Living in an Italian-American neighborhood introduced me to many delightful culinary experiences. Nutella, homemade garage Zinfandel, and the Feast of the Seven Fishes. I always thought this was an Italian tradition, but it really isn’t (sort of). Yes, it is based on Italian tradition since Catholic mandate says that no “meat” is to be eaten on Christmas eve. The difference is that while Italians practice “La Vigilia Di Natale“, they are not tied into a specific number. In Italy, sometimes seven seven fish dishes are served. Other times, twelve fish dishes are served. Less are served if the year was not as fruitful. One thing is constant, it’s always fish: anchovies, bacalao, calamari, clams, lobster, mussels, octopus, and grilled eel.
In the US, the Vigilia has transformed into “The Feast of the Seven Fishes”. I guess seven was picked because of its religious significance: 7 days of creation, the 7 hills in Rome, the 7 deadly sins…but I’d be fine with 12, or 20.
If you’d like to get a taste of this wonderful tradition this year, check out the menus for some of these Italian restaurants who are ready to pull all the stops.
Casa Nonna:310 West 38th Street – Garment District/Midtown – Seafood lovers rejoice. Casa Nonna is celebrating he Christmas Eve Dinner table of Southern Italy on Monday, December 24th. Executive Chef Julio Genao’s 4-course Feast of the Seven Fishes Menu ($49 plus tax and tip) includes baccalá mantecato alla Veneziana (Venetian whipped salt cod), tagliolini al nero di Seppiadiners (homemade squid ink pasta), insalata tiepida di pesce alla griglia (warm seafood salad,), and much more. End your meal on a sweet note with Struffoli, Neapolitan fritters topped with chestnut honey.
Fiorini: 209 East 56th Street – Midtown East/Sutton Place – Although Fiorini is closed on the 24th & 25th, Mr. Lello Arpaia (famed restaurateur and father to Donatella) will be honoring his Neapolitan heritage with his feast of the seven fishes menu from Dec 17 to Dec 30. It will be three courses with the choice of seven different seafood dishes. Dishes include a lobster bisque at ($12), cured salmon carpaccio served with fennel salad ($14), dry cod with tempura served with tartar and marinara sauce ($18), housemade spaghetti with sword fish ragu ($26), and a Risotto Portofino made with jumbo crabmeat, baby scallops, and garden peas Bottarga di Tonno.
La Bottega in The Maritime Hotel: Chelsea - La Botegga will be offering a traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes from December 24th through New Year’s Day. Their seven-course offering costs just $75 per person and features dishes such as tortellini di granchio con brodo (crab meat tortellini in a tarragon shellfish broth), vongole al forno (baked top neck clams stuffed w/ seasoned bread crumb & herbs), and linguine con aragosta (pasta tossed w/ lobster meat, roasted tomato & chilies in white wine).
Oceana: 120 West 49th Street – Midtown – Rockefeller Center - If you’re into Michelin stars, why not collect one while celebrating the Feast? Check out the tree, catch a Rockette’s show and head to Executive Chef Ben Pollinger’s Feast of the Seven Fishes 5-course tasting menu (featuring seven different seafood varieties). Dinner costs $95 and you can add wine pairings for $50. Dishes include: Hiramasa Tartare with persimmon and sicilian pistachio; Octopus, Cuttlefish & Calamari Salad with cranberry beans, preserved lemon and olive; and a Roast Maine Lobster & Caviar with black trumpet mushrooms, and a caviar sabayon. By the way, if you happen to go on a Saturday night (9:30 pm) you can listen to some greatlive jazz in the café of Oceana. It’s complimentary for dinner guests; otherwise just order 2 drinks.
Trattoria Cinque: 363 Greenwich Street – Tribeca – Trattoria Cinque’s nod to Italian Natale is sure to be amazing. Their 4-course menu offers seven different fish dishes and costs $75 per person (plus tax and tip). Dishes featured include a lobster carpaccio, crespelle di granchio (crab fish crepes), and monkfish in a lemon caper sauce. Don’t worry, there’s also dessert - Panettone con Crema.
Lukes by Chef Luke Palladino: Harrah’s – Atlantic City – I know, Atlantic City is not NYC, but I could not pass them up. Atlantic City was seriously hurt by Sandy and I have a soft spot in my heart for NJ. Che Palladino told us that the feast represents the seven sacraments and the lenten period abstaining from meat. The four course dinner he has prepared runs $50 per person (plus tax and tip) offers a choice of seven fish dishes including Venetian Baccala Mantecato (whipped cod on grilled polenta), Chittarra pasta with black garlic and crab, a Sicilian Mixed Grill (Marvesta shrimp, mussels, and trout in a lemon marjoram sauce) and a ricotta zeppole.