Friday, December 31, 2010

The Amazing Technicolor Epic Feast of the 7 Fishes 2010

I've been attending, and more recently preparing a course for, the annual Attanasi Feast of the 7 Fishes in Cranford, NJ for almost 15 years now, and I continue to be amazed at the sheer volume and quality of the seafood dishes we enjoy every year, commandeered by the family patriarch, Joe Sr., who carries on the decades old tradition of his Italian family.

We arrived early this year in order to help with the meal prep, but as usual, Joe Sr. had everything ready and under control, an amazing feat, given the 20+ guests he was anticipating. His son Mark, Mark's wife Christine and stepdaughter Brooklyn flew in from Oklahoma for the second straight year to join the celebration, and Christine did her level best to chronicle everything in real time with her iPad, camera, cellphone, mobile uplink and and ESPN video crew in a trailer in the back yard, I think.

We munched on salumi, cheeses, crackers, beer and white Lambrusco in the kitchen, and Joe Sr. opened a package of really fine Nova lox he received as a Christmas present (!), toasted some mini bagels, pulled out some cream cheese and onion, and we had our first fish---deli-style! Joe Sr. decided to try some Nova himself, assembled a bagel and cheese and Nova, and in a quirky accident, broke off a crown from one of his teeth! A man of quiet dignity, he spent the remainder of the evening as tight-lipped as he could, as the hillbilly/goober/Deliverence/banjo music jokes peppered the rest of the evening. I know Christine sneaked a pic of the big gap tooth, but I'm not, nor is she, posting it anywhere. I mean, Joe IS from Newark after all, and you don't mess with Newark Italians. Period.

The dishes, as every year, were utterly top-notch, and this time the meal reprised a few favorite fishes from last year's feast.

I'll let the photos below tell the rest of the story. The food porn, as last year, is courtesy of Christine Attanasi.

OK, , take a deep breath, get ready, here we go:

Shrimp cocktail

Linguine with clam sauce, still the very best version I've ever had.

Eggplant parmigiana

Flounder baked with soy, ginger, garlic and parsley

Panko-crusted tilapia

Huge coconut prawns

A coconut prawn plated with a warm raspberry sauce

Spice-rubbed, maple glazed saddle of salmon

Exquisite scallops wrapped in prosciutto, topped with dill

Fiery, garlicky bacala salad with hot peppers

Scungili (conch) salad

Octopus salad

Ceviche of mahi-mahi

Gorgeously garlicky roasted venison loin, from the, uh, deerfish!

Fresh mozzarella, because, you know, after a dozen fish and venison, you just want some creamy fresh chesee....

A really impressive fruit tart

Creampuffs, eclairs, sfogliatelles and other pastries from the famous Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken

Really good cannolis, from the famous Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken.

A towering dark chocolate cake, which paired well with a Trader Joe's Vintage Ale, actually.

Oh, just one more thin morsel, some strawberries and cupcakes, no?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Philadelphia Christmas Card

(courtesy of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation-GPTMC)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Christmas Mix

First let me say God Bless Scoats, right off the bat, for keeping a beloved holiday tradition alive. Mike "Scoats" Scotese, owner of the Grey Lodge Pub and Hop Angel Brauhaus, orchestrated the return of any beer lover's holiday fantasy: a variety case of winter seasonal, Christmas and otherwise big beers for 24 lucky beer geeks, including yours truly. Last night we descended upon the Grey Lodge to pick up our most special of Christmas presents.

It was a wintry December night in 1998, bitterly cold and sleeting, and Scoats, my (now dearly departed) friend Gary Bredbenner and I, were hurtling through slush and ice on the Pennsylvania Turnpike toward Downingtown in an old and battered Chevy Suburban that I had borrowed from a housemate. We had been invited to participate in one of beer writer Lew Bryson's early experiments in beer cameraderie, the Bryson Christmas Mix. Bryson had selected 24 winter/Christmas/holiday/big beers and scheduled the assembly of these 24 variety cases for 24 lucky folks at the Victory Brewery and brewpub in Downingtown, on the same night that the brewery would be holding its annual Christmas party, a nifty beer segue of sorts.

