When most people think of Christmas, they imagine sugar cookies, egg nog and baked ham. But there’s another tradition you might want to celebrate if you’re a fan of seafood dubbed the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Any tradition involving fresh fish and the Italian kitchen is worth investigating. A tradition rooted in Southern Italy, the Feast of the Seven Fishes – also known as La Vigilia – is celebrated on Christmas Eve to commemorate the wait for the birth of Jesus.
In food terms, it’s a Christmas Eve seafood throwdown with seven different seafood dishes, but chefs stateside are known to cook up much more. With all the great Italian chefs in New York , just imagine the possibilities and the serious spreads of frutti di mare. In fact, more than a few restaurants offer prix fixe menus not only on Christmas Eve, but for the entire week of Christmas. There’s the four-course dinner at i Trulli or a seven-dish line-up at Lupa. Look forward to the shrimp and mussel caccuicco at Hearth, or wet your appetite for the branzino with olive oil crushed potatoes and Sicilian capers at Zi’Pep. Seafood lovers, this one’s for you.
Address: 403 E. 12th Street at 1st Avenue
Phone: (646) 602-1300
This year, Hearth promises to deliver a traditional Italian feast from celebrated chef, Marco Canora. We’re pretty sure you’re in good hands here. To start, there’s clams oreganata and baccala (salt cod) montecato crostini followed by white anchovies and grilled calamari salad. For round three, look forward to fried flounder along with a Tuscany classic – shrimp and mussel cacciucco. Dark chocolate budino and homemade biscotti round out the stellar line-up at this standout East Village Italian.
Address: 122 E. 27th Street between Park Avenue and Lexington
Phone: (212) 481-7372
I Trulli’s celebrating this feast for not one, but seven nights this year. From December 17th to the 24th, the kitchen at i Trulli will be dishing out four fish-inspired courses for $65 per person. There are a number of signature, Italian specialties on the menu this year, so we’ll tease you with a few of our favorites. If you love oysters as much as we do, you’ll go crazy for their wood oven-roasted oysters with cavolo nero and fonduta. On the pasta front, there’s spaghetti of course, but we’re not talking spaghetti and meatballs. Instead, twirl your fork around spaghetti with peeky toe crab, red pepper, tomato, and fresh mint. And because it’s a feast of fishes, there’s fresh several fresh catches to choose from, including wild striped bass, grilled swordfish, and pan-roasted Chatham cod.
Grand Central Oyster Bar
Address: 89 E. 42nd Street (at Grand Central)
Phone: (212) 490-6650
For a taste of New York history, celebrate Christmas Eve in Grand Central Station. In honor of the occasion, chef Sandy Ingber has crafted seven menu specials to be served throughout the day and evening. There are a number of noteworthy dishes, from grilled marinated sardines to fried New Bedford lemon sole Parmesan, but what’s really peaked our interest this year is the Oyster Bar’s sea urchin gelato. While it sounds undeniably strange, we’re always up for trying new things.
Address: 19 E. 26th Street between Madison and 5th Avenue
Phone: (212) 265-5959
Rather than limit this Italian holiday dinner to just one night, SD26 is offering a $90, five-course tasting menu the entire week before Christmas. Dinner at their new, Madison Square Park location kicks off with baccala mantecato, followed by homemade tagliolini with Sicilian red shrimp bisque. Order a glass of wine from their extensive selection and enjoy the procession of plates to come, including shrimp scampi, octopus, swordfish, branzino, seppia, and calamari. Finish with another festive dish, this one a sweet, perbellini panettone cake with warm zabaione and petits fours.
Osteria Lupa Romano
Address: 170 Thompson Street
Phone: (212) 982-5089
If there’s anyone who knows how to celebrate in true Italian fashion, it’s Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Lupa happens to be one our favorite restaurants in New York, so we’re excited to get in on their Feast of the Seven Fishes between noon and 9:30 on Christmas Eve. There will be a prix-fixe menu in addition to a limited Lupa menu, but the focus is 100% seafood, served crudo, fritto, insalata, risotto, pasta, bresato, and anquilla. While they all sound delicious, the ones we’re most anxious to sample are the eel in zimino with fried chickpeas and the fried baccala-stuffed peppers filled with anchovy, ricotta fritelle, and semolina sardines.
Address: 305 Church Street between Walker and Lispenard Streets
Phone: (212) 219-4037
Stuzzicheria – curiously pronounced stoots-ee-kee-nee – brings La Vigilia to Tribeca this Christmas with a special menu created by chef Paul Di Bari that proves to be both affordable and authentic. New to this part of town, their Tribeca feast starts with buffalo mozzarella-topped crostini, sweet and sour eel as well as baccala al napoletana with cherry tomatoes, olives and capers. Wait, there’s more… Steamed mussels, lobster ravioli, and Edenbrook trout. The best part is that it’s available from December 19th to the 24th at an equally festive price of $45.
Address: 424 E. 9th Street between 1st Avenue and Avenue A
Phone: (212) 475-7377
Some of you may not know, but Zi’Pep is the less known sister restaurant to Stuzzicheria and they’re gearing up for this seafood-centric evening with a seven-dish special only on Christmas Eve. The festivities begin with a buffalo mozzarella & anchovy crostini and a baccala salad. Up next, there’s grilled sardines with raisins, pine nuts and fennel pollen as well as sweet and sour eel. Then, there’s sautéed New Zealand clams and lobster ravioli with mascarpone. Just in case you’re still hungry, Zi’Pep has also got a branzino in the works served alongside olive oil crushed potatoes and Sicilian capers.
Address: 190 21st Street at 7th Avenue
Phone: (646) 225-6606
Eolo‘s covering all its bases the night before with Hannukah specials and Christmas Eve seafood tasting menu. For the celebrating Jews, there’s chickpea fritters with caponata and ricotta donuts for dessert. Since our focus is fish, we’re more interested in the nine-course tasting menu $80 per person. What really sets this tasting menu apart is that all of the seafood dishes are available a la carte, too, so you don’t have to commit to the tasting menu to sample the seafood specials, like scallop risotto with quince and rapini in a mussel broth, or octopus marinated with mint, chickpeas and black-squid ink.