Holiday Dining

Julie Besonen

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As the holidays approach, everyone's looking for restaurants that offer a warm embrace. Luckily, we've got some suggestions. The havens in our slideshow serve familiar favorites and unusual twists, made with love and gusto. Many have fireplaces or wood-burning ovens, and all of them aim to fill you and yours with gladness.

Photo: Brendan F Casey

Applewood
501 11th St., 718-788-1810, Park Slope, Brooklyn
The countryside comes to Brooklyn at Applewood, a gently lit restaurant in a storefront outfitted with a blazing fireplace and art ennobling barns, cows and chickens. Naturally, the food is seasonal, which currently means autumn vegetable risotto, pan-roasted Long Island bluefish and grilled Vermont lamb. Owners David and Laura Shea took possession of a farm upstate earlier this year, and much of the restaurant's produce and the occasional pig comes from their sunup-to-sundown efforts. A hospitable, bearded barkeep oversees the snug bar, where you can sample selections from the organic and biodynamic wine list, paired with a small plate of house-made charcuterie with garlic crostini. It would be wrong to skip desserts like pumpkin pie or maple pudding cake, but if you do, the check will still come with a sweet send-off like a lemon sugar cookie or mint truffle.

Tarte flambé. Photo: Anne Senstead

August
359 Bleecker St., 212-929-8727, West Village, Manhattan
August radiates romance on Bleecker Street. The dining room is tiny, and at the end of the bar is a wood-burning oven ready to add a lick of smoke to tarte flambé (with bacon, onions and créme fraîche) at night and eggs en cocotte at brunch. The executive chef is Josh Eden, who has worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud. He's stayed true to the same Pan-European orthodoxy the restaurant has espoused since it opened in 2004. Paprika-butter-poached cod, grilled pork chop with cherries and black garlic and warm chocolate cake with vanilla gelato are as wonderful as they sound. The enclosed garden patio, garlanded with vines and flowers, is open all year long. Reservations aren't accepted, but this is a place where it's worth a gamble.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Donovan's Pub
57-24 Roosevelt Ave., 718-429-9339, Woodside, Queens
This much-loved corner tavern, warmed by crackling fireplaces, has endured since 1966. Even though it's for sale, the fingers-crossed plan is for the new owners to change nothing. Woe betide anyone who fails to preserve the stained-glass windows, faux-timbered ceilings, Kiwanis Club plaques and the famously big and juicy hamburgers. It's the kind of burger you have to hunch over and hold with both hands to forestall making a mess. Past the bar area is a warren of cozy dining rooms, which can be booked for parties and family functions. Keep in mind it's cash only. For the table, get old-school apps like jalapeño poppers, breaded chicken tenders and stuffed baked clams. In allegiance to the joint's Irish roots, Guinness and Smithwick's are on tap.

Photo: Kat Bryant Photography

Hearth
403 E. 12th St., 646-602-1300, East Village, Manhattan
Hearth is aptly named: this restaurant is a warm refuge. The red-hued decor is rustic and simple, but what really sets the place apart—aside from Marco Canora's fabulous American-Italian fare and Paul Grieco's deeply informed wine list—is the service. Cordiality reigns from start to finish, with servers dressed not in uniforms but as individuals. A gift from the chef arrives first, perhaps a shot glass of pureed butternut squash soup with a float of dark pumpkin oil. For all the emphasis on alcohol (including seasonal wines, craft cocktails, beers and ciders), those who don't drink are also given special attention. Praise a nonalcoholic drink and your server, unasked, may just return with the recipe. Large-format feasts (say, triple-tier seafood platters, standing rib roast, whole apple pie) are offered to groups year-round, not just at holiday time.

Lamb meatball sliders. Photo: Malcolm Brown

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich St., 212-925-3797, TriBeCa, Manhattan
Bewitching forests of plants flank the doorway to Locanda Verde, making it one of the most welcoming entrances in the City. Inside is pretty spectacular too, a capacious café and dining room with a jaunty, cosmopolitan air. Located at the base of the posh Greenwich Hotel (co-owned by Robert De Niro), the restaurant is filled with internationals enjoying the good life; breakfast might be sheep's-milk ricotta with truffle honey and burnt orange toast, and the evening may end with Andrew (The Dutch) Carmellini's famous lamb meatball sliders and fire-roasted garlic chicken for two. It's a great place for groups to gather—there's a private dining room with a fireplace and special menu served family style.

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Manetta's Ristorante
10-76 Jackson Ave., 718-786-6171, Long Island City, Queens
Manetta's is an unabashedly old-fashioned Italian restaurant that hasn't changed much in two decades. Near the entrance are display cases of tiramisu and cheesecake, making dessert an easy pickup before getting on the Long Island Expressway. The casual dining room, with sienna-colored walls and granite tabletops, reflects the dress code: no collars or jackets required. From the brick oven come excellent, blistered, thin-crust pizzas that are “individual” size but easily enough for two. The signature “Manetta” pie is a standout, topped with tomato sauce, blobs of fresh mozzarella, zucchini, eggplant, radicchio and roasted peppers. Fried calamari, linguine with clams, chicken parmigiana and vegetable sides, such as broccoli rabe with caramelized slices of garlic, are also generously sized. 

Photo: Clayton Cotterell

Tiny's & The Bar Upstairs
135 West Broadway, 212-374-1135, TriBeCa, Manhattan
This pink, weather-beaten 1810 town house, dwarfed by the tall buildings surrounding it, speaks of New York history. Give thanks to the owners over the generations who have fought for it to survive. The pressed-tin ceilings, American flags and mismatched furnishings are as heartwarming as chestnuts roasting on an open fire. That said, Tiny's is not fuddy-duddy in the least. Stylish entrepreneur Matt Abramcyk (Smith & Mills) is behind it, which means cocktails are a focal point, especially in the straightforwardly named Bar Upstairs. The New American menu includes turkey chili with roasted poblanos, grilled hanger steak with crunchy potatoes and pan-seared scallops with roasted tomato coulis and braised ham.

Photo: Alex Lopez

The Waverly Inn
16 Bank St., 917-828-1154, West Village, Manhattan
The West Village block that cradles The Waverly Inn feels cloistered, privileged, from a bygone era. It was Ye Waverly Inn for decades before Vanity Fair's editor-in-chief, Graydon Carter, took it over in 2006, and the “ye” aspect is still felt in the space's wood detail, low ceilings and four fireplaces. For a long time, the clubby restaurant was virtually inaccessible except to VIPs, but when Frank Bruni first reviewed it for The New York Times, he predicted a day when the general public would be admitted. That time has come. The phone number is now published and reservations can be made on OpenTable. The Edward Sorel mural is no less beautiful today and chef Ashley Merriman, a Top Chef alum, maintains the traditional American menu of seafood, steaks, chicken potpie and cheeseburgers with crisp fries.


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