Numerous cultures and religions have holidays centered on the winter solstice, and each one brings its own food traditions. For Italian-Americans, that means two days of generous family-style meals on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The spread on the former, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, involves — you guessed it! — seven (or more) different seafood dishes laid out in an impressive spread.
Enjoyable, yes, but it’s a ridiculous amount of work for home cooks. If you want to indulge but would just as soon forgo the lingering scent of seafood in your apartment, here’s where to feast (be sure to call ahead to reserve a spot and confirm serving times):
Seamore’s (390 Broome Street; 212-730-6005)
On December 10, Michael Chernow launched a two-week an ode to oceanic creatures. Seamore’s Feast of the Seven Fishes series offers a new fish-focused special every two days until December 23, the day before Christmas Eve. On Thursday, December 17, it’s shrimp and grits; on Friday and Saturday, stuffed squid with its ink and couscous risotto with sautéed peas and mushrooms. Sunday and Monday you’ll find creamed polenta with monkfish ragu. And on Tuesday and Wednesday, stop in for whole roasted porgy stuffed with Italian mirepoix and smoky tomato broth.
L’Amico (849 Avenue of the Americas; 212-201-4065)
Laurent Tourondel’s new Italian place offers both a prix fixe special and an à la carte menu for Christmas Eve. The special Feast includes clams oreganata, baccalà, and Tuscan kale salad with sherry vinaigrette; diver sea scallops (with endive marmalade and caramelized tangerine); octopus and shrimp scampi over lemon carnaroli risotto; seafood agnolotti (bay scallops, crab, shrimp, lemon-mascarpone); bucatini pasta fra diavolo with lobster; and wood oven-baked branzino with fennel, carrot, and vin santo bianco brodo. The meal ends with crunchy chocolate cannoli with orange-blossom ricotta gelato and cranberry confit, or clementine-almond cake with raspberries and almond-milk gelato. The prix fixe costs $125 per person.
Fresco by Scotto (34 East 52nd Street; 212-935-3434)
The Scotto family is offering its own take on the holiday at the behest of the family matriarch. “The menu at Fresco by Scotto was created from my mother Marion and her experience growing up with a traditional Italian family,” says Anthony Scotto Jr. “My mom insisted that her children continue this tradition. All of her four children have passed it down to their children with the meaning and understanding of this feast.” At the restaurant it starts with grilled pizza margherita; and antipasto with homemade mozzarella, imported cheeses, salumi, and chef’s selection of antipasti salads. For the entrees, look for dishes like spiced, seared, and sliced yellowfin tuna, baccalà alla livornese, Scottish salmon, and sirloin alla Toscana. Dessert options include creamy ricotta cheesecake, apple crisp, and homemade tiramisu. The cost is $80 per person (excluding drinks, tax, and gratuity). Kids dine for $45 each. For the little ones, the menu includes penne with tomato and ice cream.
Gato (324 Lafayette Street; 212-334-6400)
Bobby Flay’s Spanish-influenced spot is serving a $95 family-style meal. Tastings include polenta-crusted oysters with horseradish gremolata, mussels and razor clams with pickled shallots, and raw tuna piquillo with saffron sauce. The first course is zuppa di pesce, made with halibut and a tomato saffron broth and Sicilian olive relish, followed by shellfish paella verde: a mix of lobster shrimp, mussels, squid, egg, and crusty green rice. It ends with a Honeycrisp apple tart with Christmas spices and chestnut gelato. Table participation is required.
Atlantic Grill Lincoln Center (49 West 64th Street; 212-787-4663)
Find a three-course meal for $59 with an optional $20 wine pairing here. It starts with small Maryland crab salad with baby fennel, radish avocado, and tarragon aÏoli paired with Weinberghof Fritsch ‘Windspiel’ grüner veltliner. The main course is a winter seafood stew with cod, salmon, swordfish, mussels, shrimp, calamari, and lump crab in saffron broth, accompanied by Row Eleven pinot noir. For dessert, stick a fork into eggnog crème caramel gingerbread cake with brandied dry fruit compote and a glass of Caposaldo moscato.
