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Dine & Unwind

Exhilarating but exhausting, the breakneck pace of the holidays can turn the most efficient multitasker into a manic mess. Give yourself a gift this holiday season—a divine meal served up at a local restaurant just outside your door.

toast by istockphoto.com/© Isaac Koval

The most wonderful time of year can also be the most hectic, but before you get busy decking the halls, picking out presents and roasting that turkey, be sure to carve a slot in your day planner to get out and celebrate with family and friends. Whether you want to enjoy an elegant holiday dinner without lifting a finger or just toast the season with hot toddies, these local restaurants are cooking up delicious offerings. So round up your nearest and dearest to eat, drink and savor the good times.

New Canaan

Piece of Paris 

At Bistro Bonne Nuit, Christmas Eve is one of the biggest nights of the year, a date people book months in advance. Tables are set with holiday china and the dining room is decked out with tasteful trimmings and lights. The bistro opens at 4 p.m. to cater to those who want to eat before attending church services or joining in the town caroling. On Christmas Eve and other nights around the holidays, heartwarming French dishes such as foie gras, cassoulet, supreme de canard and lamb shanks take center stage. Another draw is the 389-bottle wine list, for which the bistro has been recognized eight times in Wine Spectator’s Best Restaurants for Wine. There are eighteen wines by the glass, and  half bottles of special wines, such as the Shafer Cabernet, are available too. Joyeux Noël! Open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 12 Forest Street, 203-966-5303; culinarymenus.com/bistrobonnenuit.htm

Keep It Casual

If you’re feeling nostalgic and want to reminisce with old friends, head for Cherry Street East, a pub where time stands still—and people love it that way. A lively spot to gather on Thanksgiving weekend for a casual meal and football games on the flat screen, the old-school eatery is known for top-notch burgers. Try the Vermonster, a half-pounder with sharp cheddar and bacon on an English muffin. On weekdays happy hour is 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. and all drinks are $1 off. Sam Adams Seasonal Ale is on draft, as are Guinness and Smithwicks. Open Christmas Eve until 3 p.m., New Year’s Eve until 9 p.m. and all of New Year’s Day. 45 East Ave., 203-594-1515; cherrysteast.com

Ring in the New Year 

A new and eagerly awaited restaurant in New Canaan, Elm is slated to open late this fall. Chef Brian Lewis, formerly of Bedford Post, gave us a first glimpse of his New Year’s Eve tasting menu. The evening will begin with caviar canapés followed by an intriguing selection of first courses: chilled beau soleil oysters, citrus-cured Long Island fluke, flashed Scottish langoustines or Hudson Valley foie gras. The second-course offerings include ruby beet sacchetti, red crab raviolo Albufera, tortelloni of pastured escargots and Acquerello Carnaroli risotto. The mains: Chatham Bay cod roasted in garlic oil, Maine lobster grilled with white miso, spiced duck breast and Painted Hills beef short rib and filet. For the perfect ending to this elegant progression, you can choose from a Cato Corners farmstead cheese selection, drunken prune and Armagnac soufflé, caramelized pear strudel, and warm bittersweet chocolate and olive oil cake. Now that’s a meal worth staying up for. Open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 73 Elm Street, elmrestaurant.com

Intimate Evening 

Chef Robert Ubaldo always focuses on what’s seasonal at the Farmer’s Table, a snug and warm venue with just twelve tables. And around Thanksgiving he starts to prepare dishes with more game and duck—all sourced from his brother’s farm, John Boy’s Farm of Cambridge, New York. As the cold air blankets Fairfield County, Ubaldo also gets back into squashes and winter greens and occasionally pulls produce from his own home garden, located in Pound Ridge, New York. Perhaps the most sought-after treats at the Farmer’s Table during the holidays are the house-made pies: apple, cherry, pecan and pumpkin. So if you didn’t get your fill on Thanksgiving, come here for seconds. You can also order house-made pies to bring home. Open New Year’s Eve. 21 Forest Street, 203-594-7890

Pumpkin Fetish 

Get your fix at Gates, as Executive Chef David Hart takes advantage of the seasonal ingredient, turning out homemade pumpkin lasagna, pumpkin ravioli and even a pumpkin-tini. His fall and winter menus also highlight wild boar and duck. The bartender will mix up Christmas cocktails, such as pomegranate martinis. Most popular for its award-winning brunch, Gates opens on New Year’s Day to offer this favorite meal, complete with eggs Benedict and the well-loved Bloody Marys made with Absolut Peppar. Open Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. 10 Forest Street, 203-966-8666

