Turkey Tips 2008

by Lynley Fleak
November 2008

Tips, Menu and Recipes

Chef Todd Gray of Equinox – Washington, DC


Vegetarian Dinner Recipes:
» Cider-brined Tofurky®
» Brussels Sprout Petals with Chablis-Poached Anjou Pears and Red Pearl Onions

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli of Butter– New York, NY


Alternate Thanksgiving Recipes:
» Green Olive-Crusted Duck Breast with Poached Clementines and Foie Gras
» Grilled Halibut with Squash Emulsion

Chef Suzanne Tracht of Jar– Los Angeles, CA


Side Dish Recipes:
» Fall Apple Celery Salad
» Oyster Stew
» Roasted Onions with Almond Pesto

The economy may be waning, and Thanksgiving isn't a strong restaurant holiday, but nonetheless those restaurants that are open are reporting that their Thanksgiving projections look solid. Opening on T-Day isn't for everyone (and Chef Todd Gray of Equinox in Washington D.C advises those considering the task: "Don't do it!")—but if you've done it before, there's no reason not to do so this year. And if you're looking to try for the first time, heed the examples that follow (and the tips to the right).

Chef Suzanne Tracht of Los Angeles has been serving Thanksgiving dinner at her restaurant Jar since 2001. Her traditional menu is served family-style and Tracht invites guests to help themselves to seconds. Tracht debated about pricing and, in light of the economic climate, decided to keep it the same as last year ($85 per person). Their decision paid off—General Manager Stephen Friddle reports they expect about 300 covers that Thursday, slightly more than last year’s service.

Likewise, Chef Daniel Humm says reservations for Eleven Madison Park in New York started filling up the day they opened their books. “It’s been very impressive to see how far in advance the prime time slots were filled,” Humm says.

Sixteen at the Trump International Hotel in Chicago has three ways of attracting customers this Thanksgiving. The restaurant is offering an all-day brunch in their dining room ($115 per person), a “Thanksgiving at Home” catering option with pick-up the day of ($295 before tax, serves 6 to 8), and an “In-room Thanksgiving” option for their more extravagant guests wanting a chef to prepare the meal in their suite ($5000 before tax, serves 4 to 6). Chef Frank Brunacci thinks the “Thanksgiving at Home” is a great concept because Trump Towers has 500 apartments above the hotel which means 500 opportunities for customers. Brunacci thinks “this type of thing is more about offering something different and creating a wave for the future. There is money in everything we do here, how much depends on quantity.”

Savoy in New York will be offering a four course Thanksgiving menu from 2pm to 7:30pm ($85 per person). Chef and owner, Peter Hoffman, reports reservations for that Thursday are on par with last year and he predicts that his one-year-old restaurant Back Forty “will sell out the room at least once, which is the goal for year one.” Back Forty will be serving from 2pm to 8pm, offering a family-style three course meal ($50 per person). The casual tavern in the East Village attracts a younger crowd, and a clever way they’re catering to their demographic is by offering post-turkey burgers and cask ale from 8pm to10pm on Thanksgiving night. According to Chef de Cuisine Shanna Pacifico, the idea is to offer an escape from family gatherings or a bad Thanksgiving meal. She also believes it will attract industry people in need of a quick bite and a drink after working a long shift.

For restaurants not open on the 27th, a way to drum up sales to compensate for a closed restaurant is to offer a Thanksgiving menu during that week. Chef Todd Gray will be serving Thanksgiving-inspired dishes on his standard tasting menu at Equinox on the days leading up to Turkey Day. He also plans to attract vegetarian diners by serving a specially-created five course tasting menu featuring a cider-brined Tofurkey®.

Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli of Butter in New York, who’s worked her share of “the holiday dedicated to the art of eating” advises chefs to create a menu “with all the bells and whistles” then take a marker and cut the menu in half. Guarnaschelli says “It’s better to make fewer menu items really well than to spread yourself too thin with a large menu and not pull off a good service.” See the sidebar for Thanksgiving service and turkey tips, as well as recipes from Guarnaschelli, Suzanne Tracht and Todd Gray.