Cheer in a Glass: Delicious Holiday Cocktails to Get You in the Spirit of the Season

Tired of the same old eggnog? Bartenders are, too, and in this season of giving, they’ve have shaken up and shared top picks from their drink menus to boost holiday outings beyond the basics. From the warmth of whiskey to sweet plum wine and spicy gingerbread liqueur, here are out-of-the-box holiday cocktails to pack some punch into your seasonal gatherings.

Founding Farmers, Washington, D.C.
Health and wellness are a priority at Founding Farmers, so it’s no surprise that the winter beverage menu (offered through the end of February) spotlights fresh-pressed juices. Beverage Director John Arroyo’s Winter Pie features cold-pressed apple juice, vodka, lemon, and cinnamon syrup, garnished with fruit.

Holiday cocktails Founding Farmers

Crudo, Phoenix, Arizona
Serving anything in a Champagne flute emphasizes a celebratory spirit, but garnishing it with an orange peel bow makes it extra-special for the gift-giving season. In the Crudo Cran Royale, sparkling wine and bright lemon are given some added depth with housemade spiced cranberry syrup featuring clove, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon.

Holiday cocktails Crudo

Proof on Main, Louisville, Kentucky
The pepper and oak notes of US*1 Rye mix perfectly with the orange, anise, and clove of the China-China liqueur in the Valley Forge Flip, but the splendor of this perfect pairing is only matched by the cocktail’s historical origins. The name pays homage to the Michter’s namesake rye that warmed Revolutionary troops when George Washington purchased 200 barrels for the brave men spending winter on the battlefield. The contemporary tipple gets an upgrade with a dash of nutmeg and indulgent Aztec chocolate bitters.

Holiday cocktails Proof on Main

SUSHISAMBA, New York, New York
There’s no need to head to the ballet for visions of sugar plums this season if you toast the season with a Smoked Plum Negroni. SUSHISAMBA’s Head of Spirit and Cocktail Development, Richard Woods, refreshed the signature list this December with unique, handcrafted cocktails. This one reinvents a classic aperitif with smoky Hakushu whiskey, umeshu (sweet/sour plum wine), vermouth, and citrus, that’s guaranteed to loosen up your own dancing feet.

Holiday cocktails sushisamba

Taj, Boston, Massachusetts
The Gaelic version of “cheers,” the blessing slainte toasts to good health — and this cocktail from Taj Boston bar manager Gabriela Garcia has a few medicinal benefits if you ask those who purport local honey can help allergy sufferers (the Taj Boston has its own rooftop hives). The Slainte’s warm whiskey notes are enhanced with a cinnamon stick, clove-studded lemon wheel, and hot water for a drink befitting the winter’s cold fingers.

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8 Delicious Days + Nights: Top Restaurants for Hanukkah 2015

From jelly donuts and savory brisket to crispy potato pancakes and crunchy fried artichokes, the culinary traditions behind Hanukkah are tempting enough to please any palate, whether you’re Jewish or not. Though not the best for those watching their waistlines (it’s customary to eat foods fried in oil or made with cheese), what else is a holiday but the chance to indulge? In anticipation of more than a week of delicious ways to celebrate the Festival of Lights December 6-14, here 8 top restaurants for Hanukkah 2015.

Oceana, New York, New York
Savory and sweet meet at Oceana, where the seafood palace will serve a special latke menu this year created by Executive Chef Ben Pollinger and Executive Pastry Chef Colleen Grapes. Pollinger’s take features an Oceana staple, smoked sablefish, with American caviar atop a sunchoke latke (otherwise known as the Jerusalem artichoke). Grapes’s turn is a sweet potato pancake with quince, concord jam, and crème fraiche. Each is paired with an appropriate spirit — Duval Leroy, Brut, NV, Champagne France for the sunchoke, and Dunham Cellars, Late Harvest Riesling Lewis Vineyard, Washington, to complement the sweet. Offered at the bar, the tasting menu is $22, with an additional $16 for the half-glass wine pairing. Book a table.

Oceana Top Restaurants for Hanukkah

Shaya, New Orleans, Louisiana
It’s no surprise that Shaya’s Hanukkah menu will be served family-style. “I love cooking every winter during Hanukkah because I get to celebrate the traditions of the holiday,” said chef Alon Shaya, “and all of the great winter produce Louisiana has to offer.” He’s brought Middle Eastern flavors to the gumbo capital of the world while paying homage to the modern evolution of food from his native Israel. Think apple salad, veal brisket schnitzel with Persian cherries, and sufganiyot donuts served with black-tahini gelato. No Hanukkah meal would be complete without latkes, of course, and Shaya’s trio is accompanied by smoked salmon, caramelized oxtail, and whipped feta. If you’re a strict traditionalist, fear not – although he “decided to get fancy with the latkes,” if you want applesauce or sour cream, don’t be afraid to ask your server! Book a table.

