Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Have you found your Holiday Eatery? How about New Year's?

Yes... it's that time of year again... the time for setting up the tree (if you haven't already!) and stretching lights across your front porch...

Time for decking the halls,
and holiday cheer,
time to clean house for in-laws,
and then it's almost New Year!
Is your Turkey all basted?
Your pie stuffing gathered?
Have you reveled in carols
Till your vocal cords tattered?

Well, on the off chance you, like me, are not going 'home for the holidays' or having family come to you, maybe it's time to start thinking about what you really want for Christmas. And I don't mean gift-wise. I mean, do you really want to eat frozen dinner?

Trying to find Christmas Eve and even Christmas reservations for dinner can be overwhelming; you want to feel in the holiday spirit by merely stepping into this the restaurant you choose, and when you leave after your meal, you want to leave maintaining that cheerful glow.

While there are sites out there to help you, such as zagat and even opentable, only you really know what is right for you. But let me try and help, if I may, as I have had my fair share of 'swing batter batter' hits and misses over the years. (As an aside, I worked in TV News for several years which required working holidays, hence I often dined out when I could after work.)

Clearly, if you live in a metropolitan area, the options will be far more abundant for both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Chicago, for example, still has plenty of spaces in restaurants ranging from high-end, amazing eateries to lower-cost, family style restaurants.

Christmas/Eve Dining Options in Chicago
  • I will start by highlighting one of my favorite restaurants, Cafe des Architectes in the Sofitel, which will be having both a brunch (11-2:30 pm) and a prix-fixe dinner (2-11 pm) on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. If you want to be in a luxurious setting where your food is prepared by knowledgeable, passionate chefs, this is your go-to spot for a dinner that will not disappoint. (On a side-note, I think Michelin really needs to give this place another look. They deserve, if not at least one star, 'Bib Gourmand' status!) 
  • On a completely different end of the spectrum, if you live in the 'burbs and want a bit of sizzle to your holidizzle, Benihana in Lombard, Shaumburg, and Wheeling, IL will be open both days as well. While it doesn't appear their menu will be changing, that's kind of half the fun of Benihana, isn't it? Walk on up, sit on down, and let the chefs put on a show. 
  • If you have been in Chi-town any amount of time, you've seen the plethora of McCormick and Schmick's restaurants that abound in the city. Again, the menu will be the same as usual, but you are guaranteed a decent meal in a lavish, semi-private setting. (On a side note, my first Christmas dinner away from home was with an old boyfriend at a McCormick and Schmick's in downtown Austin!) 
  • For an Italian, family-style dinner that will definitely not break the bank, Buca di Beppo is open both days as well. I've only eaten at the one downtown, and at that only once, when I ordered a pizza, my date ordered pasta and the waiter cautioned that we were over-ordering (true!) as the meals are 'family style' (also true!) 
  • Heading out of the 'burbs and just north of downtown, Deleece on Southport will be opening it's doors for both Christmas, with a $40 three course dinner, as well on Christmas Eve, offering seasonal fare along with their normal menu. Admittedly I've never been here, but have only heard excellent things about this spot. 
  • Back downtown we go to learn the beloved one-Michelin star restaurant NoMI, in the Park Hyatt, is open for a special brunch buffet on Christmas day. Bring your appetites and your wallets, as this buffet is priced at a whopping $115/per person. 
  • Weber Grill in downtown Chicago will have a holiday menu on both Christmas & Christmas Eve, along with its regular menu. I've eaten at two of the Weber restau's in the burbs, and both were very good. For a restaurant that will deliver a family atmosphere and an upscale setting, but won't lead you to the poor house, this is a safe bet. Unfortunately, while it doesn't look like their suburban restaurants will be open for Chrstimas day, they will be open for Christmas Eve. 
  • You know those places you keep saying, "I really wanna try that place" but haven't? Yeah, Mercat a la Planxa is one of those places for me. It sounds amazing with its Spanish tapas and sangria bar, but I have never found a time to go. As they are open for both Christmas & Christmas Eve, you certainly can! On the Eve they are featuring their normal menu, along with the chef's tasting of 'Catalan Holiday Dishes,' whereas on Christmas they are offering a $35 brunch. 
If you live in New York your options are even more plentiful, and potentially more exciting.

