We started our 2011 Christmas Eve much like we started our 2010 Christmas Eve, down the street from Trattoria Lucca at the restaurant’s complementary enoteca, sharing a bottle of wine, basking in the soft glow from reindeer candleholders, and waiting for a table at the Feast of the 7 Fishes, a remarkable family-style meal of Italian seafood from talented chef-owner Ken Vedrinski.
The traditional Italian Feast of the 7 Fishes may very well relate to the number of sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church, or possibly to the seven days of the week. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus, but no matter the genesis, any tradition that encourages families to gather and gorge on sea creatures remains welcome in my life.
Between the enoteca and meal, we split two bottles of Masserie Pisari Salento Rosso Negroamaro, a red wine which paired very well with the balanced acidity found in Vedrinski’s cooking.
Vedrinski said he adjusted his recipe for bacalao, but it’s hard to remember how different it tasted from last year’s version. All that was clear was how good the rich, creamy and warm dip of potato, garlic and salt cod tasted topped with baked breadcrumbs and slathered on crusty bread.
Long tubes of al dente house-made pasta welcomed spicy scungili, an oceanic “Bolognese” consisting of ground sea whelks, flash cooked and tossed into tomato sauce with spicy Calabrese chilies to form oceanic “Bolognese.” Sharp grated cheese and sliced basil completed the dish.
Twin entrees touted spinach and Lambrusco reduction, including one platter starring seared flatiron steak, which was burgundy hued and lean, plated with earthy oyster and button mushrooms that lapped up the reduction.
Juicy white fish fillets (triggerfish?) sported light potato crusts and appeared alongside Mepkin Abbey oyster mushrooms, which monks harvested nearby, contributing a savory, umami element.
It was no surprise that Vedrinski was deft with pastas and seafood. The dish that knocked us all on our asses was dessert, dense chocolate hazelnut budino, rich sprinkled with sea salt and plumed with homemade brittle. This would rate alongside the best budinos in the nation, including Osteria Mozza’s famed butterscotch budino.
Vedrinski continued a hot streak that spans three restaurants and nearly a decade. At this point, it would be much more surprising if he delivered a meal that wasn’t spectacular. What’s clear is that my family will continue to ride that Italian hot streak, on Christmas Eve and other times.