One of my primary missions in NOLA was to find a great local watering hole undiscovered by tourists. Through a recommendation on Twitter, I'd booked a reservation at miLa, which features cuisine constructed by two disctinct influences: that of Louisiana, and that of Mississippi. My dinner was a simple and savory halibut with mustard sauce made decadent when paired with cheddar and chive cornbread. One of the nicest features of the restaurant is the seating. The booth design dims the sound of surrounding conversation, making it a good place to catch up with an old friend.
miLa is located in the Renaissance Pere Marquette hotel, which houses Bar Uncommon - infamous, if only for it's bartender Chris McMillan. Chris is a 4th generation bartender, founded the Museum of the American Cocktail, and crafts both original and classic cocktails without the pretention one might (or, does) find in New York or San Francisco.
Irene has been scolded by bartenders over her preference of flavored spirits like raspberry Stoli; some have even refused to make her the drink she wants. Chris didn't judge; rather, he created an original drink just for her that involved muddled ginger, gin and fresh strawberries. His instinct was spot on, and she downed the first drink before he could even begin making her another (different from the first, her second again began with muddled ginger, but went in the direction of tequila, fresh green apples, and lemon juice). My drink was called New Orleans is Drowning - bourbon, cognac, campari, simple syrup, and bitters. Quite delicious.
While mixing drinks, he talked about the history of the ingredients, the differences between bars in NYC (classic and artisanal style) v. San Francisco (local and organic ingredients), told us about some up and comers in New Orleans (Cure), and answered the ultimate question: if he were to go have a drink in NOLA, where would it be? Answers: Swizzlestick, French 75, and the Sazerac Bar at the Roosevelt hotel. His knowledge of cocktails and the history of New Orleans is deep, and it is a poetic experience to sit at his bar.