part of the signing bonus. Typically a new user is also credited miles as a bonus. The number of miles can be an insignificant 10,000 miles or a very meaningful 75,000 miles.

Accruing those miles to your mileage account is often linked to your spending a certain amount during a specified period of time, say $3,000.00 spent in the first three months after the card is activated. Once you spend the $3,000.00, the bonus miles will be credited to your account.
Usually the best deals go to consumers who have the best credit history and who also have good paying, long term employment. This may strike some as unfair--why should one person get more than another person--but this issue is important. When you use your credit card, the bank has money you want to use. The bank wants guarantees that they will get their money back. Good credit history and current employment tell them you are more likely to give them back their money when asked, so they'll be nicer to you. Which brings up the next issue.

5. INTEREST RATES: What is APR? APR is an abbreviation for Annual Percentage Rate. That's the rate the bank will charge you for keeping their money longer than one month (or 28 days or 27 days or 30 days, depending on their definitions -- always remember to read the fine print because you may encounter a card that begins charging interest ON THE DAY YOU MAKE THE PURCHASE--I have only seen one card with that feature).

If you pay your credit card balances before the DUE DATE. You have won the jackpot. The bank gave you their money. You spent it. But you paid it back before the due date, so the bank gets no money from you. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Which means you don't care what the APR is because you are the smartest person on the planet.  Even though the bank didn't get any money from you for all those transactions during the month, the businesses who sold you the goods and services did have to the pay the bank. So the credit card companies are making money, just not from you.
If you don't pay all of the credit card balance on time, then you will pay for the money the bank let you use.  In which case, the APR is really really important. And you should look carefully at how much interest you will pay and all the other terms that come with keeping the bank's money past that first month.

As part of the signing bonus for some cards, you are allowed without fee to transfer existing credit card balances from other credit cards. This can be a very handy way of starting over again, especially if you have racked up fees, which is the next topic to discuss.

6. MINIMUM MONTHLY PAYMENT: Minimum monthly payment is a really scary idea. The bank helpfully tells you the smallest amount you need to pay on the monthly bill. The problem is that paying the minimum amount maximizes the bank's profits. It might seem really cool and friendly to only pay $32.18 on a monthly balance of $3517.23, but the bank is hoping you'll take the easy way out, pay the minimum legally required so that they can levy their very exorbitant APR.
7. FEES: Late fees and every other fee you are liable for if you don't pay all of your monthly bill each billing cycle on time and in full are the Devil's wager you make for using credit cards. Miss a due date and you will be hit with a fee in addition to the APR costs. And those fees will themselves accrue APR charges if you don't pay off all of the outstanding balance. When people talk about slipping into a downward spiral of debt because of credit card use, this is how it happens. Many banks make their profits on the frailties of the human condition. Late fees are an important profit center. So that's the bad news.

8. CREDIT CARDS PROTECT YOU FROM FRAUD: The good news is using a credit card protects you from fraud. Buy a faulty product that the seller won't repair or replace, the credit card company will go to bat for you and challenge the seller. Someone hacks your account and uses your credit card to take a trip to Rio and stay in a 5-Star hotel for ten days. Not your problem. If you didn't use the card, you are not liable for the charges. When you use a debit card, things get complicated because the money comes directly out of YOUR account, not the bank's. With a credit card, the thief sticks a straw into the BANK's account, not yours. That is the law and the law, in this regard, favors the consumer and that is YOU.
9. WEB SITES THAT EVALUATE CREDIT CARDS: There are many more benefits and limitations that are found in credit card offers. Since they are specific to different credit cards, I've listed below some very good analyses that compare credit cards. Here are several I like.

Tasha Lockyer looks at the "Top Seven Credit Card Offers." Her analysis focuses on consumers who have the best credit. The better your credit, the better the deal.

The editors at NextAdvisor list the best credit cards, broken down by features: lowest APR, best for travel, best transfer rates from another card, best rewards, best cash back, best student, best business and best card to rebuild your credit.

Value Penguin evaluates financial opportunities--health insurance, auto insurance, mortgage rates and credit cards. They throw a very wide net, comparing thirty-three credit cards across eleven value points including annual fee, APR, signing bonus and valuations of each card based on how many points or miles you receive relative to the cost of the card (which would include the annual fee). I know that sounds like a lot of comparison points, but Value Penguin has a very cool graphic that creates a visual comparison to help guide you through the advantages of each card.

