Dear Glutton: How to Have a Romantic Low-Key Valentine's Day in Austin

It’s the little things, not heart-shaped confetti, that count most

Vespaio (Photo by John Anderson)

Dear Glutton,

My girlfriend and I have been dating for a few years now, and while we're very much in love (she's the best!) we're also well past the needing to prove how in love we are through public displays of affection and the grand-romantic-gestures phase of dating. Any suggestions for good places in town to spend Valentine's Day that won't be so, well, extra about it?

Lapsed Romantic

I know it's kind of an unpopular opinion, but I think there's something really great about Valentine's Day. I mean yeah, I get it, there's all that waxy drugstore candy and weird relationship pressure, and, come on, no adult really needs to own a sad-eyed bear holding a squishy heart. But still, there's something nice about having a yearly reminder of all the love in our lives. I think you and your girlfriend are taking the right approach: Valentine's Day should be about celebrating the things that make your relationship great, not some generic idea of romance.

In a culture that often has a hard time with sincerity, Valentine's Day asks us to take a good hard look at the things we value in life. Maybe that's our friends, a reminder of the many times they've lifted us up and supported us. Maybe it's our families – of origin or of choice – who made us the people we are. And in some lucky cases, lightning has struck and we've found that one miraculously kind and funny and interesting person who makes the whole world feel brighter. And yes, Lapsed, I do think there's something worth celebrating in that. Because love, in whatever form it comes, is worth celebrating.

Lapsed Romantic, you have a couple of really good non-extra options here. The first is to find a really nice, but not overly fussy, restaurant, where you and your best gal can eat amazing food and drink amazing wine without feeling like you're in some kind of weird Caesars Palace love spectacular. Vespaio is a great choice for this, with a low-key, yet charming, atmosphere (that wine library!), and their food is unfussy, but still delicious enough to feel special. Order three courses. Share a couple of glasses of wine. Relax in the knowledge that nobody is poised to shower you with heart-shaped confetti.

Then there's my personal favorite path to romance: the snack-intensive night in. If you like cooking as much as I do, this can mean a fun group trip to the international market of your choice followed by a Google-guided dive down the personal cooking blog rabbit hole. (My beau and I once had a very memorable date that mostly consisted of hanging around Hana World Market eating those little panda cookies.) But if you're not as culinarily inclined as we are, I recommend a trip to your favorite taco truck for takeout, and going home for dessert and wine pairings. I'm a big fan of the pupusas from SalvaTex, but a little internet sleuthing reveals that they're closed until March (perhaps taking a month off to celebrate V-Day). I'm sure you lovebirds have a favorite neighborhood spot of your own. The Austin Wine Merchant is an awesome, unpretentious place to get tasting notes on the best bottles to pair with al pastor, and grab something sparkly while you're at it – Prosecco and chorizo are a surprisingly compelling combination. Quack's is my spot of choice for DIY dessert catering, because they have so many delicious mini cakes and pies, perfect for sharing. Put some care into your plating. Queue up that show your girl's been wanting to check out. These are the romantic gestures that long-term love is based on.

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