It’s that time of year again, as you no doubt have noticed while you duck displays of heart-shaped boxes o’ chocolate and flying cupids at the local grocery store. It’s almost Valentine’s Day. And as red-faced as I am to admit it, I absolutely love this ultimate Hallmark holiday'maybe because it’s a rare holiday that doesn’t involve family gatherings or attending church.nn
Personally, I think one of the most romantic things you can do for your honey on Valentine’s Day is to cook for her, him or it'especially if that’s something you only do rarely. It doesn’t have to be fancy. A simple in-home dinner of steamed shrimp with Old Bay Seasoning, a fresh salad and a store-bought dessert can be luscious, as well as lust inspiring. Don’t go overboard. I once concocted a Charley Trotter-esque 10-course dinner for the object of my affection on Valentine’s Day. The culinary extravaganza was grand and much appreciated, but I was so worn out after creating and cooking 10 courses that there wasn’t much left of me for romance after dinner. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.nn
Of course, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest nights of the year for dining out as well. Maybe booking a table at a romantic restaurant isn’t as creative as cooking your own Valentine’s Day din-din, but, then again, you won’t have any dirty dishes to clean up afterward. If you haven’t already made a reservation at one of the local romantic hot spots, you’d better get on the stick. You know the places I’m talking about: Fresco Italian CafÃ©, Bambara, The Metropolitan, La Caille, Log Haven, Grand America, The New Yorker, Chenez. These are no-brainers. And bonus seduction points go to the person who snatches table No. 69 at The Metropolitan for Valentine’s Day.nn
But it’s my belief that where you eat on Valentine’s Day isn’t nearly as important as selecting the right dining partner. Ms. Right will be as happy shooting a few rounds of nine-ball at Fats Grill and munching on its remarkable Reuben as she would be inhaling aphrodisiacal oysters at Market Street. And in my book, nothing says “big wet kiss” better than a rack of ribs from Pat’s BBQ, Q4U or Kaiser’s; there’s nothing wrong with getting a little messy on V-Day.nn
Don’t get too lackadaisical about dinner, though. A restaurateur I know (and I swear to Jah this is a 100-percent-true story) embarked on a long-distance cyber-relationship with a fellow via e-mail, phone and text messages. She’d never met the guy in person until he flew into town for a date â€¦ at McDonald’s. Now, I’m not saying that McDonald’s can’t be romantic, but she tossed this bozo out on his keister quicker than you can say “Super-size me!” Don’t be a cheapskate.nn
Here’s a Valentine’s Day dining spot you probably haven’t thought of: Thanksgiving Point. Even in the dead of winter, strolling the gardens at Thanksgiving Point with someone special will earn you romance bonus points. Don’t worry about the hypothermia; warm up by the fire at the elegant Harvest Restaurant. At the trompe l’oeil art-infested Harvest, chef Rick Allen cooks up Mediterranean-tinged cuisine including roasted free-range chicken with chestnut risotto, wild-mushroom grilled Tuscan flatbread and sausage-stuffed ravioli with pumpkin in a maple-pumpkin ragout, just to name a few of the inspired dishes there. Book a table at Harvest early enough (the restaurant opens for dinner at 5 p.m.), and you’ll have time to eat and then boogie. The Joe Muscolino Band will provide the tunes for the Valentine’s Day Dinner Dance at the Snow Barn in Thanksgiving Point, which kicks off at 7 p.m.nn
I have always found sushi to be sexy. Maybe it’s just the opportunity to feed your partner with chopsticks, but sushi on Valentine’s Day seems to me to be an alluring alternative to formal dining. And what could be less formal than picking up a few grab-and-go sushi rolls at Aloha Sushi and enjoying them with someone special at home. Hey, you can eat in your undies! Chef Billy Z’s creative island-infused rolls range from Kahuna Spam and Surfer’s Revenge shark rolls to a crazy Buffalo chicken-wing Tako Poke roll and his five-finger nigiri collection called the Vacation Tan Combo. For a slightly more traditional sushi scenario, stop by the relatively new Union Heights location of Tsunami for knockout nigiri, sashimi and sushi rolls, not to mention eclectic entrees like the shichimi-crusted ahi, seared and glazed with a sauce of soy, ginger and fresh orange juice.nn
For me, nothing says “I love you” better than a meatball sandwich or Philly cheesesteak from Moochie’s or the Philadelphia Sub Shop in Clearfield. But then, I’m easily seduced. For those who like to play hard-to-get, just take them to The Paris Bistro. Hell, the restaurant’s Website alone (TheParis.net) turns me on! Maybe you’re unable to treat your special someone to a night in Paris, but do the next best thing and express you affection with a night at The Paris. Eric DeBonis is among a handful of restaurateur/chefs I know whose passion and knowledge of food and wine is simply staggering'and so is his food. It’s better than a box of chocolates.