Ask A Washington DC Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

December 4, 2013 7:00 AM

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

Planning a holiday dinner party can be really overwhelming, largely because there are so many decisions to be made. What to serve? How much to make? How to serve it? How to do it all without breaking the bank? Well, worry no more. Chef de Cuisine John Melfi of Blue Duck Tavern, one of D.C. finest restaurants, has three great tips for planning the perfect holiday menu that is bound to leave your guests impressed. He has also provided a recipe for his famous roasted cauliflower which is perfect as a side dish or a main course for vegetarians.

Chef de Cuisine John Melfi
Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20037
(202) 419-6755

A Pennsylvania Culinary Institute graduate, Chef de Cuisnine John Melfi previously worked at Vidalia in Washington D.C. before joining the team at Blue Duck Tavern. He is well known for his creativity and his ability to highlight the flavors of ingredients he works with. Here are three tips he has provided to help you plan a holiday party menu that will be as delicious and successful as the dinners he serves at Blue Duck Tavern.

dsc 0335 Ask A Washington DC Expert: Compiling The Perfect Holiday Menu

Photo Credit: Priya Konings

Serve it family style
Although it may seem less formal, you can still have a coursed dinner. By serving each course family style, you cut down on plating time and your guests will have more fun sampling each of the items and passing the dishes back and forth. People can enjoy more of their favorite items, and you don’t have to fret about portions or plate presentation. An ideal menu can have a first course where you could serve salads and maybe a seafood item, a second course with heartier dishes such as meats and vegetables and then a dessert course. If you wish to make the menu four courses, the first could be salads, and then do a second seafood course before the main course.[/caption]

Use seasonal ingredients

In the fall and winter, there are loads of gorgeous fruits and vegetables that are in season, which means they are less expensive, locally available and more flavorful. Think apples, mushrooms, broccoli, cauliflower, greens, nectarines, oranges and grapefruit. Incorporating these items into your menu will make the meal seem more festive and celebratory this time of year. Also, creativity is key. Fruits can be included in savory dishes, such as in a salad, on a flatbread or in a pasta dish.

Remember dietary restrictions

When serving your meal, be conscious that many people are gluten-free, vegetarian, allergic to seafood and so forth. It makes sense to include at least one salad and one main course that is meat-free, such as risotto. That works well for vegetarians and gluten-free diners. For dessert, if you are serving pie, which is great for sharing, it may be best to serve the ice cream on the side for non-dairy eaters. That way, all of your guests will feel included.

Related: Best Pumpkin Treats In Washington DC

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Blue Duck Tavern (Credit, Priya Konings)

Roasted Cauliflower with Cheddar Fondue, Golden Raisins and Almonds


  • 1 lb. cauliflower florets, assorted varieties if available
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • 1/4 cup Marcona almonds, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp whole grain mustard
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup aged cheddar cheese, grated


First make the fondue by heating the cream until simmering. Pour into a blender with the grated cheddar cheese. Blend until smooth. Keep warm.

Next, toss the cauliflower with olive oil and seasoning with salt and pepper. Roast in a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven, add butter and raisins and return to the oven for another 2 to 4 minutes or until the cauliflower is finished roasting and is nicely caramelized. Toss with parsley, almonds and mustard. To plate, put the aged cheddar fondue down in your serving dish and top with the roasted cauliflower.

Related: Best Apple Pie In Washington DC

Priya Konings is a freelance writer and restaurant critic in Washington D.C. Her work can be found at