Want to take the family out for a nice meal tomorrow night so someone else can wash the dishes for a change? Worn out from holiday shopping and don't want to cook dinner? Or have the Bumpus hounds destroyed your turkey and you're looking for an alternative?
Never fear! There are plenty of restaurants open on Christmas Eve, several of which have special menus for the night. Below are some of our suggestions for a delicious Christmas Eve dinner that doesn't include duck heads or mangled Christmas carols.
One word of advice: I would strongly recommend calling ahead for reservations at all of these restaurants, as their menus will book up quickly.
This popular River Oaks area restaurant is serving a prix fixe menu for $47 (and a kiddie version for $12) that includes your choice of appetizers, entrees and desserts. Some of the more seasonal (and more scrumptious-sounding) menu items include a mache salad with caramelized pumpkin, truffle cheese, pear and candied walnuts with apple cider vinaigrette and their roasted hen breast with French lentils, pearl onions and root vegetables. Backstreet Cafe, (713) 521-2239, 1103 South Shepherd Drive.
One of the best restaurants in town and one of my personal favorites -- despite its location in the far western reaches of the city -- has a special prix fixe three-course menu with amuse bouche that is an incredible bargain at $55 per person. It includes salmon gravlax, lobster ravioli, your choice of cod filet or beef tenderloin, and chocolate duo for dessert. There's also a special three-course menu for children from 5 to 12 for only $20 (kids under 5 eat free!). Le Mistral, (832) 379-8322, 1400 Eldridge Parkway.
Another favorite, but of the old-school variety, this traditional German restaurant is offering a bevy of Bavarian dishes for the holiday. I would strongly recommend the Heritage Sample Plate, which is large enough for two people, and comes to your table groaning with delicious schnitzel, sausage, red cabbage, potatoes and enough sauerkraut to feed Austria. Rudi Lechner's, (713) 782-1180, 2503 S. Gessner Road.
For the vegetarians in the group, this newcomer is offering a Spanish-inspired prix fixe $30 menu with a choice of either grilled pork loin (for the carnivores) or a veggie-friendly soy beef stuffed with gorgonzola, spinach and mushrooms. Both are accompanied by forbidden rice and white asparagus and salsa dancing at 9:00 p.m. (it is a Spanish dinner, after all). The only appetizer is fresh ceviche, however, so perhaps this one is better suited to the pescetarians of the world. Sauté, (713) 522-2106, 2303 Richmond Avenue.
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Smith & Wollensky
If you're in the mood for something more traditional, Houston's steakhouse of note is serving a prix fixe menu for $49 with a divine array of appetizers, entrees and desserts to choose from. I'd suggest, well, nearly everything on the menu. For an extra $10, you can have the surf and turf (a filet of beef and a 1 1/4 pound lobster), and even the kids can get in on the action at $20 for their own menu. Smith & Wollensky, 4007 Westheimer, (713) 621-7555.
--- Katharine Shilcutt