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Reveillon goes contemporary 

  Many New Orleans restaurants offer reveillon menus during the holiday season, and this year the number of participants has risen to 47. Diners also may notice more contemporary dishes across these menus this year.

  The term "reveillon" is derived from the French word for awakening, and this was the name early New Orleans Catholic families gave to the meal they ate at home after Mass on Christmas Eve. Reveillon dinners grew increasingly scarce as American Christmas traditions spread in the city, and by the middle of the last century they were all but extinct. In the late 1980s, French Quarter Festivals Inc. invoked the reveillon tradition for a restaurant promotion, transforming it into multi-course, prix fixe meals served throughout December.

  In the past, organizers recommended that participating restaurants feature traditional Creole dishes on their reveillon menus, but Georgia Rhody, a manger at French Quarter Festivals, says this year the group encouraged chefs to include more contemporary cuisine.

  That helps explain dishes like foie gras beignets on the reveillon menu at Palace Cafe (four courses, $55); oyster and tasso tourtiere (a Quebecois meat pie) at Martinique Bistro (five courses, $58); lobster, scallops and shrimp with pork belly at The Pelican Club (five courses, $56); or chestnut-crusted sweetbreads and veal at Commander's Palace (five courses, $85).

  As in the past, these reveillon menus tend to feature hearty, winter dishes with plenty of lamb and duck entrees, plus a few holiday-themed dishes, notably desserts involving eggnog. If you're after buche de Noel, a traditional French and Creole dessert, check out the menu at Criollo Restaurant and Lounge (five courses, $75) inside the Hotel Monteleone. Broussard's (four courses, $48) offers Bavarian food, reflecting the German heritage of owners' Gunter and Evelyn Preuss.

  Also new this year is a weekday series of cooking demonstrations held in the French Market, where chefs prepare and serve samples of dishes from their reveillon menus. These demos begin at 2 p.m. on the Market Fare Stage and are held each Tuesday and Friday through Dec. 21. See all the participating restaurants' reveillon menus and details at www.neworleansonline.com/holiday.

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