It's the most wonderful — and busiest — time of the year. Between gift shopping and holiday parties, there's barely time to breathe — never mind research restaurant events and special dinners. So we did the legwork, offering up a handy guide that should help you eat, drink and have a very merry holiday season.
Where to eat & drink near skating rinks
Strap on your blades and put on your eating pants. Whether you're just learning to skate or able to glide in perfect figure-eights, here's where to spend a postcard-perfect winter evening.
The Frog Pond. Skating at this Boston Common pond is a holiday-season tradition. And luckily, it places you within blocks of a bevy of new Downtown restaurants; check out our neighborhood guide here. But if you'd rather dine on the Beacon Hill side of the park, you'll be just steps from Barbara Lynch's flagship No. 9 Park — which just launched a December-only Holiday Lunch menu featuring a three-course prix fixe and five-course tasting.
Rink at the Charles Hotel. The Harvard Square hotel's outdoor skating rink opens for the season on Sunday, December 14. If the pretzels, candy bars, and other small bites there aren't enough to satisfy, you have both star chef Jody Adams' Rialto and the farm-to-table maverick Henrietta's Table right inside the hotel.
Community Ice Skating @ Kendall. This seasonal public rink, located just off Kendall Square, happens to be located right next to Cafe ArtScience, one of the hottest recent openings. (You can find our First Look at the space and menu here.) For a healthy, athlete-friendly selection of salads, smoothies, and cold-pressed juices, check out the neighboring newcomer Mother Juice, pictured. The spot just rolled out some inexpensive new drinks (like an almond milk hot chocolate with date syrup) and snacks (like caramel delights).
Where to find a fun New Year's Eve dinner
Countdown to "stuffed."
Back Bay Harry's. Hell's Kitchen runner-up Jason Santos has been having a lot of luck with his recent pop-star-themed brunches. From Beyoncé to Justin Timberlake (coming up on December 14), the eatery has found a neat niche by combining pop-music soundtracks and kooky menus. For New Year's Eve, they up the ante with a "Princess of Pop Party Battle." Choose between a three-course prix fixe dinner ($55) paying tribute to either Katy Perry (behold the "Wide Awake coffee- and chile-crusted steak") or Taylor Swift (think Nashville-inspired BBQ shrimp with Cajun butter and crab rémoulade). The dining room will be divided in two appropriately decorated halves, and there will be a red-carpet entrance with pop-star impersonators and a DJ spinning their jams all night long.
Kirkland Tap & Trotter. Tony Maws' Somerville restaurant (pictured) has a few different NYE options available, depending on how much you're able to spend. Besides a night of live music, Maws will be putting out a spread of food stations for grazing: tickets are $49 in advance, $59 at the door (if available) — and just $20 if you enjoy a dinner (served until 9 PM) beforehand. But one lucky party can score a single, 7:30 PM seating "Pig Out Party" at the 12-seat chef's counter. It's $1,200 for the four-course experience, which includes oysters, roast pig with all the fixings and copious sparkling wine. Might as well end 2014 in style.
Ribelle. What's better than a New Year's Eve dinner by a Momofuku alum? A dinner by two Momofuku alums. Ribelle wunderkind Tim Maslow (formerly of Momofuku Noodle Bar and Momofuku Ssam Bar) teams up with North's James Mark (formerly of Momofuku Ko and Momofuku Milk Bar) to create a French-inspired dinner divided into nine courses, from "canapes" (first) to "bisque" (fifth) to "lamb" (seventh) to "dessert" (ninth). Only 100 tickets are available here; it's $175, or $250 with wine pairings.
Where to find great hot chocolate
Because your homemade Swiss Miss isn't cutting it tonight.
Commonwealth. Chef Steve "Nookie" Postal uses Nutella for his hot chocolate. During the holidays, it goes especially well with a scoop of homemade peppermint ice cream or, from the market side, take-home cookie dough in "Holiday Flavors" of cranberry ginger, chocolate candy cane, oatmeal fruitcake, and chestnut crunch. ("Thank you," says Santa.)
