CINCINNATI -- If Andy Williams were a foodie, he’d have another reason to sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” Many restaurants have Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve planned out, but, if you’re ready to eat up the festivities now, there are plenty of choices to make your season bright.
Downtown, Over-the-Rhine, Pendleton
Between the magic of Fountain Square and the cadre of rock-star chefs and restaurateurs, it’s hard to beat downtown and its northern neighbors for holiday dining. Here’s a sampling in alphabetical order:
Anchor OTR: Every Wednesday this month is craft cocktail night. Choose from three cocktails — Moscow mule, Manhattan, and gin and tonic — for $7 all night. Polish off $1 oysters on Thursday nights during Oyster Mania, and wash it all down with $1 Tecate beer and $6 martinis.
- 1401 Race St., Over-the-Rhine; 513-421-8111.
Boca: In addition to dinner, the ristorante with the iconic red door will open for lunch Dec. 14-18 and Dec. 21-23. Savor classic fare like gnocchi con fonduta, beef Wellington and 40-hour pot roast. Boca’s downstairs sister restaurant, Sotto, will also open for lunch on those days.
- Boca: 114 E. Sixth St., downtown; 513-542-2022. Sotto: 118 E. Sixth St., 513-977-6886 (97-SOTTO).
Huit: This boutique restaurant has a saucy and “brothy” holiday menu that’ll warm your soul. Slurp up a bowl of kimchi seafood ramen, very drunk brisket noodle soup or curry goat soup, and get that holiday glow.
- 29 E. Court St., downtown; 513-381-4848.
Jean-Robert’s Table: Make your way to the Table on Dec. 19 for a holiday prix-fixe lunch with a certain French flair. Call 513.621.4777 for more information. Note: The French Crust Café, also a Jean-Robert establishment, is taking orders for traditional bûche de Noël (yule log) and macarons in assorted flavors.
- Table: 713 Vine St., downtown; 513-621-4777. French Crust Café: 915 Vine St., 513-621-2013.
Nation Kitchen and Bar: The French toast gets a makeover with egg nog, crushed Thin Mints, complete with a sprinkling of candy cane and Rumple Minze Chantilly. The candy cane crush French toast is available for brunch on the weekends.
- 1200 Broadway, Pendleton; 513-381-3794.
Taste of Belgium: Cozy up to gingerbread waffles made the Belgian way now through the end of the year. The restaurant’s popular waffle and chicken dish will soon face serious competition: Word is waffle and duck will make an appearance sometime this holiday season. There’s also an assortment of gift baskets and cards. For a limited time, you get $10 free for every $50 gift card.
- 1133 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine; 513-396-5800 (locations also in Clifton, Findlay Market, Norwood).
The Cincinnatian Hotel: High tea is served every Saturday and Sunday in December. Bring your mom and enjoy a pot of properly brewed tea, tea sandwiches and an assortment of pastries served with Devonshire cream and preserves.
- 601 Vine St., downtown; 513-381-3000.
The Presidents Room: Seafood will be front and center Dec. 23 during the Feast of the Seven Fishes. For $95 per person, enjoy a seven-course dinner with wine pairings, plus dessert. The courses range from octopus to Hamachi crudo to the granddaddy of crustaceans, lobster.
- 812 Race St. (in the Phoenix), downtown; 513-721-2260.
While downtown may be the dining epicenter, many neighborhood restaurants are also getting gussied up. Here’s a sampling, again in alphabetical order:
Alfio’s Buon Cibo: This Italian-Argentine restaurant in Hyde Park Square is putting on a five-course wine dinner tonight. For $75 a person, you’ll enjoy a globally-inspired dinner with courses like Asian-style duck dumplings, and grilled New York strip with poutine-style French fries, all discerningly paired with wine.
- 2724 Erie Ave., Hyde Park; 513-321-0555.
Bella Luna: This Italian restaurant will celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes Dec. 23-24 with a southern Italian buffet. Dig into dishes like baccalà with buccatini, monkfish osso buco, and short rib with polenta for $35 per person. Children ages 10-12, $17.50.
- 4632 Eastern Ave., East End; 513-871-5862.
Jag’s Steak and Seafood: Normally a dinner-only establishment, this West Chester gem is now open for lunch weekdays through Dec. 24. It has also expanded its weekend hours to include Sunday dinner through Dec. 27. There’s live entertainment, too, every night in December.
For $125 per person, you could get in the act with the Murder Mystery Wine Dinners on December 29 and 30. Solve a mystery while you make your way through a four-course dinner with items like scallops, filet mignon, and Chilean sea bass. Wine and beer are included.
- 5980 West Chester Road, West Chester Township; 513-860-5353.
Nectar: Want farm-fresh restaurant food for the home? Nectar in Mount Lookout Square has you covered. Pick up holiday meals and seasonal dishes like gratins, stews and roasts for home, now through the end of the year.
- 1000 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout; 513-929-0525.
Tela Bar + Kitchen: Buzzing with urban energy, this restaurant in serene Wyoming is putting on a holiday brunch buffet Dec. 20 and 27. For $20, get your fill of Tela’s favorites plus one Bloody Karl or mimosa. Children 10 and under, $13.
- 1212 Springfield Pike, Wyoming; 513-821-8352 (TELA).
Wildflower Café: This homey farm-to-table restaurant is serving holiday fare like truffled mushroom fonduta, smoked “Ohio Proud” ribeye and even vegan curry. You can also order specialty smoked “Ohio Proud” prime rib at $30 per pound for home. Wildflower has gift packages that include a gift certificate, a bottle of wine and other various local products. For a limited time, get $10 free for every $100 gift certificate.
- 207 E. Main St., Mason; 513-492-7514.
Before you go
The holiday season is a very busy time for restaurants and bars. Call ahead for a reservation to avoid any disappointment. Bon appetit!
Feast of the Seven Fishes
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American spin on the traditional food served on Christmas Eve across much of southern Europe, particularly Italy. As the night before a Catholic holy day, a vigil was standard procedure, during which abstinence from meat and similar animal fats was expected.
Because fish (and olive oil) were permitted, it was standard fare, especially for Christmas Eve. The Christmas vigil meal has since become a multi-course affair including at least seven fish-based dishes (said to correspond to the Catholic church’s seven sacraments). The feast often includes more dishes, however.
Because of its simplicity and the relative poverty of the Middle Ages, salted cod is the oldest and most traditional dish served.
Grace Yek is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation and former chemical engineer. Connect with her on Twitter @Grace_Yek.