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CHRISTMAS, UNWRAPPED / RESTAURANTS / RESTAURANT JOURNAL

Prime rib with a dash of fa-la-la

December 19, 2007|Jessica Gelt

DECEMBER is the Tam O'Shanter Inn's busiest month. The cozily retro menu at the venerable Atwater Village restaurant is surely part of the appeal -- who doesn't love a prime rib and Yorkshire pudding this time of year?

But the real reason disciples of holiday cheer flock to the faux Scottish Highland inn is its carefully constructed nostalgia trip -- complete with carolers -- that turns a meal into a scene straight out of a Victorian yuletide story. An imposing Christmas tree smothered with white frost towers over leather wingback chairs that sit beneath garlands of candy-red poinsettias and fragrant pine. A tidy brick fireplace flickers and the warm aroma of roasting beef and rich brown gravy fills the air.

If your night job involves singing for your supper, the Tam is the place to be.

Gussied up in Dickensian finery -- bonnets, full skirts pregnant with petticoats, stovepipe hats and cravats -- two quartets of singers cheerfully wassail from table to table through each of the restaurant's six themed rooms each night of the season.

"People really listen here," soprano Bridget Brady says. "There are gigs where we're just singing wallpaper, but here at least once a night people are sobbing at their table or giddy with joy."

Says general manager Wayne Wood: "When you think Christmas in L.A. you think the Tam. It's a tradition."

He can't recall exactly when the carolers began their tenure at the restaurant, but Wood is certain that the place has been elaborately decorated for the season since it opened in 1922.

The Tam tradition is not easy to come by, though. People make reservations weeks in advance, Wood says, and unclaimed tables are scarce. Still, reservations aren't needed at the bar, and the carolers make sure to put it on their itinerary.

Brady and her fellow singers are hired out to the Tam through a service called the Voices of Christmas.

VOC sends Dickensian carolers to all kinds of events, public and private, throughout L.A. and Orange counties, but they are sure to "send all their top singers here," Brady says.

Is there a downside?

"People tend to request the same songs over and over again," bass Jesse L. Martin says, specifically "The Little Drummer Boy," "Carol of the Bells" and "O Holy Night."

Still, neither Martin nor Brady, both of whom have been caroling at the Tam for years, mind singing a song five or 10 times in a night as long as it keeps people coming back.

Jeff Michelson, a picture framer from Hollywood, is one such repeat customer.

"This is my sixth year," he says. "I always bring new people. Tonight I'm bringing twin sisters on their birthday."

Michelson's favorite song? "I like 'Carol of the Bells,' " he says, disappearing into the main dining room with the twins.

-- Jessica Gelt

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Small bites

* Spanish flavor comes to Santa Monica today with the opening of the tapas restaurant Bar Pintxo. Chef Joseph Miller, owner of Joe's Restaurant in Venice, serves bites such as shrimp with fried pickle garlic, Spanish mackerel, duck hearts plancha and creamy goat cheese croquettes from noon to midnight daily. The informal restaurant (with a full bar) doesn't take reservations; it seats 30.

109 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 458-2012.

* Chef Alberto Lazzarino and sommelier Giuseppe Cossu have teamed up to open Melograno, a new Italian spot on Hollywood Boulevard.

Piedmont-born Lazzarino, who headed the kitchen at Cheebo before becoming chef at Piccolo Ristorante Italiano in Venice, is offering a menu that includes tarta' di verdure e fonduta al tartufo (vegetable flan with Fontina fondue and black truffles), potato and nettle gnocchi with butter and sage, and short ribs braised in Barolo with pan-roasted Valtellina polenta.

6541 Hollywood Blvd.; (323) 465-6650; www.melogranoholly wood.com.

* The French cafe the Little Next Door received a holiday bonus this week when permits came through that will allow it to stay open for dinner. The restaurant now will remain open until 9:30 nightly. Look for decadent dinner specials such as chicken with wild mushroom cream sauce and venison stroganoff.

8142 W. Third St., West Hollywood, (323) 951-1010. www.the littledoor.com.

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