I had known Scoats about a year or so by that time, and had become a Wednesday night regular at the Grey Lodge. We had decided to carpool to Downingtown, and Gary, who rarely drove anywhere, asked for a lift as well. It was a scary 90 minute drive in miserable weather.

But we got there, met the group of Christmas Mix participants, and Lew directed traffic as we assembled our variety cases on the loading docks of the brewery. It was a little bit Keystone Cops, but a lot of fun, and the selection of beers for the Mix were, for the most part, new to me, and that made it an extra special adventure.

The Christmas Mix plugged along over the next few years, but began to sputter a few years ago, as schedules got busier, lives more complicated, a lot of different reasons. So that why I heap praise upon Scoats for bringing our little beery tradition back. He, like many of us, can get sentimental that way.

He also worked hard to make this year's Mix really interesting, with classic winter beers that have always been a part of the Mix, and new beers that many of us haven't tried or even seen before.

Here are the beer treasures he assembled for the 2010 Christmas Mix:

21st Amendment Fireside Chat (the first can in the Mix!)

Abbey of Christ in the Dessert Monk's Ale

Anchor Our Special Ale

Breckenridge Christmas Ale

Brooklyn Winter Ale

Cape Anne Navigator Double Bock

Great Divide Hibernation

Great Lakes Christmas Ale

Gritty McDuff Christmas Ale

Kumbacher Eisbock

Lancaster Winter Warmer

Samuel Smith Winter Welcome

Saranac Season's Best

Scaldis Noel

Sierra Nevada Celebration

Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Troegs Mad Elf

Victory Storm King

Wachusett Winter Ale

Weyerbacher Quad

Weyerbacher Winter Ale

Yards Poor Richard's Tavern Spruce

Geants Bier de Noelier

Stegmaier Winter Warmer

I can't wait to start sampling.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

RUBEN AMARO, JR. FOR PRESIDENT!'s John Heyman broke the story at 12:08 AM this morning, revealing that the "stealth suitor" in the Cliff Lee sweepstakes, the Philadelphia Phillies, had in fact landed the powerhouse pitcher for 5 years and roughly $1oo million, with incentives and vesting options.

I'm thinking Amaro gets us out of Afghanistan, trades Iraq to Saudi Arabia, and gets rid of North Korea completely. Just for openers.

Hey, it could happen. Just ask the New York Yankees.

Seven Fishes, Restaurant Style, Parte Due

More restaurants are joining this Christmas tradition movement. OK, well, it's not exactly a movement, but it sure is taking place at a LOT of restaurants this Christmas season, and we mean to bring you the very best of the best menus that we can find.

Mike Stollenwerk, Chef/Owner of FISH, at 17th & Lombard in Philly, is serving up a spate of festive and delicious dishes this holiday season with a Seven Fishes menu, available from December 20-24, according to his publicist, who was kind enough to forward us a menu, and it is, as one would expect, a doozy. $60 per person for seven courses, with an option for wine pairings with each course, an additional $20:


Baby Romaine, white anchovy vinaigrette

Clams and Capellini

Preserved tuna caponata with arugula

Shrimp piperade, polenta-kale galette

Octopus, chick peas and artichokes

Cod brandade, bardolino reduction

Chocolate-orange Pannettone

As with most of Stollenwerk's cooking, this is elegant simplicity and eye-opening combinations. Reservations required.

