THE traditional Dickensian centerpiece of the Christmas table might be goose. But at Los Angeles restaurants, the big holiday dinner this year is Christmas Eve, and the night is all about alternative birds.
Mostly there is duck, lots and lots of duck.
Jack Yoss, chef at Nine Thirty in Westwood's W Hotel, for instance, is serving duck three ways: roasted breast on a ragout of crisp diced potatoes, caramelized onions and shredded duck confit, topped with a medallion of seared duck foie gras and an apple red wine glaze. The chef cures the duck for the confit with a blend of sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
"The cinnamon and nutmeg bring a very seasonal aspect to it," he says.
La Cachette's Jean-Francois Meteigner is doing duck two ways -- a roasted breast and a braised leg -- with cranberry honey sauce, braised cabbage and apples.
It's a duck two-fer at Laguna Beach's French 75 as well: roasted breast and confit leg with roasted fingerling potatoes and figs.
Melisse chef Josiah Citrin's roasted duck breast is accompanied by couscous, dried fruit, Swiss chard and chestnut puree. And at Patina, revelers can choose butter-poached duck breast crusted with amaretto cookies, duck crackling and fines herbes.
Duck isn't the only fowl taking center stage. Christophe Eme of Ortolan is serving capon, slow roasted with foie gras puree and truffles tucked under the skin, as the final savory in a seven-course meal.
At Katana, diners can order a special of half quail marinated in tamari soy, skewered, and cooked robata-yaki style on a grill that uses aged coals imported from Japan. Firefly Bistro will give diners the option of poussin -- that's a young chicken to you and me -- with a chanterelle stuffing. Anne Conness of Napa Valley Grille is doing Cornish game hen cooked on a rotisserie and served with a handful of sides, including Yorkshire pudding and kale with bacon.
So must traditionalists who want goose fire up their own ovens? Not quite.
Spago is offering roasted Christmas goose two ways on its prix fixe Christmas Eve menu: roasted breast and a braised leg with a brioche and herb stuffing, red cabbage, black trumpet mushrooms and puree of parsnips.
"I never grew up with goose in my friends' or family's homes," says Spago chef Lee Hefter. "But it's Christmas Eve in the Old World spirit."
Furthermore, says Hefter, "Goose has a beautiful gaminess to it that is a bit more substantial than that of duck. And if you cook it slow, it has a nice tenderness."
It's also a tradition at the Beverly Hills restaurant. "Since we opened," says Hefter, "we've always had Christmas goose."
* After nearly 21 years in business, Rockenwagner restaurant will serve its last meal Jan. 14. According to chef-owner Hans Rockenwagner, he and his wife Patti got an offer for the space that was simply too good to refuse. Fans of Rockenwagner's cooking need not despair, however. The couple's 3 Square Bakery & Cafe is slated to open in late March on Abbot Kinney in Venice. In addition, until closing date, it will be business as usual, including special Christmas Eve (with duck, natch) and New Year's Eve feasts.
Rockenwagner, 2435 Main St., Venice, (310) 399-6504.
* Other closings: Moustache Cafe in Westwood has shuttered and La Di Da on Beverly Boulevard is now Sopra. The Italian small plates restaurant, located on the second level of the Antiquarius building, is owned by Oliver de Mori, son of restaurateur Silvio de Mori (of Il Piccolino), who used to operate Pane Caldo in the same location.
Sopra, 8840 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood, (310) 492-0880.
* Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar has opened in the San Fernando Valley. This is the second Fleming's in the Los Angeles area. (The first is in El Segundo.)
Fleming's, 6373 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818) 346-1005.