Eating & Drinking

Valentine’s Day dining: Thinking outside the heart-shaped box

Valentine’s Day. Yes sweethearts, it’s a-coming. Less than two weeks to go. How’s the planning going?

Restaurants everywhere have a love-hate relationship with the heart-shaped day. Typically, most offer two seatings of a prix-fixe “special” menu complete with a glass of cheap bubbly and a red rose for the lady. So sure, you can book that today, there’s no shortage of options. But maybe you want to shake it up a bit this year.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking outside the heart-shaped box:

Photo, courtesy of Fauna

Head for the hills…
These fine Gatineau Hills restaurants all offer top-notch food and service, will store your snowshoes, and are delighted to welcome you and your toque head. Les Fougeres – recently reopened after a renovation – has been a Chelsea treasure for more than two decades. Nestled in the woods off chemin Kingsmere, L’Orée du Bois has offered regional, seasonal French cuisine since 1978. Or two newer options: The Village House, a delightful little restaurant in Wakefield; or Tante Carole in Old Chelsea, a relaxed spot for comfort cuisine.

Head to the farm…
Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, so you might want to book in for Sunday lunch at Mariposa Farm. Go hungry. Expect foie gras. And you can bring your own bubbly. Or you can stay in town and indulge in farmhouse cooking at Murray Street. Let the farm (suppliers) come to you at Benny’s Bistro, which offers Sunday brunch of local food, washed down with mimosas. Chez Edgar’s brunch is easy to love. But if you can’t get in (it’s tiny) you can do takeaway and eat Edgar’s cassoulet on the couch at home.

Head for a fire…
The table by the fire at Restaurant E18hteen is probably already spoken for, but you could call right now and see… Does proximity to a wood-fired pizza oven count? If so, try Roberto’s or Tennessy Willems.

Or set a fire in your mouth… Chiles are well-touted aphrodisiacs!
Find them aplenty in a good Vindaloo or a Goan curry. Try Coconut Lagoon or the tiny Little India Café. What about the spicy Malay noodle soup called laksa? There’s a great version at the new Datsun. Ethiopian doro wot, with extra berbere? Head to The East African Village or The Blue Nile. Sichuan dishes? Try the roasted fish at Spicy Legend. A Thai yum fired up with bird chiles? I like Pookie’s or Siam Bistro.

Photo, courtesy of North & Navy

Book a booth… or get a room
Some of the loveliest booths in town and the most intimate private rooms are really designed for more than two. So bring friends and share the love. Some options include: the back booths at The Pomeroy House or Giovanni’s; upper booths at Black Cat Bistro or Das Lokal; rounded booths at Social; private rooms at Beckta, North & Navy, and Signatures.

Head for the basement…
Walk over the stepping stones that lead to the basement tatami rooms at C’est Japon a Suisha, or sneak down to the speakeasy at Union Local 613. (Or stay upstairs for 613’s Anti Valentine’s Party if that seems a better fit.)

Scarf oysters…
Whalesbone is generally more jolly than romantic, but it serves up the best in bivalve aphrodisiacs. Slurp up endless platters of oysters elbow-to-elbow with other oyster lovers.

Head for the couch…
In your cosies. With your own bottle of bubbles. Order in from one of these fine places, all offering delicious-sounding Valentine’s Day menus: Epicuria, Thyme & Again, The Red Apron, and The Piggy Market.

Your favourite restaurant is closed on Sunday? And you’ve missed V-Day all together?
Get out of jail and book a day-after table. Good Monday night spots with great food? allium for tapas; Absinthe for the benevolent burger; Soca for the ‘Chopping Block’; town for gnocchi; Beckta’s Wine Bar for black truffle deviled eggs; Fraser Café for Kitchen’s Choice. Or splurge with Fauna’s 80-day dry-aged rib-eye — if you’ve forgotten V-Day, this specialty might be the big spend required to get you out of the dog house.