Shaya Top Restaurants for Hanukkah

AKASHA, Culver City, California
AKASHA is known for its fresh-juice cocktails, so it’s no surprise that chef Akasha Richmond’s Hanukkah menu features two: the Citrus, with vodka, grapefruit, lemon, tangerine, and agave; and the Vanilla Pear, with vanilla vodka, Asian pear, pear/rosemary elixir, and lemon. Vodka and latke pairings are all the rage at trendy Hanukkah parties, and potato pancakes also take the spotlight here, served alongside Akasha’s brisket entrée, and on a small-plate trio with trimmed with apple, salmon, and braised duck. Earthy and unctuous chicken liver, a Jewish staple (the Kosher version of French pate) rounds out the meal with crisp crostini and buttery challah. Book a table.

AKASHA top restaurants for hanukkah

Paola’s, New York, New York
New Yorkers can forgo the deli for delicacies at chef Paola Bottero’s trattoria, where the rich traditions of Roman Jews are honored in one of the Hanukkah dishes she serves annually: Carciofi alla Giudia. These twice-crisped baby artichokes take a bit of patience and time to prepare, but it’s well worth it. Many Jewish cooks believe the art of frying was perfected in the Roman ghetto where Jews were confined from the 16th through 19th centuries. No matter what customers order at Paola’s during Hanukkah, everyone is served complimentary sufganiyot jelly donuts, either at the table or to go. Book a table.

Paola's top restaurants for hanukkah

La Morra, Brookline, Massachusetts
All year long, La Morra regulars anticipate the Passover prezzo fisso, and this year owners Jennifer and Josh Ziskin have Hanukkah covered, too, with a $38.50 four-course meal featuring latkes, matzo ball soup, and executive chef Josh’s savory brisket. The husband and wife team (she’s the wine director) say their connection to the holiday shines through in the dining room. “Josh and I are both Jewish, so Hanukkah has always been important for us. Josh’s brisket, which has served many memories, came to him from his Nana, who is still with us at 101!,” said Jennifer. “Nana and Josh’s mom are both amazing cooks, and Josh definitely inherited his talent from them.” Even the year someone besides Josh cooked the brisket and created a fire in the kitchen’s hood — causing a short closure for repairs – can’t stop the Ziskins from serving this crowd favorite. “You would think the brisket would never appear on the menu again, but it is requested too often to keep it from our guests,” said Jennifer. “We just take extra safety measures!” Beyond the food, she is excited to offer an optional beverage pairing this year for Hanukkah, too. Book a table.

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Last-Minute Thanksgiving Reservations: Deals + Offers

Last-Minute Thanksgiving Reservations

ICYMI, Thanksgiving is just days away. If it slipped your mind (or your stomach), fear not. There is availability at top restaurants in cities all across the nation. To wit, we’ve rounded up a variety of deals and offers in our last-minute Thanksgiving reservations guide for restaurants in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Read on and start booking!

A bit more: Le Bilboquet: With an all-day special menu, French favorite Le Bilboquet is open from 12PM-8PM and serving a 3-course meal at $65 per person and $25 for kids under 12.
A bit less: B’s Bistro: B’s is offering a traditional four-course turkey, ham or Scottish salmon Thanksgiving feast from 1PM-7PM. It’s just $34.95 plus tax and service, and $16.00 for the 12 and under crew.
A bit different: The SHED at Glenwood: Dig into an amazing Thanksgiving buffet with all the holiday classics! With seatings from noon to 7PM, it’s $50 for adults and $20 for kids 3-11.
Find more Thanksgiving restaurant reservations in Atlanta.

A bit more: Bar Boulud: Celebrate with friends and family while enjoying a three-course, prix-fixe Thanksgiving Day spread. Enjoy seasonal classics with a French twist, from 12PM-8PM for $85 apiece.
A bit less: Amuse: Chef Martin Quinn is creating a special three-course Thanksgiving prix-fixe menu for only $28 per person.
A bit different: Club Café: Do good while digging into the sumptuous buffet at Club Café. Served 11AM-4PM, it’s $29.95 per person and 10% of food sales will be donated to The Boston Living Center and the dollar donation will be matched by Mark West wines.
Find more Thanksgiving restaurant reservations in Boston.