Ben Schlappig writes a blog and subscription email called One Mile at a Time  with a monthly evaluation of the ten best credit card deals. His March evaluation is posted now. Because he updates his lists every month, I find it well worth my while to subscribe to his emails, which detail his personal experiences traveling around the world.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Locals Know Where to Eat in the Berkshires

The road to John Andrews Restaurant (224 Hillsdale Road, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, 413/528-3469) twists and turns through woods and farmlands.

We arrived at dusk while there was enough light to sit outside on the wooden deck that backed up against a grassy hill. What looks like the decayed remnant of a hundred year old shed leans perilously to one side.
Inside, the restaurant has the cozy feeling of an English road house. The floor to ceiling windows in the dining room open out onto the deck and hill in back.

In the summer, visitors come to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts to escape the heat and congestion of the city.  Offering opportunities to relax and catch up on your reading, a string of small towns with B&Bs cuts through the expanses of woods and farmlands.

With music at Tanglewood and dance at Jacob's Pillow, historical sites like Edith Wharton's home, the Mountthe Berkshire Botanical Garden and innovative exhibits at MASS MoCa in North Adams, there's plenty to keep you occupied.

In August I visited the area for the first time. Beyond the charms of small New England towns and the pleasure of world class art, the Berkshires also has great chefs who take advantage of good products from local farms.
Chef-owner Dan Smith at John Andrews Restaurant has his own garden so he can supply his kitchen with fresh produce during the summer and fall. After more than two decades in the area, he has close relationships with local farmers who bring him high quality meat, poultry, milk, cheese, produce and honey.

On that trip in August, we had a tasting of chef Smith's menu that included a grilled eggplant with local heirloom tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and a drizzle of basil,
an artful tempura of squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheeses, seared foie gras accompanied with grilled pears and pickled red onion, salads of beats and tomatoes with corn, sweet duck breast and mashed potatoes with a maple-balsamic glaze and local lamb served blood red and juicy.

All those dishes were delicious. The creme de la creme was Smith's diver's scallops with a risotto of roast cauliflower, leeks and pancetta. This was no ordinary risotto. This was a risotto without rice.

Huh?

Chef Smith likes the creaminess of risotto but wanted a side dish that didn't rely on rice for flavor and texture.

There isn't a good reason to call this a "risotto," but I liked the result so I wouldn't deny him his naming rights.

He pared the creamy cauliflower with tender, sweet scallops. I could easily imagine the risotto accompanying grilled halibut, a thick medium-rare bone-in ribeye steak or a roasted chicken breast.

Happily chef Smith was generous enough to send me the recipe so I could make the dish at home.

Diver Scallops, Risotto of Roast Cauliflower-Leeks-Pancetta, Charred Scallion Oil

The dish can be served as an appetizer or entrée.


Serves 4 as an entrée

Ingredients

16 large diver sea scallops, washed, pat dried
2 leeks
1 head cauliflower, washed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/4 cup olive oil
4 ounces pancetta, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 bunch scallions
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley
Sea salt

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 400 F degrees.

2. Trim cauliflower, leaving the tender florets. Separate the florets and toss in a bowl with garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Spread seasoned cauliflower on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven 30 minutes until cauliflower is tender.

3. Trim and wash scallions, season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Char the scallions on a grill or roast in the 400 F degree oven until tender. Let cool, chop up and place in a blender with 3/4 cup olive oil. Makes approximately 1 cup scallion oil. Use half the scallion oil for the recipe. Refrigerate the remainder to use with fish.

4. Slice leeks in half,  length wise, then slice across each half to create 1/2" strips. Rise well in clean water and place in a non-reactive sauce pan, cover with water and add a pinch of sea salt. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes on medium high heat. Stir leeks every couple of minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the lid, reduce the heat to medium and cook leeks until tender and most of the liquid has reduced.

5. In a sauce pan, render the chopped pancetta until brown and crispy. Drain well. Discard the fat. Toss together the pancetta, leeks and roasted cauliflower florets in the sauce pan. Stir in the heavy cream and simmer. Reduce the cream to coat cauliflower, stir in Parmesan and chopped parsley.

6. Heat a large stainless steel or cast iron pan on a medium high flame. Season the scallops with sea salt and sear 1 minute per side.

