Though considered to be an East Coast, Italian and Roman Catholic phenomenon, La Festa dei Sette Pesci (Feast of the Seven Fishes) in the last decade of foodie theology, has become a free-for-all. In Seinfeld-ian terms, a Festivus for the rest of us. In Philadelphia, in particular, I have found that the Christmas Eve family dinner or Christmas Day party/parade for visitors, forever representing the Catholic Church’s seven sacraments, has exploded into an event exploited by local restaurants and caterers for the pescatarians among you with a love of exotic fare such as baccalà (salt cod) or scungilli (sea snail), or tamer fans of tried-and-true seafood fare such as shrimp, oysters, and calamari.
Though typically home-cooked and celebrated with family, the Christmas Eve tradition has been expanded to an all-month party, held at several Philadelphia-area restaurants. Some allow themselves the adventure of fried smelts and marinated eel. My own mother drew the line at eel, while my aunts eschewed anything with anchovies. Others are preparing wild variations on the Italian meal, also dependent upon the region en famiglia hail from, say how in Calabria they enjoy 13 courses to represent Jesus and the 12 apostles. That sort of thing.
Yeah, yeah yeah. We know. You can’t gather a dozen or more people into your house or even do much shopping for the seven fishes what with distancing and pandemics. The up-close and personal usual of seven fishes and coronavirus don’t mix and mingle well. So. You need it picked up or brought to you. Just don’t try and skimp. There’s no wrong way to do “The Feast,” unless, that is, you only cook two or three fishes, or try to sneak meat into the meal.
Out-of-town concerns such as New York’s Baldor Specialty Foods together with Brooklyn’s Pierless and Parcelle’s expert wine team will deliver high-quality, fresh and frozen locally prepped whole fish, fillets, and seafood options. Think Yellowtail Filet to Farm-Raised Ora King Salmon. Paired with the right wines and champagnes, straight to your door.
Chestnut Street’s Gran Caffe L’Aquila, the grand Abruzzi-themed gelateria known for its opulent pasta dishes, boozy gelato, and house-cured meats offers both a full seven fish of Napoli experience or an à la carte option for its traditional Italian celebration. Plus, L’Aquilla owner-operator Ricardo Longo is serving Lasagna Napoletana and Sugo di Natale, two traditional meal options in Italian homes, south of Naples in the Cilento zone on Christmas Day, to go with his scallops, scungilli, and seppie (cuttlefish); clams, shrimp, scallops, and dentice (snapper). What’s even cooler is you can get it delivered or pick it up.
Old City’s Positano Coast is doing a $120 for two people Feast of the Seven Fishes (which is a lot of fish for two people, but hey, it’s a holiday) that features esoterica such as Chilled Crab and Tuna, Lobster Croquette, Seafood Salad, a Paccheri of octopus, shrimp, mussels, fresh tomatoes and white wine, as well as Grilled Branzino Fillet (soffritto, artichokes, olives, tomatoes). But order today. You have to pick it up. 215-238-0499.
North Broad Street’s Osteria and Chef Jeff Michaud’s Seven Fishes menu includes some basics (Octopus Salad, Shrimp Cocktail, whole Branzino), a few oddities (Baked Clams All’amatriciana, Baccala Lasagna) and several Michaud specialty twists (Stuffed Conchiglie, Monkfish Cacciatore) on the theme.
Fork has always gone global for its Seven Fishes with this year being no exception: Portuguese sardines, continental oysters Rockefeller, lobster macaroni and cheese and more.
If you are afraid of actual fish, but, figure a configuration as such might work on a pizza, indeed, Slice has you covered (literally) with Pizza of the Seven Fishes – mozzarella topped with mussels, clams, tuna, shrimp, crab meat and sardines, sauteed with fresh olive oil and garlic, and topped with anchovies, fresh lemon and basil. Call a Slice closest to you (Italian Market at 10th Street, Fishtown, Washington Township) and pick up on December 24.