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Go big this season

Lay off the eggnog, the chex mix, and the bacon-wrapped dates for a few days and save up your appetite and your pennies for one spectacular, memorable meal

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We’re well into the feasting season. Still, for many of us, Thanksgiving dinner was the last serious sit-down meal for a while. With only the slightest effort, most of us can manage to survive from now until New Year’s Day on nothing but mini crab cakes, smoked salmon, artichoke dip, and hot buttered rum, not to mention the chocolate-peppermint bark, the reindeer-shaped butter cookies, and countless Hershey’s Kisses wrapped in red and green foil. In the season that used to be all about a big meal — the roast goose, the pig with the apple in its mouth, the flaming plum pudding — our modern holiday repasts have become all about food that can be eaten standing up. Enough grazing. The best way to celebrate the season may be to slow down, take a deep breath, and have a real meal —a decadent, no-holds-barred, end-of-the-year feast. The kind you should see set in front of the Ghost of Christmas Past, that jolly big fellow with the holly wreath. The kind that takes three or four hours and leaves you with a satisfied appetite, a significant dent in your billfold, and gastronomic memories that just might last a lifetime. Here are a few suggestions.

ASADO: Argentine-inspired steaks, seafood and pasta surrounded by sunset colors, open kitchen and toasty fireplace. Full bar but head for the impressive wine list. One of Tacoma’s best restaurants. 2810 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.272. 7770.

BABBLIN’ BABS BISTRO: Billed as “a world of flavors,” Babblin’ Babs’ Bistro doesn’t disappoint. Chef William Mueller fuses French techniques with a casual flair, crafting exquisite dinner specials featuring locally sourced and organic (when possible) products.  Items like Lavender lattes make us drool and go back for more, while exotic flavor combinations in his special dishes make us glad we did. 2724 N. Proctor St., Tacoma, 253.761.9099.

BRIX 25: We loved the fact that when we sat down at our table the staff brought us a complimentary half-glass of sparkling wine.  As the name hints, the wine is always on their mind.  On our minds is the Boeuf Bourguignon.  The meat arrived in chunks and slipped apart like a hot knife to butter. 7707 Pioneer Way, Gig Harbor, 253.858.6626.

CIELO BLU: This jazzy joint on Capitol Way with its mod interior and refreshing take on ingredients gives us a place to try dishes such as butternut squash gnocchi and steak with cinnamon. 514 Capitol Way, Olympia, 360.352. 8007.

EL GAUCHO: At El Gaucho the steaks are awesome, the service is gracious, the wine list is impressive; the sides are stellar, the baby grand in the corner fills the room with “Girl From Ipanema”, cozy couples enjoy romantic candlelit dinners, red maple walls glow from the low lighting — a dream.  El Gaucho feels like a swank 1940s New York nightclub.  The prices are up there, but you get what you pay for: the best steaks in town. 2119 Pacific Ave., Tacoma, 253.272. 1510.

IL FIASCO: Bright, beautiful northern Italian cuisine meets gorgeous dining space.  More than half of the menu lists pasta dishes. That’s the tip-off.  Great wine list. Reservations are a must. Now open for lunch. 2717 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.272.6688.

LA CREME BRULEE: Quaint, French bistro serving Rack of Lamb Provence, Assiette De Saumon Fume Sur Porioche, pate, and more. Order their signature crème brûlée. 1604 Lafayette St., Steilacoom, 253.589.3001.

PACIFIC GRILL: When you’re in the mood to dine with distinction, there’s no better place than the Pacific Grill. Prices are expensive, but the experience is worth it during those moments when kitchen, floor and wine staff hit on all cylinders together. Steaks, chops and seafood rule. Creative gourmet treats such as meat candy and stuffed tater tots bump their happy hour to new levels. Stellar wine list. 1502 Pacific Ave., Tacoma 253.627.3535.

PRIMO GRILL: Owner/Chef Charlie McManus invented this creative dining space in Tacoma.  His interior blends modern with Old World, even ancient, influences. Primo balances the menu with pasta, pizza, fish and red meat so there’s basically something for everyone — especially those who like a little twist on their Mediterranean favorites. 601 S. Pine St., Tacoma, 253.383.7000.

SORRENTO RISTORANTE ITALIANO: Besides delivering showstopping food, owner Franco Cannava also visits tableside for his own version of a dramatic reading — mainly the menu in one act. The veal is sensational, and so is the tiramasu.  430 Legion Way, Olympia, 360.352. 9915.

STADIUM BISTRO: Chef Pete Weikel added new flavors to Tacoma with bistro fare that leans toward French country cuisine.  Meat is butchered, pasta made and pastries created on-site. Seared venison, classic country cassoulet, French onion soup and porcini mushroom lobster bisque with cream are divine. A phone call can produce a vegan and vegetarian tasting menu. An impressively stocked bar with many of the finer pours in life. 204 St. Helens St., Tacoma, 253.683.4150.

IF WE HAD MORE SPACE: You can also go big at Altezzo Ristornate, C.I. Shenanigan’s, The Cliff House, Europa Bistro, Harbor Lights, The Lobster Shop, Sea Grill, Stanley & Seafort’s, TwoKoi, Cicada Restaurant in Olympia, Sofia Bistro in University Place, and GoodFellas Steakhouse in Lakewood.

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