1708 Lombard St
Phila, PA
Dinnerm Mon-Sun, 5PM-close

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Just about a mile south of Casa Lawrenceville is one of my favorite places, ENZO'S LA PICOLA CUCINA, a tiny BYOB with a surprisingly large, ever-changing Italian menu. Known for their monthly family-style Sunday dinners, they are serving up a formidable Feast of the 7 Fishes dinner on Sunday December 19, with 2PM and 6PM seatings, and priced at $70 per person, tax and tip included. Reservations are a must:



Bacala Salad

Clams with pancetta and scallions, vermouth sauce

Mussels Livornese

Pan-fried smelts

Stuffed calamari

Pasta with Italian tuna

Bacala with potatoes, olives and plum tomato sauce

Scallops Florentine

1906 Princeton Ave
Lawrenceville, NJ

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Share the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes with the Big Talker 1210's Dom Giordano, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille and His Eminence Cardinal Justin Rigali from 6 to 10 p.m. Dec. 21 at POSITANO COAST by Aldo Lamberti. Tickets are $75 and they are limited; find out more at

Besides the traditional Christmas Eve feast, there will be a radio broadcast, special guests and other dishes. The menu, courtesy of, will be served buffet-style:

Feast of the 7 Fishes

  • Seafood Salad (calamari, scungigli, baby shrimp, octopus)
  • Baccala Salad
  • Crudo Station (mahi crudo on the spoon, Clams, Oyster in ½ shell)
  • Fried Calamari
  • Fried Smelts
  • Baccala Pizzaiola – Olives, Tomato oregano
  • Aldo Mussels
  • Vegetable Focaccia
  • Fried Zucchini
  • Prosciutto, Salami
  • Grilled Fennel• Artichokes
  • Grilled Mixed Vegetables
  • Insalata Caprese
  • Roasted Peppers
  • Eggplant Caponata
  • Assorted Cheeses
  • Olives
  • Rigatoni Pescatore – calamari, baby shrimp, mussels, clams
  • Farfalle Boscaiola – asparagus, artichokes, mushroom, tomato, baby shrimp, pesto cream sauce
  • Beef Short Ribs
  • Herb Crust Fish of the Day
  • Chicken Marsala
  • Broccoli rabe and Potatoes

POSITANO COAST by Aldo Lamberti

212 Walnut St, 2nd floor

Philadelphia, PA


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seven Fishes, Restaurant Style

Besides winter beers, Beaujolais Nouveau, menorahs, kinaras and Christmas trees, at this time of year there are some wonderful meals to be had. Many of them are enjoyed at home, of course, but some restaurants go to great lengths to create family style repasts, such as the Christmas Eve ritual of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Here's my annual look at some restaurants that are composing Seven Fishes feasts for every palate and budget.

AVALON restaurant in West Chester, PA has created a rustic Italian menu, served family- style, for the Christmas Eve feast, replete with kid-friendly options for those who need them. It can also be prepared for takeout. This menu, on sheer quantity and creativity, is a steal:

Seven Fishes Feast

(Served family style)


Fried Smelts, White Anchovies, Preserved Tuna & Fried Calamari


Linguini with Shrimp, Mussels & Crab in San Marzano Red Sauce


Fluke Piccata with Capers, Lemon and White Wine, Risotto Style Toasted Orzo

Insalta Digestivo

Organic Mixed Greens with Honey Broken Balsamic Vinaigrette


Fresh Fruit and Cheese served family style (or sweet dessert from regular dessert menu may be substituted). Take out order will be Chocolate Cake that can be baked at home.

This feast, which is designed to be ordered by the entire party, is $45 per person; $15 for children under 12. Child-friendly options will be available. Pricing is the same for eat in and carry out. Reservations/Advanced orders necessary at 610/436-4100. For those who prefer, a limited a la carte menu will be available on Friday, December 24 as well.

Avalon Restaurant
312 South High St
West Chester, PA 19382

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In Conshohocken, PA, TRATTORIA TOTARO has also created a Seven Fishes menu bursting with creativity and earthy, homey flavors, priced at $47 per person. Reservations required. They offer this feast on December 23 and 24, and it is also available for takeout.

