Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. That’s because like any sane person in New York City, my family will be at a restaurant on Christmas Eve. You may check your Rockwellian judgment at the door. Eating out on this night is, to my mind, the best part of Christmas. It’s festive. There’s no dishes to do. You’re in a public space so the fighting’s kept to just below shouting.
Happily in New York City, there are enough people who think like I do that many restaurants stay open and many even serve a special set menu, which makes the evening more festive than sad. Here are our top ten picks.
Just remember: Wherever you go, tip grandly. You know who’s watching.
1. Lincoln’s Feast of the Seven Fishes
Jonathan Benno’s Upper West Side Lincoln might not sound Italian—its name refers to the center of which it is part—but make no mistake, his cuisine exemplifies haute Italian. His Feast of the Seven Fish, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve tradition, is upscaled with a seven-course tasting menu ($85) which includes strozzapreti al ragu di mare with lobster and scallop sausage, shellfish sauce and arugula. 142 W 65th St, 212.359.6500, lincolnristorante.com
2. Fatty ‘Cue’s No. 1 Fatty Chinese
There’s nothing that says Christmas in New York more than eating Chinese food. That is, of course, unless you’re alternating your spare ribs and General Tso’s Chicken with barbecue brisket. Thankfully the Fatty Crew, the team behind Fatty ‘Cue and Fatty Crab, have made a tradition of offering what they call a No. 1. Fatty Christmas menu. You’ll find all the classic American-Chinese dishes like wonton soup ($19) and crab ragoon ($11) as well as their regular brisket ($22 / 1/2 pound) and fried chicken ($12 for half a bird). 50 Carmine St, 212.929.5050, fattycue.com
3. Colicchio & Sons
Tom Colicchio is, in my book, the master of a certain elevated American comfort food. At Colicchio & Sons, his far west side redoubt, Colicchio is offering a four-course $155 prixe fixe in addition to the regular menu that includes classics like fondue (with peekytoe crab and sea urchin) and daurade (with juniper berry butter, fennel and baby carrots). 85 10th Ave, (212) 400-6699, craftrestaurantsinc.com/colicchio-and-sons
David Bouley’s latest restaurant is a collaboration with the Tsuji Culinary Institute. Specializing in kaiseki, the cuisine here is elegant minimalist and inventive. It’s your best bet for not feeling stuffed when you leave. On Christmas Eve, Chef Isao Yamada is offering a $175 seven-course tasting menu with dishes that lobster tail with foie gras and Canadian-Fuji pork belly with apples and uni. It sounds heavy but is ethereal. 30 Hudson St, 212.791.3771, davidbouley.com/brushstroke-main
5. Shalom Japan
That a Japanese chef met and married a Jewish chef and opened a restaurant that serves Japanese-Jewish cuisine that isn’t at all cheesy but is, rather, delightful is a real Christmas miracle. To celebrate, the year-old restaurant’s chefs—Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi—are presenting an evening of entertainment and hot pots. The menu is $45 and includes family-style appetizers, a hot pot and desserts. There will also be their famous sake challah as well as screenings of anime (and maybe It’s A Wonderful Life). 310 S 4th St, 718.388.4012, shalomjapannyc.com
They have Christmas in Spain, obviously, but Spanish traditions aren’t quite as well known in New York as, for instance, Italian traditions. Dani Garcia’s Manzanilla, the New York outpost of the chef’s daring modernist Spanish restaurant, offers a four-course tasting menu ($95) for Christmas Eve featuring festive courses like oysters in Spanish pickle with granny apple and a suckling pig terrine, butternut squash and orange puree. 345 Park Ave S, (212) 255-4086, manzanillanyc.com
Chef Jung Sik Yim’s Tribeca temple to haute Korean is a light (but not like Christmas lights—multi-colored, cheap and festive). The flavors are refined and the ingredients stunning in their freshness. On Christmas eve, Chef Yim is offering an eight-course “best of” ($200) menu including his famous Santa Barbara uni, over seaweed-glazed rice and galbi, a Korean take on a classic short rib, here made with a Wagyu beef rib, marinated in soy sauce and grilled. 2 Harrison St, (212) 219-0900, jungsik.kr