Preparing a meal for the holidays can be a stressful undertaking. At Restaurant Serenade, Chef James Laird stays open Christmas Eve to offer a three-course menu packed with holiday favorites that can provide a restful alternative to holiday dining.
"It's one of our busiest days of the year," Laird said, a time when families come and "they don't mind bringing their 2-year-olds."
Laird's Christmas Eve menu is packed with reflections of his time spent in Europe, including traditional French holiday dishes such as fois gras and duck, and several fish options reminiscent of the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of eating seven kinds of fish.
"The octopus is a great seller, we sell a ton of lobster, I think those are great dishes. The salmon [has] a little shrimp raviolis, that's fabulous. Lobster bisque, I mean, how can you go wrong?" Laird said.
The menu also includes game dishes, including venison, lamb and beef. "We sell a lot of everything that day," Laird said, but he admits that with the warm weather the area has experienced lately, fish has been more popular than usual for this time of year.
Laird plans Serenade's Christmas Eve menu based on several factors, including weather, the harvest and seasonal favorites. "We always have a lobster, we always have a lamb, we always have a duck, and then the garnish is what God gives me to work with," Laird said. He also chooses to use local produce rather than getting warm-weather produce from Chile at this time of year, cutting down on Serenade's "carbon footprint."
Serenade also has a liquor license and an award-winning wine collection which includes many wines not sold elsewhere. "We have wines from all over the world," Laird said, "and the wine you buy here, you can't buy in the liquor stores mostly. ... We have wine that's harder to find [but] not necessarily more expensive. You can still get a good bottle of wine for under $25."
The staff at Serenade is trained to pair wines with the different dishes, based on taste and customer preferences. "The salmon, that has a little bit of soy sauce in that, so I like to pair that with an Australian riesling," he said. The salmon entree is served seared with garden spinach, capers and broccoli raab, as well as the afore-mentioned shrimp ravioli.
The sea bass entree served with lobster-tomato risotto, is "a little bit richer. It has some lemon grass and the coconut milk in it, perfect for a full-bodied chardonnay," Laird said.
Laird recommends a pinot noir for the lobster because of its earthy flavors from the mushrooms and celery root served with it. "You'd be surprised how these things of the earth [make the lobster] very deep and rich. ... People would be, like, 'Lobster and pinot noir?' But when they're finished, they'd be very happy with it," he said.
The red snapper could also be served with white or red wine, Laird said, but he said he would probably go with a "full-bodied chardonnay from California" to bring out the flavor of the mushroom emulsion served with it.
For those who prefer the tuna entree, which is served coconut sticky rice, shiitake mushrooms and a ginger vinaigrette, Laird recommends a vouvray. "I like vouvray," he said. "It's less oak, a lot of citrus-y flavors."
For the beef with roasted vegetables and horseradish steak sauce, "you can't go wrong with cabernet," Laird said, and the rack of lamb with ratatouille and gnocchi would go well with a nice Bordeaux.
He also recommends a tempranillo to pair with the Spanish chorizo and piquillo peppers in the pork and a Côtes du Rhône for the venison with local apples and bacon. The duck with barley risotto and butternut squash, though, is a harder dish for him to pair.
"I can't really think of a good wine [for that]," Laird said, and "when I can't think of anything, I always go with a pinot noir. It's middle-of-the-road, nothing too oak-y, it has nice aromas."
Laird said if he were to eat Christmas Eve dinner at his own restaurant, he would choose the pumpkin soup with apples, chestnuts and chives for his appetizer, the duck for his entree ("it's very tender," he promises), and the chocolate tart with homemade vanilla ice cream for dessert. The tart, he said, has been on the restaurant's menu since Serenade opened.
"And a bottle of pinot noir," he added.
Restaurant Serenade will be open from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday. The three-course menu is $69 for adults and $35 for children 10 and under, and does not include taxes and gratuity. The full Christmas Even menu is attached.