HOME AWAY: HOTEL RESTAURANTS
Frenetic schedules, far-flung families and numerous obligations often preclude that mythic homemade holiday meal. The Tampa Bay area's big hotel restaurants offer the next-best thing during the holiday season, with festive decorations and special seasonal menus. Here's what some of the better-known places are cooking up for the holidays. Call for reservations at least one week in advance.
The Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel
At Pelagia at the Renaissance Tampa International Plaza Hotel, enjoy a selection of seasonal, traditional and signature specialties featured from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Christmas Day. The elaborate buffet replaces separate lunch and dinner menus with carving stations (oven-roasted turkey, prime rib and rosemary-marinated leg of lamb), hot and cold dishes that include soup to salads and assorted pies and cakes. In addition to chilled poached shrimp, crab claws and gulf oysters, seafood lovers will also enjoy crab cakes and an herb-crusted Arctic char. $54 for adults and $18 for children ages 12 and younger (prices do not include tip, tax or gratuity), but parties making reservations from 5 to 7 p.m. enjoy all of the same selections for a special rate of $49 for adults and $15 for children. 4200 Jim Walter Blvd., Tampa. (813) 313-3235.
Loews Don CeSar Hotel
At the Loews Don CeSar Hotel, there are loads of options this year. At the King Charles, guests check in at the podium in the lobby level and then proceed to the fifth floor for brunch from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The buffet menu, $69.95 for adults and $34.95 for children 5 to 12 (4 and younger free), includes seasonal cold salads, chilled seafood, carving stations (Christmas ham, prime rib, roasted leg of lamb) as well as other entrees and a special kids' buffet area. Price includes champagne and self-parking. At the marquee restaurant, Maritana Grille, a luxurious tasting menu is offered 4 to 9 p.m. for $90. Diners choose a dish from each category (for entrees, choose from goose, scallops, lamb and cobia), and dessert includes a butternut squash cake. And at the Sea Porch Café, a holiday lunch is offered 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for an affordable $19, and a holiday dinner from 4 to 9 p.m., features dishes like risotto made to order and beef Wellington. Adults $54.95, children $24.95. At all three restaurants a la carte dishes are available as well. 3400 Gulf Blvd., St. Pete Beach. Toll-free 1-866-728-2206.
Sheraton Sand Key Resort
Each year for Christmas, Rusty's at the Sheraton Sand Key Resort puts out a buffet for nearly 500 people in its dining room, priced at $39 for adults, $13 for children 6 to 12, children 5 and younger free. Ruben James will be running through classical and jazz numbers on the piano while patrons choose from the carving stations, seafood dishes, salads and more. The regular a la carte menu will not be offered on Dec. 25. If you want to get in the spirit a little early, there's a special Christmas Eve hand-carved prime rib buffet from 6 to 10 p.m., with James on the piano and the more modest price of $22.95. 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach. (727) 595-1611.
At Sandpearl Resort's Caretta on the Gulf, there will be a Christmas Day brunch buffet, $64 for adults, $19 for children 3 to 10. It includes unlimited champagne and mimosas, with seatings at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. (breakfast items end at 3:30), 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. The buffet features sushi rolls and ceviches, oysters, smoked salmon and whitefish, artisan cheeses, omelets, waffles and benedicts, as well as hot dishes like sea bass with truffled polenta, pheasant breast with pistachio crust and pork tenderloin with butternut squash. Kids get their own section of the buffet, featuring mac 'n' cheese and pigs in a blanket. 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach. (727) 441-2425.
Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
And at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino three restaurants will offer holiday menus. On Christmas Day, Rise Kitchen & Bakery provides a menu of sweet potato soup ($4.50), a main course of spiral honey glazed ham, mashed potatoes, old-fashioned style green beans with ham hocks, honey-glazed carrots and a holiday yule log of chocolate sponge cake, chocolate coffee buttercream and vanilla sauce ($16.50). Fresh Harvest (from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.) will offer a buffet for $45 per person, featuring a raw bar, a carving station and traditional favorites to include carved spiral ham with bourbon brown sugar glaze, carved to order herb-roasted prime rib and freshly prepared gourmet pasta and pizzas. There will also be Harvest's Sweet Bounty, offering a dazzling array of hot and cold desserts. And Council Oak Steaks & Seafood will present special menus on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Menu items on Dec. 24 include roasted beet carpaccio; bone-in, 60-day, dry-aged New York steak; and a dessert consisting of panettone, sweet cream custard and eggnog ice cream. On Christmas Day, Council Oak's menu will include a potato croquette trio, Jackman Farms braised short rib or striped bass and a "glistening" dessert of white chocolate semifreddo, brandied cherries and gingerbread. 5223 N Orient Road, Tampa. Toll-free 1-866-502-7529.