J Squared: Hip Holiday Happenings Around The Hub

December 8, 2011 – The holiday season is squarely upon us and with it comes exciting seasonal menus from some of the areas best chefs, lights and music in the streets, concerts and events that range from the elegant to the schmaltzy and - not to be forgotten - some great charities and initiatives worthy of our attention and our dollars. With so much to do and so little time, we turn to our resident insiders J Squared - Jared Bowen and Jan Saragoni - for the skinny on the hippest holiday happenings around the hub this year.
Jan: Classic Italian Cuisine. Cambridge’s new authentic Italian restaurant specializing in home-made pasta. Chef-owner & Rome native Riccardo Passini offers serves daily risotto, meat and fish specials as well as fresh salads & pizza, too.

The Craigie on Main Burger
Jared: Jan and I recently had the now world renowned Craigie on Main burger. Believe the hype. It’s damn good.

Catalyst Restaurant
Jan: Hip & elegant new Kendall Square where chef-owner William Kovel (formerly of now-shuttered Aujourd’hui) serves classic American cuisine ranging from Tournedos of Beef, honey-glazed duck breast and gourmet burgers. 

Artisan Bistro
Jared: Formerly Jer-ne, Artisan Bistro at the Ritz Carlton sports a comfort food menu of delightf. Try the Crisp Flatbreads like the Maine Lobster, Artichoke, Gruyere and lemon, the Crab Cake Fritters and the Bistro Salad.

The Hawthorne
Jan: Jackson Cannon’s new cocktail lounge at the Hotel Commonwealth (located in former Foundation Lounge). Art fills this beautifully designed space. Open seven days a week, 5pm to 2am. 

Kingston Station
Jan: Close to the opera House, all-day neighborhood bistro Kingston Station offers a theater-friendly menu for Nutcracker-bound diners. Thirty-minute menu. Also seasonal home-made ice creams like peppermint stick, egg nog and gingerbread. 

Neptune Oyster
Jared: Yes, oysters...but the burger at Neptune Oyster is damn good as well. Located in the North End, Neptune Oyster is a must visit. You’ll have to fight long lines but the wait is worth it. Right now don’t miss the Nantucket scallops which are served raw and prepared simply. The burger is done to perfection: Delicious beef, and it’s topped with fried oysters!

Jan: New Mediterranean restaurant near Fresh Pond Circle in Cambridge. Joint project with Casablanca owner Sari Abdul-Jubein and his son Jason. More causal, lower prices featuring some Casablanca favorites: house-smoked pulled lamb with charred tomatoes with spicy yogurt.

Harbor Sweets in Salem
Jared: The 38-year-old company kindly sent us some chocolates to try and they’re fabulous. A favorite was the almond butter crunch. The candy-making process hasn’t changed since they opened—they still employ hands on manufacturing using copper kettles and wooden paddles. What’s more they feature factory tours five days a week at 9am, 11am and 2pm.
Concerts and Events
The Castle for Venturing Out
Jared: A non-profit organization that teaches men and women who are about to be released from prison how to start their own businesses, they hold a fundraising event December 8 at The Sorenson Centor for the Arts at Babson College. The event offers a staged reading of “The Castle” which was first performed off-Broadway and written entirely by former prison inmates. It weaves in real-life stories from childhood to crime to leading straight and sober lives.

The Beacon Hill Holiday Stroll
Emily: Thursday, December 8, 6–9pm. What's not to love? Victorian carolers, strolling brass quintet and horse and buggy rides. The tree lighting takes place at 7pm on the corner of Charles and Mount Vernon Street.

This Shining Night 
Jan: The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus rings “This Shining Night” to Jordan Hall through Dec.19.

A Christmas Carol
Jan: At the North Shore Music Theatre. 18th year that David Coffee has played the cranky Ebenezer Scrooge. Through Dec.23. Unwrapped toys for kids aged 2 –12 are appreciated for Toys for Tots.

Radio City Christmas Spectacular
Jared: The schmaltzy show returns in an all-new fashion this year. The biggest difference is a giant 50 foot LED screen that serves as a backdrop. Tired numbers have been refreshed and in a new scene for the tour, a lifelike double-decker bus takes visitors on a tour of a holiday decked-out New York. My personal faves are Parade of the Wooden Soldiers and The Living Nativity although they bagged their cheesy Charlton Heston-ish voice-over in favor of a teenager. It doesn’t work.
Emily: I'm an avid tennis player. This organization brings the sport into the lives of inner city youth.

Lights on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall
Emily: I encourage everyone to give to this. It’s for everyone and costs $1000 per tree.

Christmas In The City
Jan & Jared: 100% volunteer organization will provide toys for more than 10,000 children, many of whom will spend the holidays inhomeless shelters. 

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