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Dining out during the holidays

Anyone who's worked in restaurants, or whose family includes folks in that occupation, is grateful that this time of year typically guarantees at least one day — Christmas — off.

Typically, we say, because some restaurants do choose to stay open on Christmas, recognizing potential customers who simply don't want to cook.

Maybe all the hassle of dirtying and then cleaning up the kitchen is just too overwhelming given the season's other responsibilities.

Maybe a couple is going Christmas solo this year and feels like it's too much fuss to cook for themselves. Or maybe the designated cook's abilities aren't enough to wow out-of-town guests.

"Some people just don't want to have to deal with everything around the holidays," said Rene Fournet, owner of McAndrews Avenue Grill in Medford.

"Last year, we were just packed," Fournet said. "They'll come and eat and then go on to a party."

Faced with attracting customers to their establishment on a day when most eateries are closed, restaurateurs like Fournet know they need to offer something beyond the norm. So most construct a specific holiday menu, perhaps using seasonal ingredients, often for a set price.

This is old hat by now for McAndrews Avenue Grill, which prepared prix fixe menus last year for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, which even included lobster served with steak and five other courses for $100.

There's no lobster this year, but Fournet is serving up a 10-ounce prime top sirloin with bernaise asparagus and garlic "smashers" ($29.95), an 8-ounce fillet with smashers and seasonal vegetables ($39.95), lemon-butter baked halibut with wild rice and mango salsa ($35.95) or beef Wellington with Madeira sauce and asparagus ($44.9).

Each comes with house salad and chocolate cake at a price that easily could be less expensive than ordering à la carte off the restaurant's regular menu.

Those familiar with McAndrews Avenue Grill know its gimmick is serving USDA prime beef from boutique meats purveyor Allen Brothers of Chicago. Christmas service is from 1 to 6 p.m. Call 772-5100 for reservations.

Fournet comes back on New Year's Eve with many of the same entrees, plus 12-ounce New York strip steaks with garlic smashers, a vegetable medley, Caesar salad and cheesecake for $39.95. Pecan-crusted salmon with wild rice, mango salsa, the salad and dessert is $29.95. Patrons also can order off the menu, and the restaurant is open regular hours.

The nature of their business makes hotels obvious hosts for Christmas dinner. Medford's Red Lion gives customers a choice of turkey, pork, salmon, chicken, prime rib or steak, each with soup or salad, vegetables and an assortment of desserts for prices ranging from $21.95 to $24.95. Service runs from noon to 6 p.m. on Christmas. Call 779-5811 for reservations.

For an all-you-can-eat experience, Hungry Woodsman in Medford's Ramada Inn is holding a Christmas Day buffet from noon to 6 p.m. Baron of beef, roast turkey, stuffed pork loin, traditional holiday side dishes, shrimp cocktails, soup, salads, gelatin molds and pies are planned.

Prices are $18.95 for adults, $15.95 for seniors and $8.95 for children ages 6 to 12. Call 245-1962 for reservations.

In Phoenix, Iron Skillet will prepare two Christmas buffets. A breakfast spread runs from 7 to 11 a.m. for $7.49. A turkey and prime rib buffet follows from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. for $12.99. Guests also can select from the regular menu.

Special turkey or ham dinners accompany Elmer's regular menu on Christmas. Prices are $13.99 for adults, $10.99 for seniors or $7.99 for kids. Dinner service starts at noon. The Medford restaurant is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for the holiday.

Regardless of the restaurant, just remember to spread a little holiday cheer while you're there. Those hardworking folks deserve it.

— Sarah Lemon