Among the many joys that came with marrying my wife, one of my favorites is her family’s various holiday and birthday traditions; none more so than how they celebrate Christmas. While most of our meals together are eaten at one of our homes, on Christmas Eve the entire family dines out at a restaurant somewhere in or near the Lehigh Valley. Following dinner, we adjourn to my in-laws’ house to consume mass quantities of cookies and exchange gifts.
This year’s festivities began at Yianni’s Taverna, a Greek restaurant that is – fittingly – in Bethlehem, PA. We had eaten there once previously for the holiday, but they suffered a fire in the interim and rebuilt the interior so that it was unrecognizable when we walked in. It’s more festive now.
Given the occasion, some of our party ordered drinks; a Moscow Mule in the case of one of my brothers-in-law. The other informed us that based on information he picked up at a bar in Moscow, the drink is actually an American creation.
The menu featured much of the standard fare that you’d find at most Greek-American restaurants along with seafood and a selection of steaks and chops.
To get us started, my mother-in-law ordered Kasseri cheese flambé for the table. It was set ablaze tableside for the visual highlight of the evening.
I tend to be fairly cautious when it comes to eating cheese, but I tried and enjoyed it very much. The flavor was mild, but the post-fire texture was delightful and it went well with the grilled pita that accompanied it.
Other appetizers, all of which elicited positive commentary, included my father-in-law’s beet and goat cheese salad, octopus for one brother-in-law and mussels in white wine sauce for the other.
I tried the creamy egg-lemon soup and found it to be a nice warm-up for what was still to come. The lemon flavor was more subtle than strong, and it contained little pieces of what I believe was chicken.
The joint was hopping and dinner moved along at a pleasingly relaxing pace. Our entrees arrived after an appropriate interval.
As usual, I had scoped out the menu in depth during the week and thought that I had settled on either one of the fish options or a seafood and pasta dish. But when the time came for me to order, for some reason, “lamb chops” came out of my mouth. I wasn’t sorry, as they were very flavorful, juicy and cooked to medium-rare, as requested.
The potatoes that came with most of our entrees were also excellent. My wife ordered a separate side of them.
I had a nice view of my brother-in-law’s rather large lamb shank, which was served over orzo, as well as my mother-in-law’s extra-thick pork chop.
My other brother-in-law ordered Pastitsio, which is like a Greek variation of lasagna, while my father-in-law opted for fish in parchment. I had been thinking of getting the latter right up until I was on the clock. There was also an assortment of vegetables wrapped inside the paper with the fish. It looked very good. I’m sure I’d have liked it.
Closing out the entrees, my sister-in-law had pan-seared salmon and my wife went with stuffed eggplant. If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m not a big vegetable guy. And in fact, I don’t eat eggplant at all. But this dish was at least visually pleasing.
As was the case with the appetizers, I didn’t hear a single negative comment from anyone about their entrees. All seemed pleased.
When we were finished, it was time for one of the more endearing parts of this family tradition. I’m referring to when the server asks us if we would like dessert. We all smile or let out a knowing chuckle before one of my in-laws explains that we’ve got that lined up back at the homestead.
The selection of cookies this year – all made by my brother-in-law, Mike, and my wife – was extra special even by their very high standards.
We downed a lot of them while opening our gifts.
This was the last year we’ll be carrying on the tradition at the house my in-laws have lived in for many years. They’re moving in 2023. But we’ll all have great memories of the Christmas Eves we’ve spent together there.
I also want to give a shout out to my other brother-in-law, Dave, who hand-made a wood cornhole set for my holiday gift. I had mentioned my interest in the game after seeing it on TV at some point during the year while lamenting that it’s not easy to find a place to play it near us. You can be sure that when the weather turns warm and we start playing it in our backyard, I’ll post about it here.