NEW ORLEANS — One thing you can say about New Orleanians: They know how to punt.
When the date for Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII was set, there could have been a loud gasp: It was scheduled right in the middle of the city's hectic Carnival season.
The powers that be decided to start the parades a week early, break for the National Football League events, then launch back into crazy Carnival party mode, culminating with Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — on Feb. 12, the day before the start of Lent.
New Orleans, which displayed its survival skills after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, knows how to recover and celebrate life like no other place.
But how can visitors get a taste of the city in a few days? Books are filled with ideas, and two websites are invaluable: http://www.neworleansonline.com and http://www.neworleanscvb.com.
Here's a personal take from a lifelong New Orleanian. It targets food and music, the essentials of life in this city, and some extras.
New Orleans 101
The French Quarter is required. Jackson Square is headed by St. Louis Cathedral, which is flanked by two Louisiana state museums (http://www.crt.state.la.us/museum), the Presbytere (Mardi Gras exhibit) and the Cabildo (site of the Louisiana Purchase transfer and now, yoga classes on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings (www.facebook.com/yogaatthecabildo).
You must have café au lait and hot beignets at Café du Monde (800 Decatur St., http://www.cafedumonde.com). Walk down Chartres (CHART-is — we mispronounce a lot of French words) toward Esplanade (Es-plan-ADE) to see the noncommercial French Quarter where most Quarter residents live. Brangelina own a home on Gov. Nicholls Street, near the river. Check out the flea market on Decatur Street.
Meander beside the Mississippi River from Jackson Square to Canal Street, and when a brash guy says, "I'll bet you five bucks I can tell you where you got your shoes," stare back and say, "I got them on my feet." Take the free Canal Street ferry across the river for photo ops of the city skyline at dusk.
Ride a streetcar down St. Charles Avenue; get off at 1st Street to see the mansions in the Garden District where John Goodman and Sandra Bullock own homes. And of course, stroll down Royal Street and poke into its antiques shops in daytime. At night, gawk on Bourbon Street. It looks tawdry in sunlight.
Chef-owner Phillip Lopez describes the menu at his year-old Root (200 Julia St., in the Warehouse District, http://www.rootnola.com) as "modern American cuisine rooted in old-world flavors and techniques." OK, it's gimmicky. But, a recent amuse-bouche, a sliver of smoked beet sprinkled with dark chocolate powder and mustard green twill, was delicious. So was the $20 Ménage á Foie, a trio of foie gras bites, including one that was a smidgen of the liver on a lollipop stick and surrounded with foie gras-flavored cotton candy. Bread pudding was covered with gin. Staff is friendly and dress upscale casual (no T-shirts, but jeans with intentional rips are fine). A tasting restaurant, Square Root, will open soon on Magazine Street.
Two name chefs, Rick Tramonto and John Folse, opened Restaurant R'evolution (http://www.revolutionnola.com) in the Royal Sonesta Hotel (777 Bienville St. at Bourbon), focusing on "revolutionizing" Creole and Cajun cuisine. How about red snapper with pork belly, cabbage and root vegetable purée? Prices at night can be astronomical, but weekday lunch specials for less than $20 pay tribute to specialties of long-gone local restaurants.
Chef Michael Doyle opened Maurepas Foods (3200 Burgundy St., http://www.maurepasfoods.com) a year ago in Bywater, an artsy neighborhood about 10 minutes by car from the Quarter. Décor in the storefront restaurant is whimsical. It's affordable, with inventively named cocktails; goat tacos are a fixture on changeable menus. Closed Wednesdays.
Eight blocks of Freret Street (http://www.thenewfreret.com) from Napoleon to Jefferson Avenue in Uptown have become a go-to place for casual restaurants in the last couple of years. Among the 13 places to eat and drink are High Hat Cafe (4500 Freret St., http://www.highhatcafe.com), the destination for New Orleanians craving Southern fried catfish, gumbo, collard greens, black-eyed peas and mac 'n' cheese; Company Burger (4600 Freret St., http://www.thecompanyburger.com), a high-tech haven for hand-ground burgers; and Dat Dog (5030 Freret St., http://www.datdognola.com), with hot dogs and sausages so good fans willingly join a queue. Cure (4905 Freret St., http://www.curenola.com) is an upmarket bar (no sign outside), with cocktail concoctions made by using eyedroppers filled with unusual liqueurs. The small-plate menu includes comfort food with a twist (roasted pork and caramelized onion Frito pie).