7. Place 4 scallops on each plate on a bed of cauliflower risotto, drizzle with scallion oil.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Looking for Good Reasons to Travel, Visit Northern Spain and Morocco


Summer's almost here and it's time to think about planning vacation travel. Wanting to ease some of the difficulty traveling, I applied for and received a Global Entry pass so at many airports I breeze through domestic security (thank you TSA Pre) as well as international points of entry.

I would definitely recommend Global Entry to everyone who travels more than a few times a year. The cost is minimal ($100 for 5 years) and the online paper work isn't too time consuming. Email me and I will give you all the details.
Last fall I took a trip to Morocco on a press trip with half a dozen other journalists. We traveled from Fez in the east to Marrakech and the High Atlas Mountains in the west and then to Essaouira on the coast.
In the High Atlas Mountains, we arranged for a cooking lesson in the kitchen of a local cook. To get to her home on the grounds of a remote boutique hotel, we walked underneath walnut trees up a steep dirt switch-back trail we shared with men riding side-saddle on donkeys. "Shared" isn't accurate. If we hadn't jogged quickly to the muddy area to the side of the trail, the men on donkeys would certainly have bumped us out of their way.
The walk up that hill was a challenge. By the time we reached the hotel at the top, we were tired, thirsty and pretty dusty. At that moment the walk didn't seem worth the effort. Then we walked out onto the the wide deck of the Kasbah Toubkal where we were greeted with hot mint tea, Moroccan style--sweet and heavily caffeinated.
In the crisp, clear air, we took in the breath-taking view of the surrounding mountains and the village of Imlil in the valley below.
A few clouds floated by like rafters on inner tubes leisurely drifting on a vast blue lake. We sat and drank our tea and never wanted to leave.

Sitting on squat stools in the concrete floored pantry, Haja Rkia ben Houari and Fatima gave us a cooking lesson. The two Berber woman generously showed our group of journalists how to prepare a chicken tagine, couscous with lamb and potatoes and bread cooked on an outdoor oven.

At another cooking class at the very elegant La Maison Arabe, an upscale inn next to Marrakech's souk or shopping bazar, Amaggie Waga and Dadas Ayada taught us about Moroccan spices and cooking traditions and how modern Moroccan cooking resulted from the many groups who came to call the area home--Berbers, Jewish spice merchants, invading Arab armies and French colonialists.
Besides the historical facts, taking a cooking workshop was a way to learn how to make Morocco's signature dishes, most importantly how to make preserved vegetable pickles, which now I serve at practically every meal, that's how much I think their briny-spicy crunch brightens almost any dish.
For the holidays last year, my present-of-choice was preserved lemons, another recipe learned at the Maison Arabe cooking school.
This year in the spring, another press trip took me to Northern Spain on a wonderfully comprehensive tour with Insight Vacations. From Madrid we headed due north to San Sebastián and then rambled along the coast heading west. In the cathedral town of Burgos I enjoyed an hour's lunch in a small bar with half a dozen men watching soccer and eating tapas. We stopped in Bilbao to tour the Guggenheim and gaze up at Jeff Koons' "Puppy."
We traveled to a mountain top in the Picos de Europa mountains to visit the Cave of Covadonga the 8th century resting place of Spain's first Catholic king, Pelagius.
Our final stop was Santiago de Compostela, the end of the Pilgrims' trail and the Cathedral where it is said St. James' bones are buried. Inside the many rooms of the Cathedral there are statuary created over the centuries. The guide pointed out one that is very unusual--a very pregnant virgin Mary.
The trip mixed history, art and culinary traditions as we moved from tapas to pintxos, the Basque open faced sandwiches that I came to love. Whenever possible, Iberian ham, anchovies, sardines and octopus appeared on our plates along with delicious Galician beer, light and crisp.


From that trip I brought home ideas for appetizers, simply constructed with contrasting flavors and textures. Small plate tapas and grilled bread-pintxos now precede the soups, salads and entrees on our dinner party table. Easy-to-make, full of flavor, a delight to the eye, I took home from Northern Spain a great addition to our culinary vocabulary.
Both trips were for the Sunday print editions of New York Daily News and they showed me once again why it is great to get out town.

Former French Colony of Morocco Has Much to Recommend

Spain's Northern Coast, Far from Madrid, Barcelona and Bullfighting, Has Enticements of Its Own

Sunday, March 10, 2013

What's Up With Spam Comments?

You'd think part of the fun of posting online is hearing back from readers. The whole internet-is-great-for-community-building notion seems like such a good idea. The reality is kind of different.

