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Turkey on the Fly

Grand Award-winning restaurants provide feasts away from home on Thanksgiving

Posted: November 18, 2003

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Call it holiday role reversal. For one afternoon each November, America's homes become the restaurants, and millions of amateur chefs labor over their stoves and peek anxiously into their ovens, knowing that their most discerning customers sit only a few feet away at the dinner table.

But not always. More and more restaurants -- often including the best ones -- keep a light on for diners away from home, for the cooking-phobic, or for those needing a break from dehydrated turkey and Jell-O salad. Many go the extra mile to create special Thanksgiving dishes and wine pairings. Here's a sampling of what some Wine Spectator Grand Award-winning restaurants are offering this Nov. 27.

The Federalist at Boston's Fifteen Beacon hotel offers a three-course food and wine menu ($85; $65 without wine). Diners may choose from selections such as roasted organic Vermont pheasant with braised winter greens, potato-mushroom lasagna and lingonberry sauce, paired with David Bruce Petite Syrah Central Coast 2001.

General manager Bruno Marini is particularly fond of this pairing. "This dish combines the sweetness of the lingonberries with the bitterness of the greens and the heartiness of the risotto," Marini says, "and the Syrah, which tends to be spicy and peppery, pulls all those flavor components together."

For dessert, try a contemporary spin on the classic pumpkin pie: spiced pumpkin cheesecake with white chocolate and a brown sugar torte, matched with a Château de Fesles Bonnezeaux 1999. "The brown sugar torte made me choose Bonnezeaux," Marini says. "It's not as thick as some Sauternes, like Yquem, but I thought it would round out the flavors well."

Mr. Stox Restaurant in Anaheim, Calif., features four entrées with value-priced pairings, like the Angus prime rib and roasted garlic bread pudding ($30 with soup and salad) with a bottle of Truchard Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1998 ($39 on the restaurant's wine list). In a rush? Mr. Stox will also offer a four-course dinner-to-go ($27 per person, including soup, salad, bread, turkey and pumpkin pie) as well as buffet-sized desserts ($18 to $35) and prepared whole turkeys ($80 for a hen and $150 for a tom, with stuffing).

For more extravagant wine pairings, try the Inn at Sawmill Farms in West Dover, Vt., where the menu includes roast duckling and green peppercorn sauce ($35) with Turley Petite Syrah Rattlesnake Vineyard 2000 ($185), or a grilled beef tenderloin with a black truffle Madiera sauce ($38) and Château Pichon-Longueville-Baron 1989 ($270).

This year marks a first for the Inn at Sawmill Farms. "We've normally only offered a turkey dinner, but we expanded the menu this year," said Bobbie Dee Molitor, the inn's general manager. "Lots of people come back year after year. They say it's a pleasure to relax and let someone else do the cooking. We're family-owned and -operated, and a lot of guests say it's like coming home for Thanksgiving."

Thanksgiving isn't a tradizione in Italy, but marathon meals are, and Vivere, part of the Italian Village restaurant trio in Chicago, is celebrating with a four-course feast matched with Italian wine. Braised turkey with bucatini pasta, sage and leeks ($11) meshes nicely with a bottle of Elio Grasso Barbera d'Alba Vigna Martina 2000 ($40), as does the pistachio-cranberry cake with cranberry-Grappa compote and pistachio sorbet with Biologica Bianchi Passito di Uva Erbaluce Autunno degli Artisti NV ($9.50 per glass).

Chef de cuisine Drue Kennedy explains his Italian take on turkey: "We're not a traditional American restaurant, but I wanted to use turkey and those traditional flavors." Kennedy braises the turkey in chicken stock with vegetables, garlic and sage, then pulls the meat off the bones and uses the braising liquid as a broth for the pasta. As for the wine pairing, Kennedy says that "poultry and Barbera always seem to work well, because the fruitiness of the Barbera pulls out the sweetness of the poultry."

The Wine Cask in Santa Barbera, Calif., offers four courses of food and wine pairings ($110; $75 without wine), such as horseradish-crusted prime rib with mushroom risotto and Robert Michel Cornas Cuvée des Côteaux 2000, or smoked pork loin, potato gratin and Calvados sauce with Schönleber Riesling Spätlese Monzinger Halenberg 2002.

New Yorkers looking for a weekend respite might escape to Crabtree's Kittle House inn and restaurant in Chappaqua, N.Y., where a four-course meal ($60) can be matched with one of six featured Thanksgiving wines. Entrées like herb-roasted swordfish -- try it with the Villa Maria Riesling Marlborough Private Bin 2002 ($32) -- come complete with all the traditional fixings, such as whipped potatoes, creamed pearl onions and cranberry relish.

Reservations are recommended, as most of these restaurants are filling up fast. Unfortunately, none of them are likely to furnish you with a TV and couch for post-feast football and napping, but newcomers to dining out on Thanksgiving will soon appreciate another advantage of not eating at home: No one will make you do the dishes.

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