"Tell me about your first date with
dad," my daughter asked recently. .
"Well," I began, "we met in front of Cafe Figaro in the Village." I then described our evening - mouthful by mouthful: the omelet at Elephant & Castle oozing with goat cheese; glasses of chardonnay at a wine bar later in the evening; warm apple crumb pie with vanilla ice cream that we shared early that morning in a romantic little dessert place a few blocks from the bar.
She stared at me with undisguised preteen disgust.
"I wanted to know what you wore; what you talked about; if you kissed," she said. "Not what you ate!"
"Oh. That I don’t remember," I confessed.
I didn’t bother to explain that for me the sign of a successful date, or any other occasion, is remembering the food.
"What about Valentine’s days? Did you have romantic times together?" she wondered. How do I tell a kid who still believes in love at first sight, puffy white wedding dresses and two children - first a boy, then a girl - that this made-up holiday is as much about celebrating the pleasures of love as it is about enduring it?
"We’re having a romantic evening together this year," I assured her.
"Good," she said, "When you come back you can tell me everything about it, except the food. Please, don’t tell me anything about the food."
Below are a few restaurants whose chefs’ know what a great meal can do for romance.
Chef William Snell of Cocotte, the popular country French restaurant in Park Slope, is offering a special, three-course, prix fixe menu for $65. The restaurant - all dark wood and candlelight - is the perfect spot for a romantic twosome.
Start your meal with truffle-marinated, wild-mushroom bisque, house-made foie gras terrine or prosciutto-wrapped tuna. Entrees include roasted squab served in light cream and sundried cherry sauce; a goat cheese-crusted rack of lamb with butternut squash gnocchi; and the spicy "lovers’ quarrel lobster" served with creamy polenta and a warm corn relish. For dessert, indulge in a lemon souffle, chocolate cream puffs filled with custard or "sinful" flourless chocolate cake.
Convivium Osteria on Park Slope’s Fifth Avenue is a special restaurant. The Mediterranean cooking of chef Carlo Pulixi, has won accolades from local patrons, and has become a destination stop for diners from distant neighborhoods. The dining room is charming with ocher-toned walls, rough-hewn tables and candle-festooned wall sconces casting a flattering glow over diners.
In addition to the restaurant’s standard entrees, Pulixi has created a $45 prix fixe menu for the special evening. The meal begins with an appetizer of scallops "Vierras" style - pan seared with prosciutto and tomato. A pasta course of ravioli stuffed with capon and porcini mushrooms follows. The fish course is flounder with lemon and white wine sauce, then a meat course that features roasted saddle of venison paired with a blueberry and pumpkin puree. The meal concludes with a rich, flourless chocolate tart scattered with berries and a glass of muscatel wine.
What could be more romantic than dining in front of a roaring fireplace? Executive chef Charles Statelman of Patois - a cozy French restaurant that began Smith Street’s restaurant renaissance - has added a number of special Valentine’s Day dishes to his menu.
Four appetizers are offered to begin the dinner: a trio of fresh oysters with a red wine Mignonette or spicy jalapeno relish; a shrimp scampi with fried capers; a refreshing salad of roasted organic beets with goat cheese; or a luscious smoked Portobello and foie gras terrine served with a mustard seed and quince chutney.
Lusty main courses include filet mignon with bearnaise sauce served with garlic-mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe; and a poached arctic char paired with French lentils and wild mushrooms; and a poached Maine lobster and scallops served with snow peas and red peppers in a sweet wine sauce.
At Patois, vegetarians can feast on fettuccini with mushrooms and truffles tossed in a chive-accented cream sauce.
It’s de rigueur that a Valentine’s Day dessert include chocolate, and Statelman, caught up in the mood of the evening, offers two: a rich, chocolate ganache cake with raspberries; and chocolate-covered strawberries with whipped cream. An equally delicious walnut tart with vanilla ice cream is another slightly less sexy option.
Just walking into the sweetly scented Provence en Boite in Bay Ridge, a bistro and patisserie, is a pleasure for the senses. Behind French country printed curtains are small tables where couples and groups linger over chef Jean Jacques Bernat’s classic French cooking. Bernat has designed a delicious, and well-priced, prix fixe menu that includes six courses for $53.
At Provence en Boite, the dinner begins with a sampling of hors d’oeuvres, and then proceeds to asparagus soup with black truffles escoffier. Sea scallops wrapped in a tender crepe are napped with a zucchini and chive sauce, or you can select a salad of crisp vegetables topped with smoked duck breast in herb dressing. A small cup of raspberry sorbet is served to refresh the palate.
Catch your breath before the next course of lamb roasted in a crust of fresh herbs; filet of perch with morel mushrooms and bay scallops; or a rustic "filet mignon" of pork served with spinach and mushrooms in a cider sauce with apples.
Known for his fine desserts, Bernat offers a chocolate dessert for two: a triple-layered mousse of milk chocolate, white chocolate and dark chocolate served with creme Anglaise. A sorbet - passion fruit, of course - is served in a wineglass with a swirl of sweet caramel.
A true romantic, Moni Ozgilik, who owns Allioli, a Spanish tapas restaurant in Williamsburg, is planning on scattering the already intimate dining room with rose petals. Ozgilik describes chef Diego Gonzalez’s menu as "almost exaggerated, seafood-based, aphrodisiac dishes." Ozgilik claims that Gonzalez’s creations, heavy with oysters and lobster, are "meant for couples to feed each other by hand."
The tapas dishes begin with a creamy clam soup and will conclude with two desserts that are definitely not for the faint of heart: A chocolate souffle filled with champagne sauce and splashed with balsamic vinegar, and a sophisticated take on the Oreo: layers of milk custard and prickly pear sorbet between crumbly spice cookies.
Valentine’s Day dinners are popular with diners so make reservations early.
Allioli (291 Grand St. between Havemeyer and Roebling streets) in Williamsburg, accepts Visa and MasterCard. Valentine’s Day tapas: individually priced, approximately $40-$50 per person. Standard taps: $6-$32. For reservations, call (718) 218-7338.
Cocotte (337 Fifth Ave. at Fourth Street) in Park Slope, accepts MasterCard and Visa. Valentine’s Day prix fixe: $65. Entrees: $8-$22. For reservations, call (718) 832-6848.
Convivium Osteria (68 Fifth Ave. between Bergen Street and St. Mark’s Avenue) in Park Slope, accepts American Express. Valentine’s Day prix fixe: $45. Entrees: $13-$23. For reservations, call (718) 857-1833.
Patois (255 Smith St. bet Degraw and Douglass streets) in Boerum Hill, accepts American Express, Visa and MasterCard. Valentine’s Day entrees: $20-$23. For reservations, call (718) 855-1535.
Provence en Boite (8303 Third Ave. between 83rd and 84th streets) in Bay Ridge, accepts MasterCard, American Express and Visa. Valentine’s Day prix fixe: $53. Entrees: $15-$23. For reservations, call (718) 759-1515.