Rustic at Its Best 

With its plaid wallpaper and wood interior, the intimate dining room of Harvest Supper is tailor-made for this time of year. The fall-inspired dishes include honey-glazed duck breast with berries and grains, Hudson Valley foie gras with poached pears, and crispy duck confit. Special red wines, including some sought-after Zinfandels, are added to the list at this time of year, and champagne is always available for toasting. Open New Year’s Eve, a la carte menu. 15 Elm Street, 203-966-5595

Sunday Finest 

In November the Pine Social introduces its savory holiday dishes: creamy polenta with wild mushrooms and spicy fennel sausage, butternut squash ravioli with “amaretti dust,” and roasted Crescent Farms duck breast with fig and chorizo agrodolce and grilled polenta cakes. Special sweets on the dessert menu include pumpkin tartlet topped with house-made nutmeg schlag and sticky bread pudding with raisins and walnuts. On Sunday nights the restaurant features wines by the bottle at half price. For a private event with up to twenty-four people, check out the Club Room. Open New Year’s Eve. 36 Pine Street,  203-966-5200; pinesocial.com

The Ultimate Thanksgiving 

The charming Roger Sherman Inn dates back to the 1700s and has all the trappings of a perfect Thanksgiving dinner:  a historic dining room with crisp white tablecloths and an elegant menu to please adults and children. Traditionalists can opt for a sweet potato and squash soup or a leek-mushroom tart to start, but there are also gravlax crostinis, pâté de campagne and a lighter salad. In addition to the classic turkey feast with herbed chestnut stuffing, diners can order several varieties of fish, osso bucco or a filet of beef. Little ones can enjoy mac and cheese with their turkey. Open Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 195 Oenoke Ridge, 203-966-4541; rogershermaninn.com

Wild about Truffles 

Truffle enthusiasts will be tempted by the arrival of a fresh harvest from Italy to attend the special tasting nights at Sole. Not only is the delicacy incorporated into dishes, it is also served in shavings at the table for the purest indulgence. On the autumnal menu, the roasted chicken and the halibut with crusted Parmesan are among the favorites, along with the agnolotti stuffed with veal, butter and sage and the lobster ravioli. (Sole now offers gluten-free pasta for those with restricted diets.) If you book your celebration for a Tuesday night, you’ll receive 50 percent off a bottle of wine—a good chance to explore something new from the list. Watch for a new look at Sole this fall, as the restaurant is undergoing a decorative facelift. Open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 105 Elm Street, 203-972-9997


Planning a holiday play date with another family?  Station Eats is the organic burger joint (formerly the Filling Station) that kicks off its seasonal specials with a Thanksgiving turkey burger and pumpkin milkshake. In December it will feature the Holiday Burger, a version of a Christmas rib roast dinner on a bun, along with a peppermint candy-cane milkshake. 19 South Avenue, 203-966-4445; stationeats.com

Here’s the Beef 

Meat lovers, meet your match. Tuscan Osteria and Mercato is the exceptional new Italian market and restaurant headed by Marc Minella, a chef who has logged time in the kitchen with Mario Batali, and James Dadio, a highly experienced butcher and former owner of Greenwich Prime Meats. Meals here, including a New Year’s Eve feast, will feature specialty steaks and exotic cuts of meat as well as Florentine and Tuscan cuisine, such as homemade pastas and sausages (made fresh daily for the adjoining market). For Christmas Eve Chef Minella will prepare a traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes. Open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 134 Main Street, 203-594-9026


Comfort Food

With its rich wood interior, intricately carved wooden bar and large fireplace, the Goose American Bistro & Bar epitomizes fall and winter comfort. This season’s menu features hearty fare such as Gorgonzola dolce-stuffed black Mission figs with truffle honey, veal ossobuco with saffron risotto and a roasted chicken scarapiello. For a decadent seasonal dessert, try the creamy pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust. For an après-skating pick-me-up, try the warm spiced apple cider with Tuaca or a cinnamon-infused Calvados Mojito. The NFL “ticket” keeps the bar busy with a football crowd. And a popular half-price wine night on Tuesdays also draws diners seeking a great value. Open New Year’s Eve. 972 Post Road, 203-656-2600; thegoosedarien.com

