A Foodie's Valentine's Day Guide

... Not involving edible underwear

A Foodie's Valentine's Day Guide
Illustration By Jason Stout

The pressure to perform romantically is never greater than on Valentine's Day. (Insert your joke here.) Fear not: We're not going to offer sex tips for lovers; we'll leave that to the Sue Johansons of the world. Our recommendations fall into the gustatory realm, and we hope a lot of the pressure of the day can be relieved, thereby allowing romance to flourish.

Rule No. 1: Do not stress. Any phone-sex worker can tell you that there's no greater buzz kill, or romance killer, than stress. If you exhaust yourself trying to whip up a ridiculously complicated meal requiring hours in the kitchen and mountains of dishes, you are only going to be in the mood to take to your bed. Sounds like just the ticket, you say? Only if you consider flannel pajamas romantic, because that will be the end result of your efforts. That leaves a couple of alternatives: letting someone else slave over your meal and going out or staying in and staying sane.

For many restaurants, Valentine's Day is one of the biggest of the year, and special menus abound. This is doubly true for restaurants with a "romantic" reputation. Romance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, however. With that in mind, we offer a few suggestions of locations we consider to be romantic.

Aquarelle was named by almost everyone polled for this article. It has it all: It's French; it's fine; the service is impeccable; the setting is serene and lovely. Also in the Gallic vein, Chez Nous is considered by some of us to suggest romance. One is transported to a Paris bistro upon entering the Neches Street bastion. Some find the conversational din that pervades the small space too noisy for romance, but others of us find the chatter part of the Parisian flavor of the experience and therefore utterly romantic.

Speaking of European flavor, Italians have a reputation for being wise in the ways of love. If you subscribe to that theory, the Tree House Italian Grill is an affordable and utterly lovely Valentine's destination. The patio, canopied by one of the most magnificent live oak trees in Austin, is as charming and romantic as any in town. If weather prevents dining al fresco, the interior is dimly lit with flickering candles and filled with images of rustic balconies and gilded woodwork. But as on any night, the best restaurant destination is the one most highly favored by your amour, regardless of the cuisine or candles or absence thereof.

Maybe the pulling-out-all-the-stops dining experience sounds too exhausting or expensive or unattainable due to lack of planning. A great cocktail lounge experience can provide a romantic, almost illicit flavor to a Valentine's evening. We love the rich sofas and lush surroundings of the Driskill bar. For Rat Pack swagger and sexual allure, the Belmont can't be beat. We know a couple whose idea of a great romantic date is an evening at the Cedar Door, which proves that as in restaurants, a romantic bar is in the eye of the beholder.

Perhaps our favorite Valentine's date of all takes place at home. We can dine at our leisure at the time of our choosing. We can dress up or down, we can imbibe, and, if things go well, it's only a stroll down the hall to romance. Make it special, though: You don't get points off by staying in, but you do get points off by serving up an everyday meal at the kitchen table serenaded by CBS blaring from the television.

One of our most memorable Valentine's Day dinners at home occurred when we surprised our sweetie by setting up a small dining table for two in the living room, away from the typical eating spot of the dining room. Lovely table linens, candles, an unexpected setting, and a simple meal of a favorite pasta dish made for an appreciated and utterly romantic evening. Surprise is the key element for this strategy; get your honey out of the house while preparations are under way.

It doesn't get much simpler, and for us, more utterly delightful and romantic, than to rent a movie, snuggle up on the sofa, and nosh and sip the night away with popcorn, sharp cheddar cheese slices, wedges of crisp apples, and a bottle of white wine. This is a date night we anticipate with an enthusiasm approaching giddiness. And it really is as simple as that. As in all things simple, quality is key. Rent a really good romantic movie. Truly, Madly, Deeply for instance. Make real popcorn on the stove top, slice some excellent cheddar and the best apple you can get your hands on. Open up a chilled pinot grigio. Share a soft blanket. Light candles. Shoo everyone away. Take the full two hours of the film to consume the above. Have some fine dark chocolates on hand for the credits.

If you can't figure out what to do next, you're in need of the services of Sue Johanson. Switch to the Oxygen channel for her advice: You're already in front of the television.

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Aquarelle, Tree House Italian Grill, The Belmont, Driskill Bar

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