Piero Fetes the Feast of the Seven Fishes

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By Deirdre Bourdet

One of my all-time favorite Italian culinary traditions is the southern regions' Festa dei Sette Pesci, the epic Feast of the Seven Fishes celebrated on Christmas Eve.   Unlike many other traditional meals, the menu for the Feast of the Seven Fishes is not set in stone--nor is the number of dishes, despite the name.  Celebrants may serve seven, nine, eleven, thirteen different fishes at the meal, depending on what is fresh and available and inspiring to the cooks.  Italian-American Feasts of the Seven Fishes have also been known to sneak in some meat with the fish, as well.  A multi-course parade of creative seafood variations that incorporates meat products whenever delicious may not sound much like an abstinent religious observance, but then again we are talking about the Italians.  And it is a Festa, after all.

Piero Dining Room.jpgThe Mirabel Group's impressive stable of Relais & Chateaux hotels includes the Hotel Luca in Yountville--and as of this last month, the prized Les Mars Hotel in Healdsburg.  Hotel Luca's restaurant Cantinetta Piero has been celebrating Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes since it opened late last year.  At that inaugural fish feast, my brother and I gorged on pristine hamachi crudo with local Meyer lemon olive oil, succulent steamed mussels, a beautiful whole roasted branzino, delectable stuffed calamari in a Sicilian-style tomato sauce studded with raisins and pine nuts, and many other delights from the sea.  

This December 24th from 5pm until 9pm, the restaurant will offer a new five-course prix-fixe menu ($65 per person) that highlights some of the best seasonal fish available.  Two refreshing, palate-awakening crudo options kick things off--your choice of either a Kumamoto oyster with cool cucumber granita, or fresh fluke with preserved lemon and capers.  Next on deck you'll see a super seasonal pizzetta of Nantucket Bay scallops, caramelized onion, Taleggio cheese, and... wait for it... white truffles.  Swoon.  

Once out of your truffly haze, you must select either a dish of spicy bucatini diablo with braised baby octopus, or squid ink tagliatelle with saffron-poached cuttlefish.  This arduous pasta decision is followed by yet another dilemma: your choice of branzino with celery root puree and salsa verde, or the unusual braised eel with Umbrian lentils.  Clearly, choosing only one from each of these courses will be difficult.  The restaurant relents with dessert though, and makes the decision for you: a chocolate, persimmon, and pine nut torte with eggnog gelato will close the show.  

Steak.jpgChristmas Eve diners may also choose from Piero's regular dinner menu, which includes such oceanic delights as Dungeness crab risotto with preserved lemon, and a prosciutto-wrapped monkfish with pickled apple vinaigrette.  They can also opt out of the fish worship altogether with a wood fired wild mushroom pizza, roast chicken with rosemary and lemon, or the classic, 24-ounce Bistecca alla Fiorentina.

After dinner, work off a bit of your feast with a stroll south along Washington Street to admire the holiday lights of downtown Yountville, and maybe take a turn under the stars on the skating rink at the V Marketplace.  Or just linger for a while in the romantic lighting of Hotel Luca's Old World courtyard, seemingly designed for just this purpose.  

Cantinetta Piero, Hotel Luca, 6774 Washington Street, Yountville, 707.944.8080.

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