Go Fish 

While sushi may not be the traditional holiday food, some of us would rather feast on sashimi and specialty rolls than anything else. The menu at Matsuri gives a nod to the holidays year-round with its Christmas Roll, a blend of salmon, eel and avocado topped with more salmon, ikura, seaweed salad and eel sauce—all in colors of red and green. On New Year’s Eve, the restaurant features its standard à la carte menu as well as an extensive list of sakes for toasting. Open New Year’s Eve. 390 Post Road, 203-655-4999

Good Friends, Good Food 

Rory’s has a loyal following for its friendly bar, excellent burgers and coveted lobster bisque served every Tuesday and Friday. On Thursday nights the special is a turkey dinner, so if you want to revisit the Thanksgiving meal, this is the place to go. Also try the popular lobster cobb salad, a steamed pound-and-a-halfer served over salad. Open Christmas Eve for lunch only and New Year’s Eve. 416 Post Road, 203-655-9453; rorys.net

Heart of Italy 

The sister restaurant to Cava in New Canaan, Scena also features a rustic menu of hearty dishes that’s fitting for this time of year. Think ricotta gnocchi with beef Bolognese, veal ravioli, seafood fettuccini with hazelnuts and pork tenderloin with truffle-honey polenta. In addition to a lengthy wine list, the restaurant offers a sizable selection of after-dinner drinks—cognacs, single-malt whiskeys, port, grappa and bourbon. For New Year’s Eve dinner, the chef sticks with the regular menu but features special wines and champagnes by the glass. Open New Year’s Eve. 1077 Post Road, 203-662-3226; scenawinebar.com

Après Shopping

After Christmas shopping at local stores, Ten Twenty Post is a comfortable place to escape the cold and unwind. The restaurant stays open between lunch and dinner, so you can meet friends for a nosh and a glass of wine midafternoon, if it suits your schedule. During the holidays the menu abounds with seasonal comfort foods such as braised short ribs with root vegetables, duck confit, chicken pot pie and lobster mac and cheese. Dessert? Two words: mud pie.  For great value plan your gathering for a Sunday, when wine by the bottle is half price. Open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 1020 Post Road, 203-655-1020; tentwentypost.com

Prime Rib and Prix Fixe

The Waters Edge at Giovanni’s is an Italian steakhouse known for its elaborate prix fixe meals and generous portions. The Christmas Eve menu is laden with seafood choices such as linguini with clams, zuppa de pesce, lobster and filet of sole francese. There are also serious cuts of meat, like the king-size Angus T-bone. Other signatures here: veal chop parmigiano and the fantastic garlic bread. When you can’t decide on just one dessert, there’s the Gio Trio, a sampling of crème brûlée, tiramisu and Italian cheesecake. Open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 2748 Post Road, 203-325-9979; watersedgeatgiovannis.com


Go Nautical

The nautically themed Sails American Grill is especially welcoming during the holidays, thanks to the tables by the fireplace and a menu of hot toddies at the warm, teak-topped bar. These drink specials include café Barbados with Myers Rum, Kahlua, coffee and whipped cream, and a hot chocolate with Chambord. Among the standouts from the fall-winter menu are the harvest squash ravioli and the house-made veal and beef Bolognese. The manager describes the restaurant as “very kid-friendly,” so it’s a fine place to bring along family for a relaxing meal. Open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. 148 Rowayton Avenue, 203-853-7245; sailsamericangrill.com

Room with a View 

In the colder months, a table at the Restaurant at Rowayton Seafood offers soothing views of the Five Mile River and is also a festive space to warm up by the fire while eating the freshest seafood. Best-selling dishes include the tuna flatbread, tuna tartare and crab cakes, and seasonal specials are created daily by Chef Chris North. For New Year’s Eve, you can book seats for the prix fixe seafood dinner. While the congenial bar draws locals with its Dark and Stormy and planter’s punch, the latest drinks are the new Rowayton Seafood-label wines, a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sonoma County. Open Christmas Eve for lunch and New Year’s Eve. 89 Rowayton Ave., 203-866-4488;  rowaytonseafood.com