While a boring old baked ham is traditional Christmas day fare for many, Christmas Eve’s eats offer more variety —at least in Italian-American culture.
We’re referring to The Feast of the Seven Fishes, the traditional Southern Italian, seafood-studded affair served on Christmas Eve. The name is up for interpretation; whether that means seven different seafood dishes or seven different fishes (or bivalves, or shellfish) or just a big ole pot of seafood stew, those who partake are sure to indulge in a bounty of ocean delights.
The history of the tradition varies, but one theory is that it finds its origins in the Catholic custom of abstaining from eating meat on certain holy days (Good Friday, Lent, etc). Also known as La Vigilia de Natale, the celebratory dinner is held to commemorate Jesus’ midnight birth.
In New York, chefs are having fun with it, getting creative with the dishes—with one restaurant even sneaking in an eighth fish to its feast—and even making it available before the night of Dec. 24.
Here are six spots in NYC where you can join in on the tradition this year. Reservations are encouraged at all.
Grand Central Oyster Bar & Restaurant
Lower level, Grand Central Terminal
89 E. 42nd St.
The warmly-lit, vaulted restaurant in New York City’s most aesthetically-appealing transit hub sounds like quite the festive place to celebrate Christmas Eve. Executive Chef Sandy Ingber will be serving an a la carte Seven Fishes menu for both lunch (beginning at 11:30 a.m.) at dinner (final seating at 10:00 p.m.) on Sat, Dec. 24. It includes Insalata de Natale (Italian Seafood Salad) with octopus, scungilli, calamari and shrimp ($29.95); Baccala in the form of a salt cod cake served over Amalfi tomato sauce with broccoli rabe ($28.95). Oysters do not appear on the setlist, but if you must, slurp down a few at the bar as a pre-game.
If you’ve yet to try Bushwick’s Michelin-starred, New American restaurant, known for its hand-made pasta and seasonal menu, Christmas Eve is as good a night as any. Chef Kevin Adey is offering a five dish—but seven fish—prix-fixe meal including the likes of Uni Crudo with aji amarillo, and Squid and Mussels served with Roman-style gnocchi (made without potatoes). Cod and Caviar with potato cream rounds out the meal.
At Midtown’s acclaimed French-Italian fine-dining establishment, you don’t have to wait until Christmas Eve to get festive with the fishes: this year, Chef de Cuisine Scott Schneider will debut a special seafood menu for dinner service Dec. 19 through Dec. 24. The decadent seven-course meal includes Crudo di Passera (Fluke Crudo, American Sturgeon Caviar) Vellutata (lobster soup with white truffle and tarragon) and Polipo (octopus with sweet potato caponata, brown butter and pine nuts).
If you’re not familiar with this Fort Greene newcomer from the folks behind Clinton Hill’s AITA and Crown Heights’ AITA Trattoria, you might recognize the name of partner and chef Silvia Barban from this season of “Top Chef.” This Christmas Eve, Barban’s menu incorporates fresh made pasta (LaRina doubles as a pasta shop) into the majority of the dishes, as with a Buckwheat-Potato Gnocchi served with Buffalo Ricotta and Shrimp Carpaccio, a Crabmeat Rigatoni with leeks and roasted rainbow cauliflower, and the culinary feat of Risotto alla Pescatora Ravioli: risotto-stuffed ravioli cooked in fish broth with calamari scallops and mussels, topped with saffron sauce.
For dessert: Panettone (Italian sweet bread) with mascarpone cream.
Available Dec. 24 for brunch (11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.) and dinner (5 p.m.-11 p.m.).
420 Hudson St.
At this West Village shellfish-centric eatery, chef/owner Mike Price has put together a five-course seafood-studded prix-fixe available Dec. 24 (3 p.m.-10 p.m.) as well as Christmas Day (3 p.m.-9 p.m). Enjoy the likes of Wellfleet oysters on the half-shell, lobster chowder, baked clams and more.
On Dec. 15, Atlanta chefs Angus Brown and Nhan Le (Octopus Bar, 8 Arm) will join Chef Sean Telo to serve the Feast of the Eight Fishes at Homer Murray’s (yes, he’s the son of Bill) much buzzed about eatery along the Greenpoint waterfront. Highlights of the a la carte menu include a GeoDuck Congee with white pepper and shallot and a Saffron Risotto with prosecco, clams, squid and fra diavolo. The event poster describes the affair as “very extra.” Whether that refers to the 8th fish or surprise antics from poppa Bill, we can only speculate.