The seasons are changing in more than one way – in addition to shifting into autumn and winter, this time of year marks changes in what food is “in season.” And as local produce changes, so do our local menus. Chefs around New Orleans are featuring winter herbs, crops and dishes to fit the holiday season. With special Thanksgiving menus and Réveillon menus in December, the holidays are the perfect time to explore what’s new as the temperature drops.

Chef Chris DeBarr of Green Goddess (307 Exchange Place, 301-3347) makes a point of utilizing only the freshest ingredients, sometimes on the spur of the moment, to create an always-evolving menu for the seasons. “I rely on the last minute for inspiration,” he says. DeBarr, a professional cook for more than 25 years, has even had to make last-second grocery store runs to fulfill his on-the-whim ideas. And as for a winter menu replete with specials: “We definitely have some things planned.”

Part of the appeal of the eatery is the menu’s spontaneity, as well as DeBarr’s outlook on dining: “I really don’t have any sort of conscious philosophy about it all, just stories about each dish,” he says in his blog. “For me, each dish is a translation of experiences I’ve had with ingredients, life, inspirations, travels and the school of hard knocks.”

For those looking to eat out on Thanksgiving (and with the Saints game against the Cowboys that afternoon, who isn’t?), there are several iconic establishments serving up special meals for Turkey Day. Susan Spicer’s Bayona (430 Dauphine St., 525-4455) is a popular choice. “Thanksgiving always sells out every year,” says Bayona’s Robin Pennell. “Make reservations early!” Bayona will feature signature items from its regular menu in addition to special holiday dishes that change year-to-year. “We go with all of the seasonal items that are available – the stuff that’s coming into season this time of year.” One seasonal item in particular will be highly sought: “If we can get oysters, we’re going to use them,” she says. Highlights of last year’s menu included roast turkey with classic side dishes, country ham with Southern fixings and Honey-Miso BBQ Redfish, not to mention decadent desserts like their Milk Chocolate Malt Cheesecake with Cherry Sauce.

Red Fish Grill (115 Bourbon St., 598-1200) provides a casual atmosphere but still features an elegant menu. “(It) is a great alternative to white tablecloth restaurants for families who want to eat out and eat well, even with kids on holidays,” says Charlee Williamson of the Ralph Brennan restaurant. “Red Fish Grill offers a full Thanksgiving buffet menu for adults and also a special children’s buffet with items selected especially for kids.” Different meal stops include an “action station,” featuring turkey-carving and fresh shucked oysters; a buffet station, including smoked duck and mushroom gumbo with dirty rice and duck cracklins, classic side dishes and flounder with crabmeat and dill; a dessert station featuring bananas Foster, pumpkin pie and more; and a kids’ buffet, featuring simple favorites including roasted turkey, mac and cheese and mashed potatoes. “We also provide a crafts table for kids to make Thanksgiving hand turkeys.” Thanksgiving hours will be from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Réveillon is a French tradition for a long dinner, often including a party. Not surprisingly, any combination of French, food and partying is sure to have a place in New Orleans, thus the local Christmas and New Year’s tradition of Réveillon. Galatoire’s (209 Bourbon St., 525-2021) features a special Les Fêtes du Réveillon menu for December through January 6, 2011.

“When guests come to Galatoire’s, they get an experience that goes far beyond another meal,” says Melvin Rodrigue, chief operating officer and general manager. “During the holidays that experience is emphasized because people are coming to the restaurant with loved ones, like they have in years past. We enjoy being a part of their tradition just as much as they are a part of ours.”

This year’s menu includes a choice of Sweet Potato Bisque or Duck and Andouille Gumbo; Wild Mushroom Beggar’s Purse or Beet Salad; Gulf Fish Court Bouillon or Braised Lamb Shank; and Banana Bread Pudding with Praline Sauce. Other seasonal events at Galatoire’s include the perennial Christmas Auction benefitting the Galatoire’s Foundation on November 29. Guests will bid on a coveted downstairs table at Galatoire’s on the Friday before Christmas – its second-busiest day of the year.

“Guests want to go to a place where the waiter knows their cocktail’s name. It adds to the pageantry of the Galatoire’s experience,” says Rodrigue. “From our signature cuisine to our exceptional wait staff, diners
leave feeling more like family than customers.”

Martinique Bistro (5908 Magazine St., 891-8495) is no stranger to French influence; its owner, Hubert Sandot, was born in Madagascar to a French mother and a Martiniquais father and raised in Paris. The menu at Martinique is heavily marked by French cuisine and tradition, including with its Réveillon menu. The five-course meal includes Poached Egg Meurette, a Forest Mushroom and Gruyère Savory Crème Brûlée, Margret Du Canard Au Cherise and Noisettes of Pork Tenderloin.

When it comes to tradition, Antoine’s (713 Antoine’s Restaurant, 581-4422) has plenty of experience. First opened in 1840, the local French Creole restaurant has become a staple on the dining scene. Antoine’s boasts 15 dining rooms for private parties and events, including Réveillon celebrations throughout December. The special menu, available for lunch and dinner, features a choice of Shrimp Au Gratin, Oysters 1-1-1 or Cold Crawfish Ravigate; Hearts of Palm Salad or Sliced Tomatoes with Red Onion Vinaigrette; Fried Soft Shell Crab with Remoulade, Grilled Chicken Breast with Mushrooms or Veal over Florentine Grits; and Pecan Bread Pudding, Peach Schnapps Cheesecake or an Old Fashioned Fudge Sundae.

The Grill Room at the Windsor Court Hotel (300 Gravier St., 522-1992) will offer a special Thanksgiving menu as well as a Réveillon special. “The Thanksgiving dinner is quite indulgent, with fun twists on dishes such as the Wild Boar Bolognese and the Spiced Chestnut Soup with Louisiana Lump Crab,” says Lauren Schug of The Grill Room. “For entrées, both the Tanglewood Farms Turkey and the Fudge Farms Pork Tenderloin are stand outs.”

Thanksgiving hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Highlights from the Réveillon menu include Roasted Maple Leaf Farm Duck Breast and Chocolate Fondant Cake with Fresh Fruit Compote and Marscapone Ice Cream.

As far as other fall and winter specials go, “Executive Chef Drew Dzejak only uses the freshest ingredients,” says Schug, “and this determines what is prepared on any given day.”

The Grill Room offers more this winter than just fresh menus; they’ll also offer special wine classes once a month.

“The November (18) class should be really great,” says Schug. “Sara Kavanaugh takes approximately 50-60 aromas of red wines and puts them in wine glasses. As you sample the wines, you go around and try to determine what aromas are in each. We did this with white wines in April to overwhelming attendance and positive feedback.” The class on December 16 will feature champagne and sparkling wines.