WHERE TO STAY The Ritz-Carlton, which opened last October, is not your typical Ritz—first, it's a $200 million renovation of two venerable structures, the Kress Building and the department store Maison Blanche. White limestone floors replace the usual marble, and there are brass lanterns in lieu of crystal chandeliers. Wallpaper in the 452 rooms is in Mardi Gras green, purple, and gold. The spa, which measures 20,000 square feet, is outfitted with gauzy walls, fountains, and candelabras that suggest an Anne Rice novel (treatments, such as four-hand massages with essential oils and milk baths with magnolia oil, are extremely pampering).
The elegant Victor's restaurant has quickly established itself as a local favorite for a special night out. Chef Frank Brunacci trained with the talented Joel Antunes, currently at Atlanta's Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, and his menus brilliantly and delicately blend classical French with New Orleans touches. (Three courses, $65 per person; six-course and nine-course degustation, $75 and $150, respectively.)
A caveat: The location on Canal Street (abutting both the Central Business District and the French Quarter), though convenient, is seedy. The area is due to be redeveloped, but that improvement project is at least two years away. $295-$4,000. 921 Canal Street, New Orleans, LA 70112; 800-241-3333, 504-524-1331; www.ritzcarlton.com.
BEST NEW RESTAURANT With a name like Cuvée, it's no surprise that the centerpiece of this year-old restaurant is the 1,400-bottle wine list. The accompanying menu is an estimable mix of French, Spanish, and African influences. Don't miss the spicy shrimp Napoleon with tomato remoulade, the smoked duck with Roquefort pecan risotto, and the triple chocolate cake with butterscotch ice cream and caramel sauce. $90. 322 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70130; 504-587-9001.
MOST INCONSISTENT NEW RESTAURANT The food at Herbsaint, the second, more casual restaurant from Bayona's Susan Spicer, is just not consistent. In a signature shrimp bisque, herbsaint (the flavoring of absinthe) overshadowed the other ingredients, and chocolate beignets were greasy. But the smothered greens and shrimp with green chile grit cakes were delicious. $60. 701 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70130; 504-524-4114.
DRESSED-DOWN BUT CLASSIC FOOD For po'boys: Domilise's, little more than a shack with worn-out linoleum from decades of foot traffic lining up at the counter for what many consider the best sandwiches in town ($7 small, $8 large; cash only). 5240 Annunciation Street, New Orleans, LA 70115; 504-899-9126. For oysters, on the half shell and fried: Casamento's, the simple, white-tiled spot, has been a local favorite since 1919 ($15; cash only). 4330 Magazine Street, New Orleans, LA 70115; 504-895-9761. For authentic creole: Jacquesimo Café, the noisy, crowded, smoky dining room that's worth the struggle for the earthy blackened redfish, BBQ shrimp, shrimp étouffée, and fried chicken ($50). 8324 Oak Street, New Orleans, LA 70118; 504-861-0886.
SHOPPING HIGHLIGHTS Magazine Street The best stretch is the 13 blocks between Louisiana and Napoleon. Among the high points there are Empire Antiques (3420 Magazine, 504-897-0252) and Uptowner Antiques (3828 Magazine, 504-891-7700) for French pieces; mac Maison (3963 Magazine, 504-891-2863) for 18th- and 19th-century architectural pieces, mantels, and chandeliers; Neal Auction Company (4038 Magazine, 504-899-5329) for furniture, silver, and porcelain; and Cole Pratt Gallery (3800 Magazine, 504-891-6789) for paintings by Southern artists.
THE FRENCH QUARTER Diane Genre specializes in museum-quality antique Chinese and Japanese textiles and Ming furniture. By appointment. Royal Street; 504-595-8945. The French Antique Shop features three floors of spectacular 18th- and 19th-century French antiques. 225 Royal Street; 504-524-9861; www.frantique.com. Gerald D. Katz Antiques is the place for estate Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian jewelry. 505 Royal Street; 504-524-5056; www.bijous.com. Bevolo has been in business for 56 years, handcrafting copper lanterns, the type on view on French Quarter streets (cash only). 521 Conti; 504-522-9485.
LOCAL INSIDERS Macon Riddle is an antiques expert who can lead the way through the maze of antiques stores on Royal and Magazine streets ($75 an hour for a two-person tour; 504-899-3027; www.neworleansantiquing.com). Kevin Molony, a private art dealer, organizes custom visits to private mansions in the Quarter, nights out on the jazz scene, and introductions to the local social lions (fees vary depending on services; 877-608-7696; www.royalinsider.com).