Manhattan Dining Round-up (a short list)
  • For starters, La Cerverceria on 4th st and 2nd ave is celebrating in true NYC style - read: outright debauchery. On Christmas Eve, they are offering a 4 course dinner and 3 hour open bar for only $65/per person. On Christmas day, you can have the same deal with 2 hours of open bar time for $55/per person... you know, because, it's um... Christmas... so that extra hour you would be drinking you should be spending out caroling... or something. 
  • Like the 'burbs of Chi-town, NYC's Benihana will not disappoint you. And if your dad tries to drag you to a sketchy restaurant in Chinatown because he's seen A Christmas Story one too many times, this might be your way out. (If only I'd known!) 
  • As with Benihana, places like McCormick and Schmick's as well as Buca di Beppo will be open in your New York, and New Jersey, area. 
  • If you'd rather have solamente sushi and none of the onion flipping, volcano-building of Benihana, Blue Fin in Time's Square will be open for both holidays serving up their above-average (and somewhat above-average-price) sushi in a see-and-be-seen sort of setting. (After all, isn't that what Christmas is really about? No? Oh... Ok...) 
  • Heading way down from midtown to Tribeca we find Bouley, holding tight to its one Michelin star, which keeps fine-dining aficionados flocking to this upscale eatery. If this is more your style, prepare yourself and your bank account for a $95 lunch or a $195 six course dinner Christmas Day. The lunch, it appears, is only offered Christmas Eve. 
  • Not to be outdone, Jean-Georges on Columbus Circle, with a coveted three Michelin star rating, will be offering a 7-course prix-fixe for $198 on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Having eaten here myself when the chef won the James Beard award, I can say it is a fine choice for celebrating your holiday. 
  • If high-end Thai is more your style, head to SoHo to the once-Iron Chef run Kittichai which will be serving a special menu on Christmas day for your indulgence. This restaurant is a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. 
  • Back up to midtown we go, where Rock Center Cafe, which has always been hit or miss for me, is offering a reasonable $69 prix-fixe both days in an iconic setting. You can eat whilst gazing out upon the, albeit lower half, of the famous Rock Center tree and ice rink. 
  • Across the rink, the Sea Grill, sister restaurant to Rock Center Cafe, will also be open both days, for a prix-fixe of $125. Having spent many a Christmas as a teenager in Houston, Texas with my mom's side of the family, I know it can be hard to find even taquerias and chain restaurants open - but they do exist! Sometimes it means driving around, or biting the bullet and hoping your local taco bell, jack in the box, or even domino's will be open. But if it comes to that, maybe you should just plan ahead with your own Christmas meal? 
pot pie
After all, even a well-crafted, home-made pot pie made with love is better than a $1 taco any day... Or most days... unless you're trying to grease up post drinking... in which case I'd go for the taco. But since we are talking about Christmas, I'd go for the pot pie. Which means in the next few days I will be sharing with you one of my favorite pot-pie recipes I invented myself (so proud!) I will also share a few other's I've found scouring the web for culinary creativity! So check back soon for those helpful hints!

New Years Eve Peek-A-Boo for me and my boo

While we live, now, about three hours north of Chicago, seeing that my beloved Cafe des Architectes is having a 5-course dinner for NYE... We might just be headed down that way. Before moving to Sheboygan, we spent the two prior New Year's Eve's at Yoshi's Cafe in Chicago, which were both extremely good.

If you know of places open in your area for Christmas Eve or Christmas day, or even New Years Eve, and want to help your fellow diners out, please leave a comment below!

Gracias and, you know, Feliz Navidad!


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