‘Tis the season to dine at these holiday-themed restaurants.
Come the holiday season, New York is every bit merry and bright – frosty shop windows, ribbon-adorned street lamps, colored lights on the Empire State Building. The dining scene is no less festive with the following four restaurants particularly well steeped in holiday tradition and décor, fruitcake not included.
Tucked away near Gramercy Park, Rolf’s looks every bit as German as its food. Lederhosen-attired waiters serve spätzle, five kinds of shnitzel, four kinds of hot-dog-like wurst and notoriously addictive crispy potato pancakes to diners in cozy wooden booths; and libations are a-plenty. But come the winter months, the restaurant transforms into a floor-to-ceiling winter wonderland, decked out with reams of tinsel, faux-evergreen boughs, Santas, angels and bundles of ornaments hanging from every inch of the ceiling. The extent of the decorative efforts was extensive enough to land it coverage on the Travel Channel, and visitors from neighboring states are known to make trips into the City specifically for this yearly festivity. Luckily, the resulting wait times can be cushioned with mugs of German draft beers. (281 Third Ave. at 22nd St.)
Up by Central Park, the Russian Tea Room similarly offers an ethnic dining experience. Founded by the members of the Russian Imperial Ballet more than 80 years ago, the restaurant long served as a New York watering hole for the international community of artists, intellectuals and entertainers (Madonna worked in the coat room prior to her stardom). Formal enough to pass as a sitting room in the Hermitage, everything here is elaborate, from their four different afternoon tea menus (regular, children’s, vegetarian and gluten-free) to their extensive selection of vodkas. Their holiday reverence is given no less attention. A three-course, prix-fixe Christmas dinner menu offers the best of their signature dishes alongside traditional Russian delicacies: Tea Room borscht, goat cheese and mushroom crepes with lingonberries, chicken Kiev, wine-braised beef Stroganoff in a black truffle cream sauce. For dessert, there’s really only one option: the Czar’s Gold and Caviar Parfait – chocolate-laden nougat cream served with a nugget of 24-karat edible gold. (150 West 57th St. nr. Seventh Ave.)
Renowned as one of the finest seafood destinations in the city, The Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center feels every bit spirited during the holiday season, with the Center’s ice skating rink just outside the restaurant’s windows. Book a reservation for Breakfast with Santa, an indulgent breakfast complete with omelet and crêpe stations, a chocolate fountain, elves delivering small gifts to child diners and Santa twirling around the rink outside. For a late lunch, the bar area turns into a sushi and sake bar on weekdays after 4:30 p.m., and dinner – designed by Executive Chef Yuhi Fujinaga, formerly of multiple Michelin-starred restaurants – is every bit a gourmet experience. Shellfish platters, oysters and The Sea Grill Chowder foray into meals of Montauk wild striped bass à la plancha and New Zealand king salmon. Close by, the moving windows of Saks Fifth Avenue await for pre- or post-meal entertainment. (19 West 49th St. nr. Fifth Ave.)
To escape the holiday bustle of the City, The Water Club offers beautiful refuge, perched on the shore of the East River. The New York institution reopened its doors in late October after a year spent repairing damage from Hurricane Sandy, and with its restored nautical interior and metal staircase winding up to upper dining levels, it is no less elegant than it ever was. The seasonal menu – equal parts meat and seafood – takes creative liberties with classic American dishes, such as pork chop stuffed with dates and whole roasted Dover sole with buerre noisette. Its most indulgent offering is named after the omnipresent establishment twelve blocks up on the river, the United Nations: six oyster, six clams, four tuna tartar tacos and a whole chilled Maine lobster. Enjoy this in the warmth of the crackling fireplace, the scent of natural pines and evergreens, and twinkling Christmas lights matching the glittering skyline of Brooklyn just across the River. (East River at 32nd St.)