Thursday December 23 and Friday December 24, 2010

First Course
Seafood Sampler – A sampling of fried smelts, clams casino, garlic shrimp cocktail and bacala (codfish salad)

Second Course
Fruta di Mar (Cold Seafood Salad)
Shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and calamari tossed with celery and onion with a garlic, olive oil, vinegar and herb dressing, served over greens
Crab and Seafood Bisque

Third Course:
Pescatore – Sauteed shrimp, scallops, mussels, clams and calamari in marinara sauce over pasta. Also available in aiola sauce (garlic, olive oil, white wine sauce)
Flounder Porto – Flounder stuffed with lump crabmeat and spinach in a port wine cream sauce, then baked.
Calalmari Yolanda – Vince’s mothers traditional recipe: calamari tubes stuffed with sautĂ© of vegetables, bread crumbs, herbs, pistachio nuts and raisins in marinara sauce or garlic, olive oil and white wine sauce

Dessert Sampler
Cannoli, Biscotti, Pizzelles and Cookies

Trattoria Totaro
639 Spring Mill Ave
Conshohocken, PA 19428
Phone 610-828-7050 /Fax 610-828-7052

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Ambler, PA's TRAX CAFE, housed in the town's historic train station, takes a deft spin on the traditional Seven Fishes feast with a $45 per person menu crafted by Exec Chef Steven Waxman that squeezes at least seven seafoods into just 4 courses (and thankfully not dessert!) Waxman will serve this menu the entire week before Christmas, from Tuesday Dec. 21 through Dec. 24:

Seven Fishes Feast

Crab & Shrimp Mornay

Bouillabaisse with Anchovy Crostini

Flounder Stuffed with Smoked Salmon Mousse with Vin-Blanc

Choice of: Chocolate Mousse with Cognac or Poached Pear with Raspberry Sauce

The restaurant will also serve its regular A la carte menu from December 21 - 24. Reservations are necessary.

The restaurant will be closed on December 25. A gala New Year's Eve dinner is planned for Friday, December 31.

Trax Café & Restaurant
27 West Butler Pike
Ambler PA 19002

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Closer to my neck of the woods, RISTORANTE BATTIBECCO, a warm and homey Italian in Ewing, NJ is serving a very traditional family style Seven Fishes dinner that your table can design from a huge menu of possibilities. That makes the menu pricing flexible, ranging from $30-45 per person, less for kids under 12 (kids menu available too, if yours aren't ready for fried smelts). The menu here ranges from shrimp fra diavolo, bacala salad and calamari fritti with hot peppers and olives, to the aforementioned smelts, grilled langoustines, mussels, escarole and chick peas, clams casino and swordfish piccata. The meal is served from 1-8 PM on Christmas Eve. Reservations needed

Ristorante Battibecco

71 West Upper Ferry Rd

Ewing NJ 08628


Friday, December 3, 2010

A Nice Winter Dozen

One of my perennial holiday favorites has just landed in my beer fridge: Saranac's 12 Beers of Winter, and it's the first time in memory that each beer in the box is a personal palate pleaser. This year's half dozen pairs include their Bohemian Pilsner, Rye IPA, Vanilla Stout, Big Moose Ale (an American pale ale), and two new creations, Lake Effect Lager and India Copper Ale.

So far I've sampled a few of them: the pilsner is nice and crisp, with enough malt to prevent one's teeth from chattering; the Big Moose is a good cousin to a Sierra Nevada pale ale, a good balance of big hop bite and malt in the back; the lager is nice enough, a bit darker than a Yuengling, but missing the nutty finish of Vitamin Y; I like the Rye IPA most of all so far, with a decent hop bite and an earthy rye flavor that makes it a good choice for a hoagie, cheesesteak or burger pairing.

I'll be sampling the Vanilla Stout tonight in our weekly beer chat, The NO BULL INN, on at 11 PM EST, Tonight's get-together will be all about stouts. Hope you can bring one to our chat and join in! It's a blast, with beer drinkers from coast to coast.

Grab a couple of these Saranac 12-packs this winter. It's their strongest holiday lineup in quite a a few years. Cheers!