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Dining out on Christmas Day

Although the vast majority of eateries are closed on the holiday, there are some notable exceptions beyond the traditional Chinese restaurants and Jewish delis.

December 22, 2010|By Sharon Bernstein and Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • 3 Square Cafe in Venice is among the few restaurants that will be open on Christmas Day. The bakery sells traditional German Christmas pastries and desserts.
3 Square Cafe in Venice is among the few restaurants that will be open on Christmas… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

Abbot Kinney Boulevard, with its specialty shops and galleries in Venice, can be a frantic spot this time of year. But on Christmas morning, it's likely that hardly a creature will be stirring.

Except at 3 Square Cafe and Bakery, which will be open for lunch.

"It's a very cool atmosphere because the street is so quiet," said Wolfgang Gussmack, executive chef and partner at 3 Square, which has been open on Christmas for several years.

The restaurant's wait staff and cooks will arrive at 7 a.m. on the holiday morning. The bakers will have worked into the night on Christmas Eve preparing specialty dishes.

But 3 Square is an exception.

Holidays have become a workday at many establishments across the country. On Thanksgiving last month, many mall and big-box stores were open for business.

Christmas, however, is still a day of rest for the vast majority of restaurants, said experts in the field. According to the research company NPD Group, just 2% of the nation's population planned to go out to eat on the holiday — a number that has held steady for years.

To be sure, there will be a wide variety of restaurants open on Christmas, including some well-known spots. In Hollywood, Barney's Beanery will be, complete with sports on big-screen TVs, plus a few of the restaurants in the high-end Patina chain and numerous fast-food spots.

Many Chinese restaurants will be open. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, who is Jewish, famously quipped during her confirmation hearing this year that "like all Jews, I was probably in a Chinese restaurant," when asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) where she was when a bomber was intercepted on a flight to Detroit last Christmas Day.

Mark Berman, 48, a Jewish car dealership finance director who lives in West Hills, can relate. He and his wife and 16-year-old daughter usually take in a movie and eat at a Chinese restaurant or Jewish deli — the two options that they can reliably find open.

"A lot of our friends celebrate Christmas, and they have their traditions," he said. Friends have invited them over for dinner in the past, but Berman said he was content with Chinese food.

But people who celebrate Christmas also choose to dine out on the holiday.

Gary Hormell, 56, of San Pedro, a tanker driver for Amway, is single and said he normally cooked up prime rib for friends on the holiday. But on Thanksgiving this year he decided to try something different — he went out to the buffet at Baleen Los Angeles, the restaurant at the Portofino Hotel & Yacht Club in Redondo Beach.

Executive Chef Jesse Souza's prime rib and candied yams so won him over that he's rounding up friends to go back on Christmas, not once but twice.

"Most people would only go to the brunch or the dinner — I'm going to the brunch and the dinner," Hormell said.

Ida Marie Banquerigo, 27, of Eagle Rock, has a special reason to eat out on Christmas — it's her boyfriend's birthday. They celebrate the holiday with family on Christmas Eve and go out as a couple on Christmas Day. They try to branch out beyond Chinese food, Banquerigo said, but it can be hard to find other options. They're still looking around for this year.

But going out on Christmas does have some upsides.

"It's usually pretty quiet, pretty slow, because people are with their families, which is fine because we don't have to wait for a table too long," Banquerigo said.

3 Square expects a crowd for brunch. Kitchen manager Breck Lawrence, 28, who has worked the holiday every year since getting into the business at age 18, views being at the restaurant on Christmas as a kind of validation of the career he has chosen — making people feel comfortable away from home.

"For me it's giving back to the community, giving back to the people who support us," Lawrence said.

Some restaurants that will be open serve tourists and other travelers. For example, Patina Group will keep open two restaurants in hotels — Pinot Provence at the Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel in Costa Mesa and Pinot Brasserie at the Venetian in Las Vegas — and Catal Restaurant in the Downtown Disney development in Anaheim, operations manager Adam Rosenbaum said. (The adjacent Disneyland park, with its many eating establishments, will be open on Christmas.)

At the Anaheim location, about 60% of the patrons are travelers who are staying in nearby hotels, Rosenbaum said. Albert Leung, Catal's general manager, said he would be on the job. "Usually managers work on holidays so others can get the days off," Leung said.

A hotel restaurant was the solution for Holly Ryan and her husband, David, who live in Vermont. "We want to spend some time just the two of us," said Ryan, 28. "We're expecting a baby. This is kind of the last Christmas where it's just him and me for many, many years."

After a long search for an open restaurant in her area, she found one near Burlington, the largest city in the state.

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