For articles I wrote for NY TImes Dining and Huffington Post, some people would contribute thoughtful responses. But there were always those people who clearly had a pent up need to vent and my article gave them the opportunity to rant and rave anonymously.

Reading those comments was no fun.

The other sort of weirdness that comes from writing on the web are the spam-comments, sent for nefarious purposes (if you click on the link will your computer become infected and turn into one of the digital zombie hordes enlisted for god-knows-what-purposes?) or to do I-don't-know-what.

And how did the individuals or the bots behind their comments choose my web site and the specific articles? Why did Easy-to-Make Rotisserie Chicken and Roasted Vegetables  attract so many spam-comments?  What does that algorithm look like? Actually, what does any algorithm look like?

There is something like a tone poem in the three comments for the rotisserie chicken recipe:
And the bigger your tank, the more resources it consumes and the larger and better provisioned these support echelons have to beDeath is unpredictable and inevitable.Ever wonder what Tech N9ne bumps in the ride? The Kansas City King may not exactly be known for his whips, but he certainly spends enough time in them.vintage bridesmaid dressesYou are already familiar with this concept if you trade on the stock market. It getting cold wintertime now..vintage wedding dressBe sure to type the correct keywords so as to get accurate results. 
Anyway, I thought I would share some of the most recent ones. I've deleted the links to avoid facilitating the evil that might be lurking in the comment.

[DELETED/url] And the bigger your tank, the more resources it consumes and the larger and better provisioned these support echelons have to be.[DELETED/url] [DELETED/url]  yfsmstoh Death is unpredictable and inevitable. qhzxmwek [DELETED/url]  on Easy-to-Make Rotisserie Chicken and Roasted Vegetables

[DELETED/url] Ever wonder what Tech N9ne bumps in the ride? The Kansas City King may not exactly be known for his whips, but he certainly spends enough time in them.[DELETED/url] vintage bridesmaid dresses[/url] [DELETED/url]  gfquwlxq You are already familiar with this concept if you trade on the stock market. xujqkfdr [DELETED/url] on Easy-to-Make Rotisserie Chicken and Roasted Vegetables

[DELETED/url]  It getting cold wintertime now.. [DELETED/url] [DELETED/url] vintage wedding dress[/url] rfhvweba Be sure to type the correct keywords so as to get accurate results. uippdeay [DELETED/url]  on Easy-to-Make Rotisserie Chicken and Roasted Vegetables

Thanks for a maгvelous pоsting! Ӏ actually enjoyed reading it, you ωill be a great author.I will make sure to boοkmark yοur blog and maу come back іn the foreseeable future. І want to encourаge one to continue уοur grеat job, have a nice afternoоn! please click the following internet site on A 4th of July Picnic, the Perfect Time for Salads and Ribs

[DELETED/url]  - advance payday loans , [DELETED/url]  Austin's Dynamic Food Scene

The Characteristic of this Mega Green Tea with Coffee Genetic Green green coffee bean extract, Low Caffeine Convention, from 500 to 700 calories uttermost in a day. Unfortunately, green coffee bean extract often consumes an single with their option and they cannot tall mallow, yoghurt as good as fish are full-bodied in proteins but are low on fat. green coffee bean extract Herbs green bean coffee now pills are your topper selection, be certain that the maker lists the catechin message. This is depressed to the at that place, would not stimulate Green Coffee Bean Extract Reviews worth it. It does it vegetarian capsules 100% , Insurance premium Unroasted Green Green Coffee Bean Extract 800 Mg Std. to 50% Chlorogenic Sulfurous Now!! on Ask the Locals Guide: The Sundance Resort and Park City, Utah

Be sure to to be kept in Direction while developing the profile page on any Unloosen dating internet site. Beach particular date Pluses The best things approximately improper with the Online military service of dating. own an alerting eye same as forfeits -- they don't matter as losses or wins for Either school day. With the growth popularity of On-line Liberate dating web sites, increased rate look out for in theonline dating orbit. On-line Release dating is not simply for loving and humble mightiness be referred to as beautiful. What a identical social website. xpress dating There is jeopardy in Rid dating but there is as well not an exact judge of what's going on inside. And Unloosen Dating can be connecter earlier July, and have got individual to visit Penn's Landing with. Ask your friends dating and confab rooms are monetary standard tools for Australian-based site haven dynamic. Whether they let in it or not, to the highest degree mass are looking for Mr. or Leave on Ask the Locals Guide: The Sundance Resort and Park City, Utah

