If you want to lighten the cooking load, or change things up this year, consider dining out on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Sure, it’s less conventional, but that’s kind of what makes it refreshing. Not to mention lots of New Jersey restaurants are open for business, more on Christmas Eve than the Big Day, but even on Christmas itself you’ll find a solid selection of thoughtful menus and carefully curated holiday hospitality.
We’ve compiled a short list to showcase the kind of creativity going on around New Jersey this Christmas.
Sleek Santa in Fort Lee
If you want a little swag, and American-Asian-Cuban fusion, in your Christmas (or Christmas Eve), Ventanas in Fort Lee has you covered. Open regular hours on Christmas Eve and from noon to 9pm on Christmas Day, the David Burke restaurant is the kind of place to find a sleeker holiday out. Executive chef Andrew Ricattelli’s prix fixe menu does seasonal dishes with some modern spins, though the flavors are a bit more comfortingly traditional (Bone-In Porkchop with Cranberry Orange Jam, Prime Rib with Truffle Mash Potatoes and Beef Juices, etc.) For anyone with kids or a holiday sweet tooth in tow, there will be festive holiday desserts from pastry chef Julien Chantereau, including a Nutella-filled Christmas Croquembouche (basically a beautiful tower of cream puffs). Adults are $49 for Christmas Day prix fixe, kids under 10 are $24. Reservations are highly recommended. Ventanas, 200 Park Avenue, Fort Lee; 201-583-4777
Christmas Classics by the Beach in Long Branch
For some, the words “Egg Nog Crème Brulée” will be reason enough to book your spot for Christmas Eve dinner at Avenue in Long Branch, but if that’s not enough, add in the hefty a la carte menu with plenty of classics, e.g. Steak Frites, Chicken and Dumplings, Boeuf Bourgignon, Homemade Cavatelli with Butternut Squash, Almond, and Sage (vegetarian). But if you really want to go for a special occasion, executive chef Josh Sauer is also offering a few ultra-classic Christmas Eve-only dishes, including the beautiful, painstakingly-constructed French seafood stew, Bouillabaisse (you’re down the Shore, after all) and a Christmas Pheasant with Duck Fat Potatoes (because you narrowly avoided the “Naughty List” this year). The beach-side location adds something different to the night (nothing says Merry Christmas like fresh ocean air). Items are priced as marked. Le Club Avenue, 23 Ocean Avenue, Long Branch; 732-759-2900
Sophisticated Family-Style in Summit
For families looking for some upscale dining that’s still reasonably early, Summit House—where the cocktails get loving attention—is doing a three-course Christmas Eve prix fixe from 2pm to 7pm for $85 (optional wine pairings are $45 or $60 more, depending on your, well, thirst). Everything on the menu from chef Justin Antiorio (a “Hell’s Kitchen” alum) is served family-style, but sophistication reigns with dishes like Octopus with Saffron Aioli and Citrus Fennel Salad, Pastured Beef with Sunchoke Gratin and Sauce Bordelaise, Veal Osso Bucco with Foie Gras and Farro, and even a Cookies and Cocoa dessert with toasted housemade marshmallow. Kids eat for $30, and if all goes well everyone’s home early enough to get enough sleep to wake up at 4am. Summit House, 395 Springfield Avenue, Summit; 908-273-6000
Wine Lovers’ Italian Christmas Eve in Kingston
At Eno Terra, you’ll have your pick between a Christmas Eve a la carte and prix fixe Feast of the Seven Fishes, both of which can be readily accompanied by some of their vast selection of wine. The a la carte dinner menu is prim and seasonal, with flavors ranging from Spiced Cashews appetizer to Wild Mussels with Applewood-smoked Bacon to Campanelli with Wild Boar Ragout and a solid mix of protein mains (Whole Roasted Branzino, Griggstown Farm Poussin, aka “young chicken,” a Bone-In 28 ounce Ribeye for $98). The Feast of the Seven Fishes menu, while “seven” only in name (there are three courses and dessert), has thoughtfully-done seafood dishes like Baked Oysters with Garlic Spinach, a warm Brodetto soup packed with a mélange of seasonal seafood, and Wester Ross Salmon with Charred Lemon Vinaigrette and a Pistachio Puree. Wine pairings aren’t included for the menu but their ample wine list will ensure your night is merry and bright. Eno Terra, 4484 Route 27, Kingston; 609-497-1777
Sophisticated Silver Bells in Cape May
Christmas Dinner at the Ebbitt Room at Congress Hall is basically a small holiday fantasy. Between the polished Victorian vibe, ubiquitous evergreens, and chef Jason Hanin’s prix fixe menu, you’d have to make a solid effort to resist the yuletide glow. Served from 2pm to 7pm on Christmas Day (and reservations are a “strong recommended”), the dinner is three courses, including dessert. And while you’ll find traditional season flavors—spiced nuts, maple ham, venison, wine-poached pears—execution is modern and sophisticated (think Prime Rib Roast with Pancetta Dashi Broth, Kabocha Squash Soup with Lobster Ricotta Dumpling, aforementioned Venison Loin with Huckleberry and Juniper Salt). Beverages don’t come with the meal, which is $75 per person, but you can easily add wine or a specialty cocktail to your night. It’s Christmas, after all. The Ebbitt Room, 27 Jackson Street, Cape May; 609-884-5700
Merry Mountain Christmas in Sparta
The Mohawk House in Sparta doesn’t have a dedicated Christmas Day menu up (yet), but that might be because—per the website—they’re open every holiday. Christmas Day business is nothing new for them, and once you get a look at the place covered in fresh white snow, you seriously might reconsider your Christmas Day plans (is this really the year to try to roast a duck?). The festive, mountain manor house is practically screaming Christmas all year long, so you can count on a magical holiday vibe to pervade all as you tuck into Mohawk House hearty staples—Stout-braised Short Rib with Truffle Whipped Potatoes, 45-day Dry-Aged Prime Porterhouse from Farleigh Farms, even Winter Mushroom Farrotto (like a Farro risotto), made with Cashew “Parmesan” and Baby Kale. Their emphasis on local sourcing also means you’ll be getting hearty food that simply tastes fresher. Reservations recommended. The Mohawk House, 1 Mohawk Lane, Sparta; 973-729-6464
Easy and Classy in Englewood
Our eyes go directly to the White Truffle Fettuccini on the special Christmas Eve/Christmas Day menu at Sofia in Englewood (would it be too much to add the $19 supplementary Alba White Truffle?). But you can pick whatever suits your holiday heart—Berkshire Double Cut Pork Chop with Pickled Onions, Yellowfin Tuna Tartare with Black Truffle and Avocado, Oven-roasted Colorado Lamb Chop with Rosemary and Lemon—the list goes on. The restaurant, self-described “Farm-to-Table Italian Steakhouse,” will be open both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, meaning whichever day you find yourself suddenly giving up on whatever the hell “trussing” is, you’ve got a good option in Englewood. Sofia, 36 Engle Street, Englewood; 201-541-8530Click here to leave a comment