When I worked for New York magazine’s Grub Street website, I put together a series called “14 Chefs.” I would pick a topic, like the city’s most underrated restaurants or its most splurge-worthy, and ask an assortment of respected chefs for their opinions.
The most popular edition, by far, was about the most romantic restaurants, because what makes a restaurant romantic can be so arbitrary and personal. This week, I thought I’d ask for recommendations from my colleagues here at The Times. Some suggestions are surprising, and some are just plain heart-melting, but there’s one piece of advice that came up repeatedly: Don’t go out on Valentine’s Day! Pick a quieter night, free of distractions, and revel in your romance.
My Valentine’s Day advice is not to go out to dinner. All those red roses and chocolates, hints and aspirations — they’re a trap. The night’s too freighted by expectation, and invariably you’ll end up squabbling, or worse. You want a romantic dinner? Have it on a random February evening, tucked into a seat at Raoul’s, in SoHo. Oysters, martinis, steak au poivre. That’s the love life.
Going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day can be extremely stressful, especially if you are making a last-minute plan. But if you must go out, there’s a little gem in Park Slope, Brooklyn, called Le Succulent. The restaurant serves West African and French food in a space that feels like a homey ground-floor apartment. The wine list is lovely, the service is warm and every time I eat there I wonder why I don’t go more often.
The romantic spots tend to be ones that are intimate, where you’re willing to linger over a few good bites, glasses of wine and — hopefully — engaging conversation. Gottino, in the West Village, is the right level of all those things for me: dark and snug in a way that has always struck me as perfect for a nice date. On the fancier end, I like Frenchette, in TriBeCa. There’s a warmth both to the space and the food that I think fosters closeness.
I’m not a big Valentine’s Day person, but that doesn’t mean I’m not fond of a few romantic haunts. In the West Village, try catching a jazz set at the Village Vanguard, before walking a couple of blocks east to Bar Six, an old and dimly lit French bistro that’s something of an unsung treasure. It has red banquettes, a beautiful bar and a menu distinguished by its Moroccan influences.
Achilles Heel in Greenpoint is my platonic ideal for far-from-platonic dinners. The space is cozy, and the drinks are strong, but the food is the clincher. There is a constantly changing menu of small plates, many with sauces to sop up with thick slices of She Wolf bread. Eating with your hands equals romance! Even leaving the restaurant is an experience: Walking out onto silent West Street, where you can feel the breeze blowing in from the East River, is a special moment to share with someone special.
I fell in love with Ron Lieber over a menu. He took me to Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, Calif. The dessert menus arrived. A worn soundtrack started playing in my head: enough, no, don’t, bad.
“I think we should get three,” he said.
That was 25 years ago. Since then, we have never gone out on Valentine’s Day, because eating out on the most expensive night of the year is against how we spend money. (Ron is, after all, the personal-finance columnist for The Times.) But years ago, he decided that Valentine’s Day, though a Hallmark holiday, was his opportunity to provide a chocolate surprise for me and our daughters at each meal of the day. Last Feb. 14, after dinner, he took a white box out of the freezer. Inside was a custom ice cream cake he had somehow procured from Miss Mona, an ice cream company that now operates as a monthly C.S.T. (Community Supported Treats). This was the best dessert I have ever eaten, because it called back to earlier Valentine’s surprises and even that night in California.
Don’t go out. Just find something small but true. Repeat every year.
There’s no restaurant review this week, but here are Pete Wells’s assessments of Masalawala & Sons (Park Slope), Urban Hawker (Midtown Manhattan) and Corner Bar (Lower Manhattan), in case you missed them.
Openings and closings: The chef Julian Medina will open El Fish Marisqueria on the Upper West Side on Thursday; the chef Fabio Casella will start slinging chicken and sangria at Polletto Chicken and Sangria on the Upper East Side on Wednesday; and Allen Dabagh, the chef-owner of Boutros, has opened Café Mish Mosh, a Lebanese spot in a gaming venue in Hotel 50 Bowery.
The Los Angeles import Gjelina has temporarily closed because of a fire, according to a post on the restaurant’s Instagram stories.
Eric Asimov reported on the American wine industry’s struggle to attract young consumers, who have more beverage choices than previous generations.
Can the frozen pizza be perfected? Julia Moskin reported on the arms race to create a frozen pizza that tastes as good as one fresh from the oven and the chefs who think they can pull it off.
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