[DELETED/url] - buy generic accutane , [DELETED/url]  accutane cost onRestaurant Chez Roux, La Torretta del Lago Resort & Spa, Lake Conroy, Texas

[DELETED/url]viagra online without prescription[/url] - buy viagra , [DELETED/url] buy viagra onRestaurant Chez Roux, La Torretta del Lago Resort & Spa, Lake Conroy, Texas

[DELETED/url] - accutane 5 mg , [DELETED/url] cheap generic accutane on Morocco, Closer than Paris and a Lot More Exotic

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Morocco, Closer than Paris and a Lot More Exotic


To get a good photograph of Casablanca's Mosque Hassan II took a lot of backing up and avoiding the crowds of international tourists who had come to visit one of the world's largest mosques.
The building is not only about size, but details. The mosque invites visitors to appreciate the scale of nature and the intricacies of life as represented by the exquisite metal and tile work. As if it were the land's sentinel protecting man from the violence of the world, the Mosque stands on the edge of the North African continent, on the edge of a palisade overlooking the turbulent Atlantic Ocean.
A trip to Morocco often begins in Casablanca and frequently tour guides make the Mosque one of the first stops. After the majesty of the Mosque, we traveled north-east toward Fez, stopping in Mouly Idriss, a historically important hill city where we had lunch at Restaurant Alaambra with an open air-patio and grill.
The Mosque and Restaurant Alaambra were two good tent poles for our Moroccan trip. The spiritual and sublime mixed with the very human scale of every day life.

Visit a souk in Fez, Marrakech or seaside Essaouira and life tumbles out. Freshly butchered sheep, goats and cattle hang in the open air. Rabbits, pigeons and chickens sit quietly in wire cages waiting to be selected and turned into the family dinner. As a former French colony, bi-lingual Morocco has as many excellent bakeries selling croissants as Arabic bread.
A press trip to Morocco for New York Daily News circumnavigated the country, showing us the coastal cities of Casablanca and Essaouira, inland to traditional Fez, the Roman ruins of Volubilis, cosmopolitan Marrakech and relaxed Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains.

The article appeared Sunday in the print edtion and online: Former French colony of Morocco has much to recommend: stable government, good roads, beautiful architecture, exotic locales



Sunday, October 21, 2012

What's Cooking in New Orleans


Mention New Orleans and anyone who's been says, "The food's so great. And the music. If you go, you'll love it."
I hadn't been so when I was able to stay for a three day weekend in early October, I jumped at the chance.

With so few days in town, I asked for suggestions on Facebook and Twitter, read guide books and got recommendations from friends who are NOLA aficionados.

Certain restaurants appeared on multiple lists:

Acme Oyster House (724 Iberville Street, New Orleans 504/522-5973) in the French Quarter (for oysters although I was advised the place is so crowded, a good workaround to get in is to sit at the bar between 3:00pm-4:00pm).

Donald Link's restaurants are popular, especially Herbsaint (701 Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans 504/524-4114) and Cochon (930 Tchoupitoulas Street, New Orleans 504/588-2123) I made it to the latter, but more about that in a minute.
Fried chicken at Willie Mae's Scotch House (2401 At. Ann Street, Seventh Ward, New Orleans, 504/822-9503). Not close to anything, tucked away in a suburb, but well worth the 10 minute cab ride or 30 minute walk from the French Quarter.

Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the original Cafe du Monde (800 Decatur Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-4544) in the French Quarter for a morning or afternoon cafe au lait and beignets.

In the jackets-preferred Commander's Palace (1403 Washington Avenue, Garden District, New Orleans, 504/899-8221), Antoine's Restaurant  (713 Saint Louis Street, New Orleans 504/581-4422) and Galatoire's Restaurant (209 Bourbon Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-2021) for an upscale version of Creole, Cajun and New Orleans cooking.

We didn't have time to use the St. Charles streetcar, travel on a Mississippi riverboat, take a ride in a horse drawn carriage through the French Quarter or visit the Audubon Zoo.

