Someone wise once said (well, sang) that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” I know that songwriters Edward Pola and George Wyle penned these lyrics about familial togetherness and all-around good cheer, but to me, the holidays are defined by the seasonal dishes we eat. Yeah, I’m all for decking the halls with some boughs of holly and emphatically shrugging when relatives ask me if I’m getting married soon, but what hypes me the most is biting the heads off gingerbread people every day for three weeks straight.
The classic carol misses the mark in that department. I mean, the only food discussed is “marshmallows for roasting,” and that’s more a summer thing, no? Are we really out here making s’mores in mid-December? But I digress.
Large quantities of Christmas cookies aside, there are five distinct holiday foods and drinks that I associate with the holidays, from mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving to fizzy Champagne toasts on New Year’s Eve. Here’s where you can grab terrific versions of each around Seattle.
The fourth Thursday of November digs up a lot of repressed opinions about side dishes. Everyone seems to have a different favorite that they’ll aggressively defend to the death – that is, except for poor cranberry sauce (what’s even the point?). If you ask me, pulverized taters are the trustiest turkey day comrade. We can fight about it if you want.
And while the mashed potato showing in Seattle is generally nothing special, all bets are off when it comes to the ones at Lil Red, a Jamaican BBQ and soul food spot in Columbia City. Theirs are perfectly whipped, pack a garlicky punch that’s balanced with savory spices and most important, don’t need to hide behind a security blanket of gravy. These phenomenal spuds stand alone. Lilredtakeout.com
There’s no way we can talk about the humble potato without mentioning Hanukkah latkes. I fry them every year and my kitchen transforms into a Jackson Pollock of canola oil splatters. I regret not just ordering them from Dacha Diner. Every year. This Capitol Hill Eastern European/Jewish eatery on the corner of Olive and Denny serves delicious slow-cooked brisket, matzo ball soup, and khachapuri (Georgian cheese-filled bread) and the potato pancakes are the kind I wish I could pull off at home. Simply salted and velvety in the middle, with plenty of crisp, laced edges that lightly crunch even when accompanied by a sizable dollop of sour cream and applesauce. Dachadiner.com
The combination of nutty brown butter and snipped sage is more of a flavor than a specific dish, but you can’t argue with the fact that those fuzzy green herbs bubbling in caramelized fat are synonymous with this time of year, like candy canes or Hallmark movies that lack real character development. It’s more than a fragrance; it’s a whole mood. Leah Jaffe, owner of Nood Pasta, knows this vibe well. She crafts stupendous handmade pastas, from cacio e pepe-stuffed agnolotti to pillowy cavatelli, for pickup or delivery through Instagram or her website – plus Sephardic pastries, too. The pastas are glorious, but Jaffe completely changed the takeout game upon inventing the “brown butter sage bar.” It is what it sounds like: toasty browned butter infused with wonderfully musky sizzled sage and resolidified into a mold. Boil the pasta, melt down your butter bar, toss it all together and get acquainted with cozy festivity. Noodpasta.com
If you have a sweet tooth like me, you’ve probably been skimming this page thinking, “Neat, but where’s the pie?” I’ll cut to the chase. I fell in love with Gracie Santos’ pop-up Grayseas Pies on the first morsel of tart calamansi meringue that passed my lips. Her fillings have this ideal smidgen of sweetness to counteract tangy fresh fruit, and her flaky crust brickles like a potato chip on the edges while tenderly giving way at the bottom. Obviously, I suggest looking no further for your holiday pies. You can catch Gracie at the Ballard Elks Indoor Holiday Market on Dec. 4, and at Distant World Coffeehouse on Dec. 12, where she’ll serve flavors like apple-cheddar, pear-persimmon, and, of course, pumpkin and pecan. Grayseaspies.com
Once all the drumstick bones are composted and fruitcake leftovers grow stale, we’re met with that melancholic haze between Dec. 26 and 30. You could mope around purposeless in the new pair of socks you never wanted, but this is the best time to pick out your New Year’s Eve bottle of champs. I’m normally one for natural sparkling wine (give me all the pét-nat) but there’s something about the bready, mousse-like foam of a proper Champagne that just makes sense to consume in the alternate dimension between years.
And for that, Love Beats Pagne is the place. Located in SoDo’s Urban Works building, it is Seattle’s only Champagne bar, complete with an in-house shop selling bottles, flutes, stoppers and even Chambongs (don’t knock it till you knock one back). Grab a brut recommendation from the staff, and then all that’s left to do is raise a toast. Here’s to you, 2021 — you didn’t turn out to be the best, but at least you weren’t 2020. Lovebeatspagne.com