Vic’s (Great Jones Street; 212-253-5700)
This Italian-Mediterranean NoHo restaurant from industry vets Vicki Freeman and Marc Meyer offers a $70 feast. Chef Hillary Sterling’s take on the traditional meal kicks off with an array of antipasti including fried whitebait with Meyer lemon, roasted oysters with hot peppers, sea-urchin bread, and marinated fish (think anchovies, herring, and mackerel). The pasta courses features fontina fonduta with American caviar, potatoes, and chervil, as well as linguine with clams, chiles, leeks, and lemon. Then comes brodetto with black bass, tomatoes, capers, and green olives. Sicilian candies and cookies will be served for dessert. Menu is subject to change; reservations are available.
Hearth (403 East 12th Street; 646-602-1300)
Chef Marco Canora is back again with his annual Feast of the Seven Fishes. For $96 per person (plus an additional $54 for a wine pairing), the festive menu features a variety of specialties, including marinated seafood salad, linguine con vongole, and cacciucco (Tuscan fish stew). It ends with gingerbread cake topped with roasted apples, toffee sauce, and eggnog gelato for dessert.
La Pecora Bianca (1133 Broadway; 212-498-9696)
“Our menu bridges both my family history and executive chef Simone’s culinary heritage in Modena,” says La Pecora Bianca’s chef de cuisine John Paidas. “I used to do feast of seven fishes with my grandfather in Baltimore. The whole family would get together and I remember being forbidden to eat meat, which was a big deal in our family! The evening would get progressively louder as the night went on.” Following tradition, Paidas begins with striped-bass tartare, followed by cioppino (clams, mussels, sepia, and monkfish), lobster ricotta cavatelli, and baked whole dorade with sunchokes and fennel — Paidas’ dad loved to eat whole fish for the holiday. For dessert: migliaccio cake topped with the restaurant’s house preserves. The cost is $80 per person; wine pairing is an additional $45.
Grand Central Oyster Bar (89 East 42nd Street; 212-490-6650)
This seafood institution offers a holiday à la carte menu for a DIY feast. Specials include pasta e fagiole with Florida rock shrimp and basil oil ($7.25), Italian seafood salad ($28.95), grilled jumbo shrimp with puttanesca sauce over spaghetti ($29.95), Maine lobster thermidor over rice pilaf ($31.95), salt cod potato-crusted Norwegian salmon fillet with spicy tomato sauce and risotto Milanese ($29.95), and sea urchin gelato ($6.75). There’s a large dessert menu to cap off the meal with options ranging from almond chestnut-praline chocolate bûche de noël ($8.50) and panettone and caramelized apple charlotte with crystalized ginger crème anglaise ($7.50) to chocolate mousse ($6.75) and New York cheesecake ($7.25).
The Red Cat (227 Tenth Avenue; 212-242-1122)
Inspired by his Italian heritage, chef/owner Jimmy Bradley is serving a special feast for Christmas Eve. Family-style courses are $15 apiece à la carte; these include hamachi tartare, Nantucket Bay scallop ceviche, crisp shrimp with white polenta, house-made tagliatelle with peekytoe crab, sautéed calamari, grilled octopus; and grilled swordfish with quinoa tabbouleh and citrus nage.
The Clam (420 Hudson Street; 212-242-7420)
Market Table chef/owner Mike Price’s neighborhood joint in the West Village is offering a $90-per-person Feast of the Seven Fishes composed of five courses. Dishes include (but are not limited to) fresh-shucked Wellfleet oysters served family-style with chili mignonette; lobster chowder with Yukon Gold potatoes, sherry, and croutons; house-cut spaghetti fra diavolo (rock shrimp, mussels, arugula, and lemon); and 86 proof chocolate icebox cake with bourbon, chocolate wafers, and espresso chantilly.
il Buco Alimentari (53 Great Jones Street, 212-837-2622)
The Christmas Eve feast runs from 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. (see full menu here) and costs $95 ($45 for kids). The menu includes baccalà mantecato bruschetta, giant prawns with red pesto and lemon, squid-ink pasta with cockles and peperoncino, and monkfish with cabbage leaves and lobster fumé. For dessert, start with a traditional Italian sgroppino cocktail with housemade lemon sorbet and prosecco, followed by chocolate budino, blood-orange semolina torte, and homemade cookies.