Pasticceria in Erice, Sicily. Photo by Galina Stepanoff-Dargery (2009)
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and DON'T's for SAINT VALENTINE'S DAY by John Mariani
by John Mariani
By now, every single restaurant in North America is booked solid for Valentine’s Day, which is, of course, the worst day to take the woman you love out to dinner. It's amateur hour out there. Restaurants serve set, overpriced menus. Dining rooms are packed with overly demonstrative folks who are eating at a fancy-schmancy restaurant for the first time. And, as with New Year's Eve, the expectations going into Valentine’s Day never quite live up to the reality of Valentine's Day.
But no matter -- you still need to take her out. Here are some pointers on romantic dining in an age when there are so many more choices, so many ways to offend her at the table, and so much gouging of the bill.
1. Ask her out at least five days in advance. But since you've got just a few days until Valentine's Day, you're already in the hole. Assuming you've got a date, tell her the reservation is 15 minutes earlier than it actually is. This way you'll be seated on time.
2. Some restaurants are more romantic than others. Make sure you pick the right cuisine:
• French restaurants may seem romantic, but often they upstage you with a meal that revolves around an exotic menu and wine list instead of you having a good time. And then there's the snooty factor, where you're judged as much by the service staff as your date. Especially when it comes to the tip.
• Chinese and other Asian restaurants are either pushy, crowded, and frantic or completely empty, ensuring you'll be the only ones in the whole place. In either case, you'll be out the door in a hurry. Think about it: When was the last time you spent more than an hour in a Chinese restaurant?
• With their lively atmosphere and accessible cuisine, Mexican restaurants can be extremely amiable but mark you as a cheapskate. The music usually sucks, but after a few fast-acting margaritas, neither you nor your date will be complaining.
Sushi, assuming she likes it, is very good for a casual date, even a
little sexy because it’s adventurous and marks you as something of a
sophisticate. (This is especially true if you if you live in a
landlocked city like Cincinnati or Tucson.) Just don’t sit at the
List of Do's
• Tip 20 percent if you expect to return. Remember to include the wine costs as well, unless you're buying bottles of wine that cost more than $100 each.
• Pay the bill. If she offers to go Dutch, resist her.
• Offer to switch plates if she hates her meal. If that doesn't work, ask her what she hates and quietly consult the waiter off to the side.
The List of Don'ts
• Don't share plates, especially on the first and second dates. Try to stay away from the tasting menu, too, while you're at it.
• Never order soup. It will end up on your shirt.
• Don't perform the Heimlich maneuver, unless you're an EMT. Let the trained staff handle this one.
Don’t order coffee. Because if you order coffee, how on Earth is she
going to invite you back to her place for a cup?
• The host proudly offers you a free glass of "kee-ann-tee" if you order an entree.
• The bar is packed, but the dining area is empty.
• The menu has tassels.
• The winelist comes in a three-ring binder.
• The place has no listed phone number.
• The tables are so close together that the waiter has to pull them out to sit you down.
• The waiters have track marks on their arms.
he quality of a good steak continues
to drop and drop and drop, mostly at the various high-end chains around
the U.S. that advertise USDA Prime, dry-aged beef that tastes like
Choice you'd buy at a better supermarket. The days when a strip steak
or porterhouse had any real, marbled, dry-aged flavor has not entirely
disappeared, but it is rare when you can find it. (Don't get me started
on the blasphemy about Kobe and wagyu that isn't either!)
Flames is open daily
from 11 AM-10 PM.
WITH A BAG OF PORK RINDS, A JIMMY STICK, A TACO BELL BURRITO, AND A
BUCKET OF KFC EXTRA CRISPY
Self-appointed NYC vigilante commentator Curtis Sliwa (right) protested Mayor Michael Bloomberg's voluntary salt initiative by announcing, "You're gonna have to pry this salt out of my cold, dead hand," while clutching a box of Morton's Salt while on TV's "Inside City Hall." He then swallowed a mouthful of salt (video available somewhere on You Tube.)
"A bowl of white gazpacho, smooth as almond silk, with a delicate swirl of guajillo chile oil and three purple orbs suspended in the center. Let one burst in your mouth and it's a gentle explosion of pure grape flavor. Three walnut-size pumpkin fritters, the edges hot and crisp, the centers creamy, rich and lightly sweet. Each is finished with a dot of paddlefish roe, a saline exclamation point; they're paired with a dainty peekytoe crab salad, nicely cool next to the hot fritters. Now a plump, golden-brown roasted quail stuffed with exotically spiced rice. A beguiling, velvety cashew-saffron sauce surrounds it, drizzled with an emerald green curry-leaf oil."--Leslie Brenner, "Samar by Stephen Pyles," Dallas Morning News.
