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.
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.
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.
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.
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.