Every year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, my partner and I ponder the same question, “Where should we go for dinner?” We love to celebrate the holiday with a great meal. Who doesn’t? Actually, truth be told, we really just love to have a legitimate excuse to go out and eat.
And Valentine’s Day, gratefully, is the perfect excuse.
Finding the perfect place to dine, however, isn’t always easy. Among the embarrassment of restaurant riches in the Twin Cities, our options are ever-growing. If simply having a great meal is the goal, the metro area is our oyster. Mmm. Oysters. I could rattle off a dozen wonderful places in a heartbeat that would lead to a memorable, or at the very least, perfectly enjoyable evening.
But Valentine’s Day is usually different than your garden variety night out. Most people are looking for something a little (or a whole heck of a lot) more romantic. The problem is, everyone has their own definition of romantic. And that definition can change from year to year. Sometimes it means mood lighting, white table cloths and roses. Other times, burgers at your favorite hole in the wall.
If you’re a new couple, you’re likely to be a bit more lavish than those of us who’ve been through a few. If, God forbid, you thought it was a great idea to go on a first date on Valentine’s Day, you’ll want to impress without freaking out your potential future special someone. And not wanting to leave out the (intentionally and otherwise) single among us, who’s to say you too shouldn’t have a few options to go out and enjoy the night with friends, while simultaneously giving happy couples the stink eye?
If, like me, you struggle to find the perfect place to celebrate Valentine’s Day and feel totally overwhelmed by the possibilities, you’re in luck. I’m going to make your job super easy this year by giving you four sure-fire options guaranteed to suit most any mood or arrangement. Feel free to return the favor. I’m always looking for new ideas.
Side note: some of the restaurants listed below may have special menus for Valentine’s Day. If that’s your thing, feel free to ask when making a reservation or when you arrive. I’m not a particular fan of special menus that limit my selfish appetite, so I’m including four restaurants I know stand fully on their own, holiday special or not.
Meritage in St. Paul
If you’re an old-fashioned romantic (or dating one) who’d love nothing more than to spend Valentine’s Day at a beautiful little restaurant in Paris, but don’t have the necessary swagger (or bank account) to pull it off, head no further than downtown St. Paul to Meritage. The ambience, surroundings and, of course, food will transport you a lot more economically than a flight to Charles de Gaulle. And if you’re worried French cuisine is too complicated or stuffy, fear not.
The food is simple, accessible and totally satisfying. Pay special attention to the moules frites and oysters Meritage. Our first visit was for an anniversary dinner and we still count that meal as one of our best. Ever.
Joan’s in the Park
This intimate, white table-clothed hidden gem in the Highland Park neighborhood of St. Paul is a perfect spot for any couple wanting classic fine dining without all the fuss. At Joan’s in the Park, you feel like you’re at the home of a dear friend who’s invited you over for dinner. That is, if your dear friend happened to be a highly acclaimed chef with ample national recognition. If you want to earn Valentine’s Day bonus points from your paramour, order the crab toasts and steak tartare. Speaking of steak, you’d do well to try the ribeye. I still look upon that piece of meat more fondly than I do some exes. No joke.
The bar at Manny’s
Let’s say you want to class up your Valentine’s Day night out, but not too much. Maybe you’re on a first date or a few dates in and you want to impress, but not freak out or scare off. The bar at Manny’s is perfect. Yes, that Manny’s. It’s an old classic for a reason. Even if you’ve been together for ages or just want to people watch with friends, you’re in good hands. Good meaty hands. Seriously, do I even need to make a case for the food at Manny’s? No. You know it’s amazing, so take my partner’s advice and try the bar for Valentine’s Day. In fact, he always recommends eating in the bar of your favorite restaurant. It’s the perfect way to have a new experience at an old favorite.
Parlour Bar beneath Burough
For those who want to go full frontal casual date this Valentine’s Day or are single and just looking to have a great night out with friends, run (I mean it, like you’re Flo-Jo) to Parlour Bar in the basement of Borough along Washington Avenue in Minneapolis. If you haven’t already heard, the burger at Parlour is life-changing. That is not an exaggeration. And I can’t think of a better way to impress a potential partner or drown the sorrows of sad-sack singlehood than with this beloved two-pattied, cheese-smothered burger in the basement of one of the bes restaurants in town.
Voila! It couldn’t be simpler than that. You now have four brand new, person-who-loves-to-eat tested restaurant ideas for Valentine’s Day in the Twin Cities. Actually, added bonus, you now have four brand new ideas for regular, every other day of the year dining in the Twin Cities as well. From this moment on, you have absolutely no reason not to have a thoroughly memorable Valentine’s Day, whether with or in spite of that special someone.