At Christmastime, poultry and roast beasts tend to take center stage on the holiday dinner table, but there’s an Italian-American tradition that’s celebrated by feasting on seafood instead. On Christmas Eve, Festa dei sette pesci — aka the Feast of the Seven Fishes, aka the Vigil or la Vigilia —marks the night before Jesus’ birth as a fasting day when red meat is off limits. The tradition hits home for many chefs in Los Angeles.
“Coming from a large Italian family, I grew up eating the Feast of Seven Fishes during the holidays,” says chef Ted Hopson, who competed on Iron Chef’s “Italian Holiday Battle” earlier this month. “Early on, I began helping my mom and grandmother cook in the kitchen when I was just a kid.” Hopson is the chef and owner at The Bellwether in Studio City, but you won’t find him in the restaurant on Christmas Eve. “I still go to my mom’s house most the time and help her.”
While Hopson won’t be serving the public this year, other local chefs (whether or not they’re of Italian-American stock) will be offering Angelenos the chance to taste the experience. Here’s where to enjoy the fish-centric feast yourself.
At Pasadena’s beloved pasta destination Union, chef Bruce Kalman will be focusing on local ingredients for the feast. “For me, I like to be inspired by what’s in season and what tastes best,” Kalman says. “When conceptualizing my menu, I think about using everything from the sea — fish, mollusks, crustaceans, seaweed; bringing the flavor of the ocean to the plate. I like to base most of the preparations on classic Italian cuisine, and I always include some pasta for good measure.” And not to worry, the meal ends on the sweetest note with a serving of struffoli—gloriously fried dough balls covered in honey and sprinkles, an Italian Christmas staple. The dinner is $125 per person, plus an additional $40 for wine pairings. Call 626-795-5841 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase tickets. (37 E. Union St. Pasadena)
Chef Michael Cimarusti’s la Vigilia is one of the best known in Los Angeles. “We are so looking forward to the Feast of the Seven Fishes at Providence this year,” the chef says. “It has become a tradition for the restaurant and for many of our guests who are here year after year.” Providence hosts a fine-dining take on the Feast with highlights like calamari alla bolognese. The dinner is $150 per person or $210 with wine pairings. Call 323-460-4170 for reservations. (5955 Melrose Ave. Hollywood)
At the brand new Cal Mare, chef and partner Adam Sobel will cook his fourth Feast of the Seven Fishes for the public. “The menu changes every time for me. There are a few signature dishes that I stick with, but they evolve as well,” Sobel says. The chef will be serving one of his favorite feast staples: baked clams with orange and fennel pollen. “Start with a light and crisp wine and work your way into a bold red,” Sobel recommends. “After three to four wines, finish with amaro or sambuca or both.” The dinner is $125 per person. Spaces can be reserved at 424-332-4595. (8500 Beverly Blvd. Beverly Grove)
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