MET Back Bay. The restaurant just rolled out a seasonal "Boston Hot Chocolate Experience" menu that makes great use of Somerville-born Taza chocolate. Varieties like Mexican Hot Chocolate (with cinnamon and chile chocolate) and Peppermint Hot Chocolate (garnished with a candy cane) are available in virgin and boozy forms — adding some Bailey's White Chocolate to the former, white crème de menthe to the latter.
Revere Hotel Boston Common. Taza is also used by exec chef Bader Ali for "Pop it Like it's Hot," a hot chocolate pop-up shop in the hotel's lobby every December Friday from 3-6 PM. Each week features a different creative flavor combination — like banana coconut hot chocolate with macadamia nut and cinnamon mocha peanut butter cup — doled out for free. All that's requested: a donation for beneficiary nonprofits The Home for Little Wanderers and the Boston Chapter of the Animal Rescue League.
Where to find hot cocktails
On second thought, some spirits might warm the soul more effectively.
BELLY Wine Bar. Here's a cute idea, courtesy of the Cambridge home (pictured) of our new 30 Under 30 honoree Katrina Jazayeri. During the cold months, BELLY will host "Thermos Thursdays" offering kitschy vintage thermoses for one ($8) or two ($16) filled with your choice of hot cocktail, like a lemon chamomile toddy, mulled wine or hot buttered rum.
Island Creek Oyster Bar. A host of hot cocktails always make an appearance during the chilly months at this Kenmore Square gem, and this year is no exception. Among our favorites is the Pomelo Puro, which combines the Peruvian spirit Pisco Porton with absinthe, grapefruit marmalade and orange bitters for a steamy blast of citrus.
"Warm Cocktails For Cold Nights." Want more ideas? Check out our recent roundup of nine other options right here.
Where to eat during Hanukkah
Bonus: a sneak peek at a long-awaited upcoming restaurant is included.
Craigie on Main. From Tuesday, December 16 through Wednesday, December 24, chef Tony Maws' Cambridge icon (pictured) will offer a special Hanukkah menu of innovative classics like date- and almond-braised beef brisket, celery root and potato latkes, and smaltz-poached sea trout. You can enjoy them à la carte, or as six-course ($98) or eight-course ($118) prix fixe dinners.
Kitchen Kibitz. The modern Jewish pop-up, founded by new 30 Under 30 honoree Jeff Gabel, has teamed up with Steve "Nookie" Postal for "Eight Crazy Bites," a Hanukkah party on Sunday, December 21. Although the shindig will go down at Postal's existing Cambridge restaurant Commonwealth, the menu will offer a peek at the Jewish-barbecue concept behind his upcoming restaurant Steinbones, slated to open in 2015. Imagine: five latkes, including potato latke with pastrami and NY deli mustard; parsnip latke with brisket and black-cherry BBQ sauce; and a Jerusalem artichoke latke with crème fraîche and chives. Dessert will come courtesy of Top Chef alum (and past 30 Under 30 honoree) Stephanie Cmar's Stacked Donuts. Tickets ($40) are here.
Lulu's Allston. Meanwhile this comfort-food newcomer, owned by new 30 Under 30 honoree Joshua Culpo, will host an "8 Days of Hanukkah" series that offers a different menu special for, well, each day. From lox deviled eggs to zalabia (rose-syrup-soaked fritters) and from knishes to kugel with drunken fruit, each day will offer a different reason to head back.
Where to eat on Christmas Day
Because yes, there are (a few) places that will be open.
Beacon Hill Hotel & Bistro. This super-cozy option will offer a three-course dinner ($63) with seatings from 1-10 PM. Among the offerings are chestnut soup with bacon and celery root, braised lamb shank with polenta, and turkey roulade with potato purée. Wine pairings available.
Legal Harborside. From 12-8 PM you can partake in a three-course tasting menu with options like "Treasures of the Sea," a platter of oysters, shrimp cocktail and snow crab; roasted cod with mussels; roasted duck with chestnut spaetzle; and eggnog cheesecake. The price tag: $60.
Rosa Mexicano. And across the street you'll find something completely different: a Christmas Day spread of Mexican cuisine. The $30 prix fixe menu includes options like Maine lobster ceviche with tangerine and roasted poblano, roasted turkey plantain stuffing and Mexican donuts with dipping sauces. Feliz Navidad!