This is the story of how two restaurants on opposite coasts celebrate two holidays: Chanukah and Christmas. Lucky for us, they were gracious enough to share their favorite holiday recipes.
La Gondola Restaurant in Los Angeles does Chanukah with a Latin twist.
The first kosher restaurant in Beverly Hills, La Gondola, has an innovative menu that put it on the kosher gastronomy map. Beginning with a Northern Italian menu 28 years ago, the owners kept changing with the times. They introduced Californian, Mediterranean, Asian, and Latin dishes, and today are known for matzo ball soup, avocado egg rolls, Asian tapas, branzino with chimichurri sauce, and a chai steak with jalapeno marmalade.
A family business, La Gondola was begun by Chef Nir Weinblut and his mother, with family roots originally from Turkey. His wife is from Mexico City and works on the management side. Together with their son, they run the restaurant, and use their international roots to create unusual holiday dishes that blend tradition with an international flair. The end result? Something unexpected.
Chanukah is no exception. You might be asking: what makes these Chanukah dishes different from all other Chanukah dishes? The answer is in the combination of ingredients, tastes, and sauces. The secret lies south of the border.
Let’s start with the latkes. Potato pancakes are perhaps the most traditional of Chanukah dishes and are made in December in Jewish kitchens all across the world. La Gondola offers them with a twist–two sauces inspired by Mexican cuisine: mole and roasted jalapeño lime. Recipe HERE.
The sauces are only the first twist to a traditional dish. Chef Nir creates a second surprise, which is optional–mixing in bacon bits! In case you think that bacon is not something you’d find at a kosher restaurant, think again. La Gondola offers various forms of beef bacon that are kosher, of course, and can be bought on their website thebaconguys.com, and can be shipped nationwide. As for a wine pairing, chef Nir recommends latkes with either Zinfandel or Albarino.
La Gondola shared this latke recipe so all of us who want to venture into the kitchen can enjoy Latinized latkes at home. I tasted them and they are very delicious and distinctive. They definitely bring a new and unique twist to an old tradition. Muy sabroso, as they say in Spanish. And if you are not interested in cooking, La Gondola vacuum-seals and ships meals from their restaurant menu. Orders can be placed by calling the restaurant in Los Angeles. And of course, if you’re in Los Angeles, you can visit the restaurant to enjoy.
Across the country, on the east coast, is Sistina, an Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s upper east side that offers fine dining in a beautiful townhouse with art-decorated dining rooms, a glassed-in garden room, and outdoor dining in a heated tent. Steps from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the restaurant’s interior boasts original artwork of its own with pieces from Matisse and Miro. Sistina is a destination where customers come to feel pampered, and often reserve for special occasions. The elegant old world décor complements the innovative and creative menu.
Chef and owner Giuseppe Bruno was born in Salerno, Italy, and comes from a long history of farming. The family farm in Italy still operates and ships olives, olive oil, and different flours to Sistina and other restaurants the family owns in New York. Most of the bread at the restaurant is made from the wheat grown on the family farm.
For Giuseppe, cooking and shopping the markets for food are a labor of love. He can often be found in the middle of the night buying produce and fresh fish at the Hunts Point wholesale market in the Bronx.
Giuseppe’s passion for food equals his passion for wine. Over the years, he has collected about 85,000 bottles of wine. Sistina boasts one of the largest wine cellars in New York with about 15,000 bottles on site. Wine Spectator Magazine recognized Sistina as one of the best wine restaurants in the world, and awarded them their top honor of Grand Award status–a distinction reserved for fewer than 100 restaurants worldwide.
Chef Giuseppe approaches the Christmas holiday season with the same enthusiasm and verve that he brings to his kitchen the rest of the year. This Christmas, some of the highlights include pheasant cacciatore, guinea hens with cabbage and sage, suckling pig, and a pork sausage with lentil appetizer that is accompanied by fruit mustards. For Christmas eve, there is, of course, the traditional seven fish plate–grilled fish with grilled vegetables. A festive and gorgeous presentation that I had the good fortune to sample. It lives up to its reputation!
The holiday pasta specialty is amazing. This is the recipe we have for you HERE. A chestnut fettuccine with broccoli rabe and fresh ricotta was superb, and I wholeheartedly recommend it. The wine pairing is a red, Dolcetto D’Alba.
The tradition of homemade pasta at Sistina began in the early days of the restaurant in the 1980s when Giuseppe’s mother could often be found making fresh pasta in the front of the dining room. All the pasta is still homemade today. And the chestnut pasta is made from chestnut flour that Giuseppe gets from his farm in Italy.
The pasta can either be made from scratch (as in the recipe) or for those of us who are less daring, I’m told that chestnut fettuccine and flour can be found in specialty stores.
If you are looking for holiday recipes with a twist, look no further. Los Angeles’ La Gondola potato latkes with mole and roasted jalapeño lime sauces for Chanukah or New York City’s chestnut fettuccine with broccoli rabe and fresh ricotta for Christmas are sure to please.
June Massell is a New York based journalist and strategic communications specialist. She was a four-time Emmy award winning national television news correspondent, investigative reporter and news & documentary producer. She reported for The Newshour on PBS, for ABC Network News (Nightline, World News Tonight, Good Morning America), and NBC in New York and Chicago. She also produced for the news and documentary divisions of CBS and NBC Network News and worked on 60 Minutes. She has a strategic communications consulting practice and helps institutions “tell their story”. With a passion for travel, story telling, and food, June is a freelance travel writer who has told stories from destinations all around the world.
Header Photo credit: Annie Spratt