Everyone has a traditional meal on Christmas Day, whether it’s carving roast beast in the home, dominating a lavish buffet at a tony hotel, or enjoying a post-movie Chinese food spread. But on Christmas Eve, one of the more delightful celebrations is the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian-American all-seafood extravaganza.
Also known as La Vigilia di Natale, the meal is loosely based on the idea of fasting to commemorate waiting for the baby Jesus to be born. But one person’s “fast” is another’s feast, and Italian home cooks and chefs everywhere create multi-course menus, from antipasto to handmade pasta, for family and friends. Thankfully you don’t have to be religious to enjoy it.
There are really no hard-and-fast rules to what should be prepared for the Feast, and it’s often more than seven fishes and courses, sometimes going up to almost 15 or more. Every family has their own specialties depending on what part of The Boot their family hails from.
Chef Michael Cimarusti grew up eating La Vigilia with his family, and it’s become a tradition at Providence since the restaurant opened in 2005. “I couldn’t imagine Christmas Eve without it,” says the chef. “We usually do the struffoli for dessert, which we always made when I was growing up. A lot of the dishes are inspired in some way by my grandmother’s recipes. In the past, we’ve done a risotto with freshwater eel that my great-grandmother Domenica used to make.”
Here’s how seven local restaurants are interpreting the Feast of the Seven Fishes this year. Make reservations soon; they often sell out fast.
Mare: At Eric Greenspan’s hidden “coastal European” spot, the chef will have a special Feast of the Seven Fishes menu from December 21-27. Dishes include scallop crudo with grapefruit and chilies; cod fritters with spicy pepper sauce and Meyer lemon; crispy octopus with kale and persimmon salad; clams with saffron, grapes and radicchio; crab and uni risotto; sole with olive tapenade and braised lettuces; whole snapper with blood orange-caper puttanesca; and assorted zeppole. All of the dishes are priced a la carte, or get the full spread for $50 per person. And good news: The all-outdoor restaurant recently got a retractable roof, so it’s perfectly fine for dining on those brrrr chilly L.A. winter nights.
Providence: Cimarusti’s menu includes crispy polenta with caviar Bolognese; grilled Maine lobster with smoked chestnut puree; hand-harvested sea scallops with black truffle vinaigrette; and grilled striped bass with winter roasted squash. Cost is $140 per person, or $200 with wine pairings.
Valentino: Piero Selvaggio, who just recently celebrated the Santa Monica restaurant’s 42nd anniversary, and chef Tommaso Tarantino will offer a five-course menu for Christmas Eve. Dishes include red mullet risotto fritters; a choice of baccala or scallop crudo; warm Maine lobster salad with Sicilian cous cous or squid ink ravioli with seafood ragu; John Dory with orange-cavolfiore puree or dorade with sea urchin bisque; and a classic panettone bread pudding for dessert. Cost is $105 per person.
Pistola: On Christmas Eve chef Vic Casanova will serve his special Zuppa Di Pesce, a seafood stew filled with calamari, mussels, clams, branzino, snapper, cod and jumbo shrimp. It will be available from 6pm until closing.
Osteria Mozza: This year’s menu includes a five-course menu prepared by executive chef Elizabeth Hong and executive pastry chef Dahlia Narvaez. Dishes include a trio of crudo; mozzarella di bufala with anchovies, bagna cauda, charred broccoli and crispy beans; farfalle aglio e olio with bottarga; salt-baked sea trout with garlicky wilted spinach; and a traditional Buche de Noel. Cost is $85 per person with an optional $50 wine pairing. To reserve, contact Nicole White at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 323-866-5290.
The Lobster: A sunset over the pier and a seafood feast at the iconic Santa Monica restaurant doesn’t sound like a bad Christmas Ev. The prix fixe menu includes baked littleneck clams, fritto misto, salmon rillettes bruschetta, grilled branzino, fisherman’s stew, and crab and sea urchin squid ink linguini. Cost is $90 per person with additional wine pairings for $25.
Mr. C: The restaurant at the Beverly Hills hotel will have a four-course menu featuring marinated halibut, shrimp and tuna tartare; squid ink risotto; wild branzino with caper sauce; and a chocolate almond cake with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. Cost is $89 per person with additional wine pairings for $35.