Because the city is on mostly flat ground, riding a bicycle is a great way to get around town. My wife took an early morning bike ride. Leaving the Hotel Modern (936 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, 504/962-0900, 800/684-9535) where we were staying, she spent two hours happily riding around the Garden District's stately homes and the hauntingly beautiful cemeteries.
We missed many of the recommended places, but we did have a drink at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monetleone (214 Royal Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/528-1019), which made me dizzy even though we were sitting safely in the nearby large lounge. Changing my seat improved the experience so instead of watching the slowly spinning bar, I watched people on the street walking by and riding in horse drawn carriages.
We heard music everywhere, in bars, on the street and in parks.
Our first night in town, arriving late because our Southwest flight was delayed, we walked into the French Quarter for something to eat. Surprisingly, given New Orleans' reputation as a party town, all the restaurants were closed by 10:00 PM.

After asking around, just off Bourbon Street we found Oceana Grill (739 Conti Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, 504/525-6002) which stayed open later than most restaurants.
Not on anyone's list, we enjoyed our meal of Cajun seafood gumbo, blackened red fish with red beans and rice and bread pudding with whipped cream. Even though it was close to 11:00 PM, the food tasted freshly made, the crab was sweet and delicious, the red fish with Creole seasoning was moist and spicy.
A Manhattan-up-with-a-twist was made with the local Sazerac Rye. Very nice.

On our short trip, we started a list of places we would happily recommend and look forward to visiting again.

We made a pilgrimage to cash-only Cafe du Monde for coffee and a breakfast beignet. Given the crowds morning-noon-and-night, it's surprising they have such a limited menu. Basically it's a riff on the SNL cheeseburger-cheeseburger-cheeseburger joke. Only here it's cafe ole-beignet-orange juice.
The beignets--better than any I've eaten anywhere else--arrive thickly coated with powdered sugar on tapas sized plates. There's no way you'll eat your beignet and NOT get sugar on your shirt and pants.
The coffee is great and goes perfectly with the airy-suggary beignets. Even though the place is crowded, the turnover is quick so even if there is a long line to get in, you can sit, eat and even read the newspaper without feeling guilty.
A kitchen the size of a large closet accommodates dozens of waitstaff and kitchen help. With exquisite choreography, servers carrying large trays loaded down with silverware, stacks of paper napkins, water glasses, coffees and beignets leave the kitchen passing by others returning tray-fulls of empty glasses, dirty silverware and plates.
Meals at Herbsaint and Cochon were good. Finding fresh vegetables that haven't been steamed, stewed and fried isn't that easy in New Orleans. Donald Link treats his veggies with respect even as he celebrates all things meat, especially pork at pig-centric Cochon where I had a crust-perfect serving of short ribs on a bed of vegetables and creamy faro.
For lovers of good fried chicken, Willie Mae's is a lot of fun. One of my fondest memories growing up was our trips to the beach with containers filled with potato salad and fried chicken. Admittedly the fried chicken was soggy after spending the night in the refrigerator, but I loved it none the less.
At Willie Mae's, there is no such thing as soggy fried chicken. The chicken that arrives on the plate is as crisp as can be with the meat, hot and moist.

For $10.00, you get a wing, thigh and leg, a corn muffin and a choice of sides, which in my case was not a "side" but a second course of red beans and rice served in a large bowl. I loved the fried chicken and the red beans and rice. The beans were thick with flavor and a touch of heat.

The best meal of the trip started with an interview with Austin Kirzner, executive chef at Red Fish Grill on the edge of the French Quarter. Kirzner sat down with me over a cup of coffee in the morning before the restaurant opened and described the kind of cooking he learned to do in Louisiana and New Orleans.

To illustrate what he was talking about, he showed me how to make a New Orleans classic: BBQ Shrimp. The video lays out all the ingredients and the techniques required to make an easy-to-make recipe that any home cook could prepare.
The heads-on shrimp were delicious. And his creamy cheesy grits were as good.
At night my wife and I came back for a tasting of Red Fish Grill's menu.
Kirzner showed us his favorites: the BBQ oysters which were actually deep fried and served with blue cheese dressing, raw oysters on the half shell and Louisiana blue crab cakes.
A crispy whole redfish looked as if it could still swim but this time in a river of vegetables and a filet of hickory grilled redfish was topped with sweet lump crabmeat.
Several delicious desserts appeared on the table, including a fat slice of pecan pie with whipped cream and an over-the-top triple chocolate bread pudding that could barely contain itself in its silver bowl.
When we weren't eating and listening to music, we walked around the city, admiring signs, graffiti and architecture that was unique, distinctive, traditional and modern, with a sense of humor and a delight in bright, vibrant colors.