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“Holiday Eats Old and New”

It really should come as no surprise that by the time January rolls around, I’ve got several new rolls of my own. Yet every year I wonder why my jeans seem to shrink around New Year’s time. It’s the same culprit every year. No, not an errant overzealous dryer. It’s that I’ve spent the weeks between Thanksgiving and December 31st indulging in holiday celebrations with friends, family, colleagues, heck, anyone who asks nice enough. ‘Tis the season after all, and so I’ve come to terms with jean shrinkage (I’ve even purchased larger jeans in advance this year to allow for more comfort until I lose the holiday handles.) And I’ve come up with a list of my favorite places to celebrate—priceless classics and newcomers with promise. Guilt be gone! Happy Holidays to all and to all a delicious night.

The Classics

Peter Luger’s: To me, the holidays are a time for something special and out of the ordinary. For some that means making dinner out of caviar, blinis, and bubbly, but for me it means a very good steak, a big bold bottle of red, and very little else. A side of fries, some creamed spinach, too. All this, at Peter Luger's. It's old school simple, with little by way of decor other than the coloful clientele (a mix of bridge and tunnel, Sex and the City pals, and frustrated high-rollers) and the life-long waiters serving you. Couple more things to add to the experience: at the bar while you wait, a Manhattan; the bacon to start; and the ice cream sundae to finish. 

Savoy: The unsung hero of the farm to table movement is chef Peter Hoffman and his Savoy is one of my favorite places to find our state's best local ingredients woven into dishes that spotlight the farmhouse cuisine of the Mediterranean. Make sure to sit upstairs in front of the fire-blazing hearth. It's romantic, cozy, and one of the most wonderful dining experiences going.  

Babbo: Mario Batali's carriage house as ode to Italy is still my favorite place for Italian in the city. Not only is the food delicious, it's really a straight-for-the-gut sort of meal. Nothing to precious or erudite. I like that. The Mint Love Letters are still terrific, as is just about anything else on the menu. The bar is always festive this time of year and the place just feels like a celebration. 

Gramercy Tavern: Nothing says Happy Holidays to me like the front room at Gramercy Tavern. It's wrapped up like a present under the tree, in ribbons, bows, and wreaths, with golds, russets, and deep forest green tapestries reflecting the warm rich colors of the season. I'd take it over Rockefeller Center any day. Chef Michael Anthony's menu has really come into its own and the food's as good as it's ever been. You can vie for your reservation in the formal dining room, but you'll be just as happy waiting for a table in the festive tavern room, where winter cocktails, like simmering hot toddies and mulled local ciders are poured. 

Eleven Madison Park: If you haven't tried chef Daniel Humm's food at 11 Madison, you really must make it your resolution to do so before 2009 becomes 2010. It's inspiring to see such a young chef juxtaposing brilliant flavors, textures, and techniques. Food aside, the restaurant is utterly classic New York, with its vaulted ceilings and marble floors. To me it feels very grown up, a place where ladies should be wearing elbow length gloves and fur stoles, and gents might be in Fedroas and long thin ties. Don and Betty Draper would fit right in. So will you.

New Favorites

Corton, Chef Paul Liebrandt may have had a rocky start to his illustrious career with critical acclaim but popular dismay at restaurants like Atlas, but he’s found his place in the sun at Corton. Drew Nieporent’s revamped Montrachet is an elegant affair, washed in white, with meticulous, thoughtful service and a stunning display of culinary genius from the kitchen. This is the sort of place for serious food lovers who still have an appetite for fine dining despite the recession. And to tell you the truth, the three-course prix fixe is one of the best deals going at $85.

Maialino: Danny Meyer has opened a lot of Shake Shacks of late, but he hasn’t opened a “real” restaurant since The Modern. Maialino shows he’s still on top of his game. The new restaurant in the Gramercy Park Hotel, which is a replica of a Roman trattoria drawn through the eyes of Mr. Meyer, is a fantastic debut, with rich, soulful pastas, luxurious platters of salumi and cheese, and a roster of secondi that includes the signature Maialino—slow-roasted suckling pig with skin as crisp as a kettle fried potato chip. The space is a perfect for a holiday celebration (or two), whether a drink for two at the friendly and boisterous bar, or a family-style meal at the table for 22.

Aldea: Chef Georges Mendes spent many years as the number two cook under Marco Moriera at Toqueville and he’s finally got his own show with Aldea. He’s learned a lot from his mentor (he also worked for many years for David Bouley), and his cooking at Aldea is inspired and understated, a reflection of the Greenmarket through the prism of the Mediterranean. The room is as lovely as the food. It is modern and spare, and quite elegant, dressed in a luxurious swath of cool airy ocean tones—white, blue, aqua, and sky. Prisms of light reflect off bamboo shaped tubes of glass that descend from the ceiling like a waterfall. The effect is serene and calming, not cold and stark. Perfect for holiday celebrations.

Marea: Michael White is a chef with a serious amount of talent, whose food I continue to thoroughly enjoy at Convivio. But for the holidays, I’d splurge on Marea, his latest project located on Central Park South in the former San Domenico space. The reconceived space honors Italian seafood and it’s another bright beacon for the world of fine dining. It’s a pretty space, with an oceanliner chic vibe – cool and open, with the warmth of first class service. While the seafood is among the most pristine being served anywhere in the city, don’t miss the fusilli with red wine braised octopus and bone marrow.

Craftsteak: There are so many steakhouses in the city these days it’s hard to say which one to chose for a special meal, but for my money, it’s Craftsteak for a couple of reasons. First, I love the design. It’s practically anti-steakhouse in feel, with lofty triple height ceilings, and a warm, almost feminine palate of creamy buttery neutrals and browns. Then there’s the steak, which in my experience has been prepared flawlessly every time, and includes several varieties and ages of beef depending on your tastes. It’s a steakhouse that channels elegance and finesse in its preparations and presentations, which is kind of nice for the Holidays. If this isn’t your thing and you’d rather have more of a boy’s club, with a simpler menu, see Peter Luger’s, above.

Cheers!

This post is part of the first annual NYC Bloggers do the Holidays series organized by MUG. To read more about what to do with your holidays see the links below!

 

Brooklyn Based: Home for the Holidays

Give and Get NYC: ’Tis The Season to Volunteer

The Improvised Life: Unwrapping the Holidays 

Manhattan User's Guide: Gift Guide

Mommy Poppins: Offbeat and Multicultural Family Holiday Events

NY Barfly: It's the Holidays, Time to Drink 

NewYorkology Big-ticket holiday shows: Nutcracker, Rockettes, Wintuk

offManhattan Ten Holiday Getaways Near NYC 

Patell & Waterman's History of New York: A little history with your holidays

The Skint: 30 days of skintmas - a cheap (or free!) holidays-in-nyc-treat for every day of the season

The Strong Buzz: Holiday Eats Old and New 

WFMU’s Beware of the Blog: Happy Freakin' Holidays Playlist

Walking Off the Big Apple: The Thin Man Walk: A New York Holiday Adventure with Nick and Nora Charles

 


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