Modern holiday dining presents an opportunity for restaurants to zhuzh up classic center-of-plate offerings, experimenting with international flavors and a diversity of ingredients to bring contemporary twists and turns to the seasonal table.

Consider that the traditional stars of the show are the stars for a reason and then flip the script. The goal is to offer a sophisticated yet accessible alternative to the familiar, appealing to both traditional and adventurous diners.

The Dark Side

Case in point, mainstay turkey will always be offered at Thanksgiving. But these days, more and more diners are leaning into the concept that darker meat is more flavorful and indulgent. Capitalize on this trend by highlighting these dark meat portions as a specific option, then offer side dishes that are bright, acidic, and lean. Think Brussels sprouts spiked with citrus zest, roasted mushrooms with sauerkraut, and sweet potatoes whipped with balsamic or red wine vinegar. Not only will these types of sides work just as well with dryer white breast meat, but they will also cut back on the heaviness of the meal.

High on the Hog

Pork, a staple of many holiday menus, has long been undergoing a restaurant renaissance, as the old-school glazed ham has lost ground to other cuts and preparations. Pork belly, for example, provides the perfect balance of crispy skin and indulgent meat. Lean pork tenderloin is less salty and becomes the perfect vehicle for festive holiday-inspired marinades (cranberry or apple cider) and dry rubs (cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg). Again, plan the sides accordingly.

We Got Beef

Beef is also primed to align with modern sensibilities. Venture beyond the standard cuts and indulge in American-raised wagyu, which offers top-notch luxury (and an opportunity for guests to splurge). A small bit goes a long way, which also dovetails into the current health trend of smaller protein portions on the plate, without sacrificing taste or style.

Preparations are evolving too. For more traditional cuts of steak, consider sous vide as a cooking option. Intensifying flavor, increasing tenderness, producing more consistent results and eliminating the specter of overcooking (and waste) are just a few of the benefits for the kitchen line.

Sea the Benefits

And what to do with seafood? Create a spectacle! Often reserved for special occasions, seafood and shellfish are the exclamation point to holiday dining and are a sure way to increase check averages. So, roll out the big guns (and the Champagne cart).

Caviar tastings and miniature ceviche bars offer pops of indulgence that all can enjoy. Likewise, shareable seafood entrée moments—whole roasted fish on planks decorated with seasonal vegetables and various global sauces; soaring towers of roasted lobster, crab, oysters, and clams—can all create holiday experiences guests will never forget.

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