Holiday Happenings: Restaurants and Movies (CPs Wed., 12/25/2013)

If you’re like me, you barely got to the gym after your Thanksgiving-induced food coma before you realized, “Oh my gosh, it’s almost Christmas and I have NOTHING planned.” Fear not, friends. There are plenty of places around town offering their services so you don’t have to kill yourself entertaining guests (or yourself).

Most area Chinese restaurants will be open, but make sure to call your favorite spot to confirm. (This Cool Picker likes Fox Chapel’s Tai Pei, Baldwin’s Silk Road, and Sarver’s Shanghai Tokyo). If you’re not feeling up for General Tso or his chicken, plenty of other area restaurants are happy to do the work for your holiday meal. Here are just a few:

1) For a hidden gem nestled in nearby Washington, Bistecca Steakhouse and Wine Bar at The Meadows Racetrack and Casino opens at 4 p.m. today. They have an impressive wine list and their knowledgeable servers are able to offer the perfect pairing for whatever you order. After your meal, relax with a cigar and scotch in the Cigar Bar, where you can reminisce about past holidays. Feeling lucky? You’re in the casino, and you just might get a Christmas miracle. Call ahead or reserve your table online. 4 – 10 p.m. 210 Racetrack Rd., Washington.

2) For a city setting, Braddock’s American Brasserie in the Renaissance Hotel offers some of the best the city has to offer. Their chefs will be preparing a special holiday dinner to tickle your taste buds, or you can just enjoy some of the many offerings from the daily menu. Split small plates like the bruschetta that features roasted red pepper and goat cheese, or go all out with the bone-in rib eye steak. If you’re still hungry, the dessert menu features your favorites, from apple crisp to croissant bread pudding. Feel jolly with a round of any of the locally named cocktails, like the Braddock Smash (featuring Maker’s Mark and fresh berries). You’ll feel right at home here. 5 – 9 p.m. 107 Sixth St., Cultural District.

3) For family style dining without having to wash dishes afterward, try Buca di Beppo in one of its two Pittsburgh locations (Station Square and Robinson). With small dishes serving two people and large dishes serving more than four, Buca’s menu includes traditional Italian comfort foods like antipasti salad and ravioli. The menu also includes new spins on classic dishes like penne san remo, featuring artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes, and a white wine sauce. Pair your new favorite with some vino and finish it off with tiramisu or a chocolate chip cannoli. With an early open time, you’ll get in a good meal and still have time to get to the movies. Opens at 11 a.m. 3 Station Square E., Station Square, or 6600 Robinson Centre Dr., Robinson.

Perhaps the only other establishments open today are the movie theaters. When you’re all talked out from catching up with family and filled to the brim with holiday goodies, that’s when it’s time to kick back and see something new on the big screen. While there are no new releases today, there are a few definitely worth seeing with family.

4) Peter Jackson does it again. With the second installment of the Hobbit books, Jackson brings us The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Picking up where An Unexpected Journey leaves off, Desolation follows Bilbo Baggins, the dwarfs, Gandalf, and other characters of Middle Earth as our hobbit hero searches for the Secret Door leading to the dragon Smaug. The film keeps with the impressive special effects, settings, and costumes of its predecessor and is worth the extra admission for 3D. Hold off on the bucket of Pepsi, though, as this movie is 160 minutes long. Check Fandango or your local theater for showtimes.

5) I haven’t actually met anyone who wasn’t a fan of Tom Hanks, and with good reason. In Saving Mr. Banks, Hanks and co-star Emma Thompson dazzle the screen with their portrayals of Walt Disney and author P. L.  Travers, respectively. The story follows Disney in his attempt to make Travers’ book, Mary Poppins, into a movie. Both characters are stubborn: Disney because he made a promise to his daughters to make the movie, and Travers because she wants nothing to do with a film version of her beloved book. We might know how the story ends, but sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination, as demonstrated in this film. See Fandango or your local theater for showtimes.

Here’s hoping you enjoy your day with the people who matter most. Happy holidays!