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Week of December 16, 2002

Couture Confiture
Though olives are normally preserved with salt, why not try sugar for a change? Such was the thinking behind chef Jean-Marie Meulien's Confiture d'Olives, created for his Provençal restaurants Table d'Olivier. Made from black and green olives, apples, honey, lemon juice, olive oil, and aromatic herbs, the jam was so popular that he started producing it commercially. Will jaded New York palates be a little suspicious? "I thought olive jam was going to be a bit odd, but when I tasted it, I was intrigued by its sweet earthiness," says Rick Moonen, chef owner of RM and Branzini. "We have been conditioned to eat olives a certain way." Our taste suggests serving it with crêpes and pancakes, sheep's-milk cheese, foie gras, any kind of white meat, or even lemon sorbet and ice cream; Moonen is planning a quenelle of olive confiture with a gravlax of arctic char and onion toast. $12 for a 4.6-ounce jar.GILLIAN DUFFY
Oliviers & Co.
Grand Central Terminal
249 Bleeker Street
198 Columbus Avenue, at 69th Street;

best of the week
New Year’s Eve at Daniel
Why not spend the city’s biggest social night with one of its greatest chefs? Daniel offers three options this year: three courses plus a show by cabaret singer Christine Andreas; a gala tasting menu with live jazz; and a pretheater dinner. ($350, $325, or $125)
60 East 65th Street

Christmas Fish List
With the enduring popularity of Italian food, and the spate of trattorias and panini parlors opening on a weekly basis, it's no wonder that it's beginning to look a lot like an Italian Christmas. That means a Christmas Eve supper of seafood, alternately called il cenone, la vigilia, or Feast of the Seven Fishes (one for each of the holy sacraments). Never mind that the tradition has become more prevalent here than in the old country. Or that non-Italian kitchens, like Citarella and the Minnow, are getting in the cenone spirit with dishes like baccalà dumplings and marinated eel. There's a fishfest to suit every appetite. But act fast—Lupa and Babbo are already booked solid.

New chef Mark Strausman squeezes seven fishes into three family-style courses, from baked clams and fritto misto to roasted striped bass alla Siciliana. Manhattanites will find the same $45 prix fixe at Campagna, Strausman's Flatiron fixture.
256 Fifth Avenue, Park Slope

Chef David Pasternack plans to run his holiday menu for two weeks leading up to Christmas, offering ample opportunity to sample the crudo of the day, grilled octopus with blood oranges, baccalˆ, and fried local eel Neapolitan-style ($70; menu changes daily).
402 West 43rd Street

Why stop at seven when you can have thirteen courses, signifying Christ and his disciples? But no one's expected to consume two antipasti, three soups, three pastas, and five main courses, which is why it's all offered à la carte.
243 East 58th Street

For his second annual Italian Christmas Eve, chef Marc Meyer serves up a $50 three-course feast featuring selections like frittura of Florida shrimp, hand-cut fettuccine with bottarga di tonno, and whole grilled orata. Save room for the ricotta-fritter finale.
Five Points
31 Great Jones Street

Chef Martin Burge's $75 Feast of the Seven Fishes is a loose interpretation of the old-world custom. We'd wager that warm oysters and caviar with leek fondue and grilled squid stuffed with braised short ribs never graced a Neapolitan holiday table.
105 Reade Street

Tony May keeps things relatively simple with a $70 five-course prix fixe, offered December 23 through 28 (except on Christmas). Chef Odette Fada's acclaimed way with risotto will be on display in a luxe version featuring oysters and Franciacorta spumante.
San Domenico NY
240 Central Park South

Let Them Eat Christmas Cake
That fabled single fruitcake, perpetually pawned off from one person to the next, wound up at our office last week, and rather than send it on its way as tradition dictates, we decided to eat it. It came wrapped in an attractive hand-watercolored paper from June Taylor Company, Oakland's font of exotic jams and marmalades, and was loaded with mostly organic, intensely flavorful prunes, raisins, peaches, apricots, dried cherries, candied peel, currants, and almonds throughout brandy-perfumed sweet-and-spicy cake ($25). Sliced thin and served with a glass of port or sherry, it's capable of dispelling the nasty-fruitcake myth in a single bite and turning thoughts of tactless regifting into ones of shameless hoarding. But not to worry: Taylor makes them year-round. For unrepentant citron-phobes, we suggest the offella d'oro, a fruit-free cousin of the panettone artisanally made in Verona and imported by Chelsea Market's BuonItalia ($27.50). It's tall and puffy and redolent of sweet butter and almonds, superb as is or toasted with a cup of tea or coffee.
June Taylor Company
510-923-1522 or 212-687-0300
95 Ninth Avenue, near 15th Street


Ask Gael
Find me a restaurant with zero decibels.
The new Upstairs at '21' with its "let 'em eat foie gras" $85 prix fixe is just the twilight zone you seek. It feels like I've blundered into a private dinner party, just nine tables, so quiet, rather like a Victorian-hotel hideaway. None of tonight's seemingly wowed tourists—I bet the concierge sent them—would have gotten by the doorman at the long-gone, mythically snooty '21,' me included. Now that the snoot's softened, I found a corner table in the toy-bedecked saloon unfailingly sexy, through ownership upheavals and never mind who's cooking. After six years bound by tradition in the downstairs kitchen, chef Erik Blauberg is flying. Alas, most everything we ate was muddled and overdressed, even my favorite, the cinnamon-lavender duck braised in organic honey. Still, the passion-fruit dessert and a celebration of chocolate are pretty good. And the service is like being rich. An obliging captain finds us a $45 wine we love from the house's high-priced treasury. "Forget the food," my date whispers into my ear. "This place is a miracle. It's so quiet and romantic." I spare him a glance at our $278 check.
Upstairs at '21'
21 West 52nd Street

Bites & Buzz Archive

Week of December 9
Spoonbread is holiday chic; Payard for preschoolers; Jacques Torres expands to Brooklyn demands; cookbooks to give and get now.
Week of December 2
Hungarian delights; chocolate stocking stuffer; Monday night dinner at Inside; devilish diavola; oodles of noodles at Soba Nippon.
Week of November 25
Upscale lunching on the west side; thanksgiving dinner with Daniel Boulud; thali heaven at Hampton Chutney; Stone Soup delivers this holiday season.

and more ...

Photos:Tina Rupp (1st & 3rd), Kenneth Chen (2nd & 4th)

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