A bit more: Cite: Feast with your family and friends on a hearty Thanksgiving brunch buffet on the 70th floor of the prestigious Lake Point Tower, from 10:30AM-2:30PM. Adults are $85 each, and kids eat for $38.
A bit less: Brasserie LM: Brasserie by LM will celebrate Thanksgiving with a $35 prix-fixe menu. Menu items include Roasted Chestnut Soup, Fried Ham Steak with bacon & Brussels sprout hash, and yummy Pumpkin Pie.
A bit different: Vermillion: Partake of the most unabashed innovative Thanksgiving feast that has earned raves from the Wall Street Journal, among others. The four-course global meal is big on herbs and spice with a Latin-Indian twist. Vegetarian options abound. $55 per person.
Find more Thanksgiving restaurant reservations in Chicago.

A bit more: Element 47: The three-course prix fixe Thanksgiving menu gets a luxe spin at Element. Book for the $99 per person experience with an optional $65 wine pairing.
A bit less: Hodson’s Bar and Grill-Southglenn: Enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner two ways — traditional with all the fixings for $17 or a smoked turkey with root vegetable gratin for $16. Both options are served all day, from 11AM-8PM.
A bit different: Kachina Southwestern Grill: Add a southwestern accent to your day with this family-style “Back to Our Roots” supper from 11AM-9PM. The four courses feature Achiote Turkey, Smoked Prime Rib, and traditional sides. $40 for adults and $15 for children.
Find more Thanksgiving restaurant reservations in the Denver area.

A bit more: Carbon Beach Club Restaurant at The Malibu Beach Inn: Surf into the holiday with a beachside Thanksgiving dinner. There are three courses for $ 85 per person with wine pairings available upon request.
A bit less: The Front Yard: You don’t have to stress about cooking this year if you hit up The Front Yard! Chef Chris is serving a save-ory menu at just $39 for adults and $18 kids 12 and under.
A bit different: The Hungry Cat: It’s tender vittles all the way with offerings that include deep-fried turkey, spiced cranberry, chorizo and oyster stuffing, potato puree and more, plus dessert.
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Top Chef’s George Pagonis Is Thankful for What Lies Ahead at Kapnos

Blog IMG_9941(F) copyGeorge Pagonis has always known Thanksgiving as a day of hard work. Growing up the son of Greek immigrants, he helped out in the kitchen alongside his parents and siblings at the family diner for most of the holiday. Only after the last customer was served would the family and a throng of visiting relatives sit down to eat. The table was loaded down with a mix of must-have, pilgrim-approved classics – roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing – and dishes favored in his parents’ homeland – dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), moussaka (a rich eggplant casserole), and roast lamb.

The Top Chef star and executive chef of the modern-minded Greek restaurant Kapnos still celebrates Thanksgiving with his family, who live in nearby Virginia. His mother, Mary, and his father, Tony, are first generation Greek immigrants. Both are from the small village of Skoura, just outside Sparta in the country’s southern reaches. “If you’ve seen movies set in Greece where the village has nothing but sheep, goats, chickens, and old ladies wearing black as church bells go off in the background, that’s what it is,” says Pagonis.

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However, Pagonis’ parents didn’t meet and get married until after they separately moved to New York City. Diners were a common business for Greek immigrants, so Tony got a job in one as a short order cook. When his brother opened a diner in Vienna, Virginia, Tony moved down to help him run it. He later opened his own in nearby Alexandria. The Four Seasons was a classic Greek diner. “The menu was an encyclopedia,” says Pagonis. “You could have a lobster tail, scrambled eggs, moussaka, baklava, and stuffed grape leaves.”

Starting around the time he was in middle school, Pagonis and his brother, Nicholas, worked as toast boys on the weekend breakfast shift. This was no small duty. The restaurant sat 300 people and there was a line out the door from 9AM until 2PM. Every egg dish came with toast, so the boys were putting out thousands of slices. Waiters would shout out orders, the boys would toss bread in the toaster, butter it up, cut it, and get the toasted triangles on the plates.

At the end of the shift, each server would tip them a few bucks. It added up. Pagonis would routinely take home $60, a small fortune for a sixth grader. “My parents took me to the mall and I bought whatever I wanted: video games, Starter jackets, Jordans,” he says. “Everyone else had to wait for their birthday to get that stuff, but I was like, ‘Eff it, I’ll buy it tomorrow.’”

Interested in learning more about cooking, he began standing on a milk crate by the chef, peeling carrots, chopping potatoes, whatever. “Anytime he needed anything, I did it,” says Pagonis. “I never said no.”

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Over the years, he learned how to make rice pudding, soups, and gravies, so, at age 14, he began working the line. When it came time to go to college, though, he left the diner behind, determined to pursue a career beyond the family business. He enrolled at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he earned a degree in business finance. Upon graduating, he applied for positions as a credit analyst. However, as he nervously sat outside one office waiting for an interview, supremely uncomfortable in his suit, he questioned his nascent career path. “I felt like an idiot,” he admits. “I thought, ‘This isn’t me.’”Continue Reading