Valentine Dining

By Joy Summers January 26, 2012

Categories: Food & Dining, Our Scene

Nothing makes the long, cold winter nights pass more quickly than when the heart-felt home fires are fully stoked.  Valentine’s Day is a perfect evening to spend tucked into a quiet corner, stealing admiring gazes, sharing bites of delicious foods and celebrating the heart that grows ever fonder.  It’s also the busiest restaurant night in the industry, so get those reservations set and make sure your date’s calendar is clear, we have a list of our favorite date night spots to toast your sweet heart.

La Belle Vie Old world class drips from the crystal chandeliers.  In the dining room denizens of servers await your every wish. Before you’ve even realized that a dish is done, or a wine glass has approached the bottom, someone arrives to care for each need, allowing you ample time for soul gazing with your besotted.  While the formal dining room might be a bit of a steep price tag for some, the lounge is just as elegant and allows guests to order from the smaller portions on the bar menu.  The crepes with miniscule drops of sunshine masquerading as quail eggs is one of the most elegant, delicate and deliciously constructed dishes in the city. Meanwhile, the incredibly talented Diane Yang creates edible sculptures of pastry that wouldn’t look out of place on display in any gallery. It’s simply the best of the best, and isn’t that what your love deserves?

Corner Table This small neighborhood gem has undergone big changes this year.  What was once owned and run by Farm to Table advocate and Chef Scott Pampuch has changed hands and is now under the care of Nick Rancone and his wife Chenny. The kitchen is manned by Thomas Boemer, who has some big time credentials, coming to Minneapolis from Las Vegas kitchen of Alain Ducasse.  They are still churning out fresh, seasonal cuisine with a generous amount of lusciousness. Their cassoulet, creamy white beans may be a traditional French peasant dish, but as served by this staff, is the height of elegance.  Nick’s background is with some old-school Chicago steakhouses, so service is more what you’d expect with white linens rather than neighborhood joints. Ask them to pair the wine; they never miss. The restaurant itself is intimate and just dim enough to compliment a romantic mood while they spin classic LP’s to set the restaurant’s ambiance, which is always intimate, comfortable and elegant.

Meritage There’s something so inherently romantic about the French – from the lyrical language, to the origination of the great wines, to the food.  Dishes dipped in butter, supple oysters, the intricate love of pastries, the French take their food seriously.  The best spot to dip your toes in a bit of French culinary delight is to snag a small bistro table at Russell and Desta Klein’s Meritage in downtown Saint Paul. Gaze through the wall-length windows in the ethereally lit park while enjoying elegant bits of scrumptious food. After adding the oyster bar last year, the drinks available at Meritage have risen to the top of the liquoratti’s must-sip list.  Try a Sauzerac; all bitter and scandalous and wickedly saucy like any good affair.

Piccolo – Great does not have to mean big.  Doug Flicker’s tiny restaurant in South Minneapolis astounds mouths night after night.  Flicker is a master of flavor and given any ingredient, be it hamachi collar a pig trotter, he elevates the humble to the regal. The menu, like the restaurant, is small, but carefully curated. The staff is attentive and affable, incredibly well-versed in the menu and wine list with a deft ability to select pairing. They are also kind enough that if you were to say, knock over a wine glass and watch it loudly clang its way around the entire dining room floor, a server would quickly swoop it up and never for one second judge you as a klutz that you may very well be. Not that I know about this sort of circumstance first hand. (I promise not to interrupt your meal.)

Little Szechuan St. Louis Park – What better way to stoke those fiery love embers than by coating your mouth in the wickedly floral spice of the Szechuan peppercorn?  This new location serves most of the same traditional dishes of the restaurant’s original location, but these new digs are way swankier; elegance with chop sticks. For a dinner inferno, I recommend the beef in spicy broth for the red-faced sweat.  The tea-smoked duck is a much milder, though thoroughly flavored packed meal.  Sip on the subtly flavored complimentary green tea served with each meal.  The heat of the tea helps with the heat of the blazing dishes, strange, but wonderfully true.

joan’s in the Park – The exterior belies the sweet familial surrounding held within this new entry to the  neighborhood restaurant running. joan’s in the Park is owned and run by partners Joan Schmitt and Susan Dunlop who serve steakhouse fare balanced with just a touch of femininity.  Joan, the chef, takes down the beef herself, so the steaks are perfectly cut, gorgeously prepared, and served by the gracious front of house managed by Dunlop.  Their love is evident in every wall adornment, each table setting and shared with every diner.  The mindfully selected wine list with some gorgeous, bold decrees of flavor pair beautifully with the steaks flat-breads and pronouncements of undying love.

Riverview Wine Bar – Exquisitely intimate, this small bistro abuts the neighborhood coffee shop.  Open only in the evenings with dim lights and a roaring fire, this is a perfect setting for lovers who’d like to feel like they’re the only two in the room. Soothing music enhances the romance as does the labyrinth of wine flights. Travel all over the world by the glass. The food is rustic and straightforward with some fantastic pizzas.

Victory 44 – When thinking of a gastro-pub type setting that made a splash with the revolutionary idea of chefs as servers in the North metro area, another name might pop into mind, but Victory 44 is a neighborhood spot worth driving to. Tucked back in a far corner that may technically be Minneapolis, but feels like Robbinsdale, this sweet spot is presided over by Chef Erick Harcey. A chef who is just as comfortable preparing food with liquid nitrogen as he is simply butchering cuts of pork, he creates cuisine that is as intimately familiar as it is fresh and exciting. While a simple burger and fries includes the genius that is bacon powder, I’d urge a little adventure in this dining experience. His commitment to snout to tail cuisine means that items like sweetbreads, terrines or anything involving a duck will be divine. Go ahead, take a little risk, the rewards can be so sweet.

Restaurant Alma – James Beard award winning chef, Alex Robert’s restaurant has the confident cool swagger that’s so easy to bask in.  While they’ve been open for almost thirteen years, they continue to take seasonal, sustainable ingredients and produce elegantly delicious dishes.  The entire restaurant is all supple blonde wood that dances in the shimmering candle light. The room noise hovers at just the right volume to protect your every word, so if you slip and use that schmoopy nickname, no one will be the wiser.

Wilde Roast Café may seem an obvious choice, but it’s hard to ignore this spot. What was once a cozy coffee house has become a café destination. The expanded menu includes an affordable, approachable wine list alongside plenty of local brews.  The seating allows for you to snuggle on a couch or tuck away in a dimly lit corner.  It’s also a relaxed atmosphere where you are sincerely welcomed.  The food is straightforward American Bistro Fare, also a great pick if your sweetie is a bit picky. While we at Lavender may give a lot of love to Wilde Roast (our perennial Fab 50 winner,) it’s only because it’s a deep, sustaining love that only grows stronger with time, a perfect toast to a holiday built for love.

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