Dining Out on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

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It's allegedly the most wonderful time of the year.

But we're guessing whomever penned that phrase never spent Christmas Eve amid the pandemonium of wide-eyed, frantic shoppers desperately trying to cross those last few names off of the shopping list, or stayed up until the wee small hours of the morning getting everything wrapped and under the tree, only to wake an hour and a half later to watch it all get torn to shreds.

That's why sometimes the best Christmas gift you can give to yourself to ensure sanity and the safety of loved ones is to let someone else handle the cooking on December 24 and 25. This used to mean dinner at a Chinese restaurant (and for many, it still does), but if egg rolls don't exactly fill you with holiday cheer, there are a variety of other dining options available. Just be sure and call ahead, as reservations are required at nearly all of the locations listed below.

HOLIDAY-THEMED DINING ON CHRISTMAS EVE / CHRISTMAS DAY Below are local restaurants offering holiday menus and specials on December 24 and 25 -- but if you'd just like to know what's open on Christmas Day, click here. (Most restaurants are open on Christmas Eve, but we strongly suggest calling in advance as many close early).

*17 Restaurant - Alden Hotel Houston 1117 Prairie, 832-200-8800 3-course prix fixe menu on Christmas Day from 11 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. $55 per person

Backstreet Cafe 1103 S. Shepherd, 713-521-2239 3-course prix fixe menu, complimentary eggnog, and live music by Bob Chadwick Christmas Eve from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. $49 per person.

Bistro Provence 13616 Memorial Dr., 713-827-8008 3-course prix fixe menu on Christmas Eve. Seatings at 6 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. $48 per person

Brennan's of Houston 3300 Smith St., 713-522-9711 Special holiday-themed a la carte menu from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m on Christmas Eve. Entrees range from $29-$39.

The Cafe at Hilton-Americas Houston 1600 Lamar St, 713-577-8000 Brunch buffet from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and a 3-course prix fixe dinner menu from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m on Christmas Day. Brunch: $32.95 adults / $15.95 children 7-12; Dinner: $31.95 per person.

Haven 2502 Algerian Way, 713-581-6101 4-course prix fixe menu on Christmas Eve. $55 per person.

Hugo's 1600 Westheimer, 713-524-7744 Serving a "Buffet de Noche Buena" with live music by Viento on Christmas Eve. $39 adults / $12 children.

Katz's Deli and Bar 616 Westheimer, 713-521-3838 Serving turkey and dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, and a roll all day Christmas Day. $12.99 adults / $5.99 children.

Mockingbird Bistro Wine Bar 1985 Welch, 713-533-0200 3-course prix fixe menu on Christmas Eve. $59 adults ($89 with sommelier's wine pairing) / $25 children.

Narin's Bombay Brasserie 3115 West Loop South, 713-622-2005 Serving a very "curry" holiday-inspired buffet featuring Tandoori Duck and Chicken on Christmas Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. $18.95 per person.

Quattro - Four Seasons Houston Hotel 1300 Lamar, 713-276-4700 3-course prix fixe menu on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. $85 adults / $42 children 6-12.

Turquoise Grill 3701 Kirby Dr, 713.526.3800; 16019 City Walk, 281-937-7447 Open Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with a 5-course prix fixe menu. $21.95 - $29.95 adults / $10 children.

ONGOING FOOD-RELATED HOLIDAY PROMOTIONS The following is a random list of local holiday promotions that stood out among the sea of press releases. They don't exactly coincide with the theme of this blog, but what the hell, 'tis the season of excessive listing.

Downtown Aquarium 410 Bagby, 713-223-3474 The downtown entertainment and dining complex invites kids of all ages to enjoy a "bountiful breakfast buffet" and have their photo taken with Santa. The promotion, held daily from 8 to 10 a.m. through December 24, also promises a special appearance by "Scuba Santa," greeting guests from underwater. Let's just hope he's not wearing a Speedo. $14.99 adults / $7.99 children 3-12.

Expressions Fine Chocolate 3535 Wilcrest, 281-905-2190 The normally by-appointment-only high-end chocolatier is celebrating the season with a truffle festival, opening its doors to the public every Friday from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. in December. Choose from extravagant indulgences like Red Wine Raspberry ("dark chocolate infused with red wine, complemented by raspberries and cream") and Champagne ("light and airy champagne ganache enveloped in dark chocolate and crowned in gold"), and specially-priced boxes ranging from $17.50 (½-pound) to $50(1.5-pound). In addition, each customer making a purchase on either day will receive a special box of confections valued at $8, perfect for re-gifting or shamelessly devouring on the car ride home.

Goode Company Barbecue Multiple Locations If your holiday celebration is Texas-size, Goode Co. has a party pack for 50 ($550) that includes 25 pounds of meat (your choice of turkey, ham, chicken, ribs and sausage), four gallons of sides (potato salad, beans, cole slaw, or jambalaya), setups, a gallon of sauce, and -- oh yes -- six loaves of their highly-addictive jalapeno cheese bread, available for pickup or delivery within a 15-mile radius.

Khun Kai Thai Cafe 1209 Montrose, 713-524-9614 Chef and co-owner Kay Soodjai has created four special dishes inspired by holiday gifts and decorations -- "They don't come wrapped, but they are all Thai'd." Options are $8.95 each and include the Khun Kay Holiday Wreath (wreath-shaped spicy Thai Fried Rice with green curry, garnished with roasted red pepper, chopped jalapeno, carrots, spinach and chicken) and edible representations of the three wise men's offerings like Gold (a golden Thai pumpkin dish), Frankincense (fragrant black rice), and Myrrh (a special holiday version of Thai dumplings).

Pizzitola's Bar-B-Cue 1703 Shepherd Dr., 713-227-2283 The celebrated Heights barbecue joint's Open Pit Hickory Smoked Turkeys (12-14 lb, $39.95) have been a part of Houston's holiday celebrations since 1935, but this year they have an even more intriguing item up for sale: the gift of chef/entertainer Jerry Pizzitola himself. For $200 Jerry will design a custom menu tailored to your taste, shop, and prepare a "cooking class-style" four-course meal for two as you observe and relax in the comfort of your own home. The offer is good through March 31, 2012, and contains no mention of washing dishes.

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