✉ Guidelines for submissions: QUICK BYTES publishes only events, special dinners, etc, open to the public, not restaurant openings or personnel changes. When submitting please send the most pertinent info, incl. tel # and site, in one short paragraph as simple e-mail text, WITH DATE LISTED FIRST, as below. Thanks. John Mariani
OWING TO THE OVERWHELMING NUMBER
OF VALENTINE'S DAY ANNOUNCEMENTS AND DINNERS, I AM UNABLE TO INCLUDE
ANY IN QUICK BYTES.
* From Feb. 11-18, 10
Downing Food & Wine in NYC
will be extending its pre-fixe Restaurant Week menu through NYC Fashion
Week, a 3-course lunch menu of “Farm to Table” cuisine created by
Executive Chef Jonathan Leiva. $24.07 pp. Call
* On Feb. 18 in Berkeley,
CA, Spenger's Fresh Fish Grotto
a One Fermented Evening wine dinner with a five-course prix fixe menu
prepared by Chef Devon Boisen. $79.95 pp. Call 510-845-7771;
* On Feb. 18 in NYC,
Ted Dennard, owner of t Savannah Bee Company joins Chef Amanda Cohen to
host a honey pairing dinner at her highly acclaimed vegetable-focused
restaurant, Dirt Candy. Ted
will speak about the honey used in, or paired with, each dish or
beverage. Call 212-228-7732.
* On Feb. 21 Slow
Food Atlanta will
host a family-style dinner by Atlanta’s top chefs to raise funds
for Slow Food’s Terra Madre Foundation, at Watershed in Decatur, and
will incl. a presentation about Terra Madre from Slow Food
International Founder Carlo Petrini; five courses of reinterpreted
Southern food from Chefs Kevin Gillespie of Woodfire Grill, Linton
Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene, Steven Satterfield of Miller Union, Kevin
Ouzts of The Spotted Trotter, Billy Allin of Cakes & Ale, Scott
Peacock of Watershed and Cathy Conway of Avalon Catering; and an
exclusive performance by Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls. $150
pp. if purchased before Feb. 15, $175 after Feb. 15. VIP tix
$250. Visit www.slowfoodatlanta.org .
* On Feb. 24, in South
Beach, FL, Iron Chef Michael Symon, and Executive Chef
Peter Vauthy of Red, the Steakhouse, will host a Prelude Dinner to the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food
Festival. Symon and Vauthy’s menu will showcase Certified Angus
Beef® brand and Loire Valley Wines. $200 pp. Visit
* On Feb. 25 in Miami, Area
31 will present “Fish +
a 7-course menu by executive chef John
Critchley and master sommelier Emily Wines. $175 pp. Earlier in
day, diners can participate in the boat trip to the fish markets
including lunch and wine beginning at 11 am. $275 pp includes the
pairing dinner. 305-424-5234 or visit www.area31restaurant.com.
* On Feb. 26, in Lambertville,
NJ, Lambertville Station
Restaurant opens the doors to its new Wine Cellar.
Sommelier and general manager Jim Hall has selected 50 boutique wines,
including limited vintages and rare Cellar opportunities, and Chef
Chris Beall presents a pairing menu of artisan cheeses and
charcuterie, tapas and flatbreads, and hand-crafted
chocolates. Call 609-397-8300.
* From Feb. 26-28 in NYC the 3rd Annual New York Wine Expo will return to the Jacob Javits Center. The Grand Tasting offers attendees a chance to sample more than 600 wines from over 170 winemakers from around the world. The Expo is also excited to announce that Gloria Maroti Frazee, Wine Spectator and Leslie Sbrocco, award-winning author will be hosting seminars. Visit www.NewYorkWineExpo.com or call 800-544-1660. Early bird purchasers save $10 per ticket before February 19.
On Feb. 26, The Red Onion in Saugerties, NY restaurant presents "The
Colors of the
Calendar" event series. The first event, "Winter White and White
Nights- Dinner Under the Czars,"a 4-course
Russian-inspired menu, featuring Taylor Hackford's 1985 film
"White Nights" with owners Chef Kevin and Rochelle
Eric Weiss, food and wine consultant and founder of Service Arts,
Inc, will continue throughout the year. The color "Sienna" will
highlighted in March with a regional Italian cuisine and specific art
forms. The 4-course
dinner is $45 or $65 with selected wines. Call 845-679-1223.
* From Feb. 26-28 in Richmond,
VA, enjoy 350 wines from
more than 60 of Virginia’s best wineries
at the Virginia Wine Expo.
Advanced wine tastings, seminars,
dine-around deals at some of Richmond’s best restaurants. The VWE will
benefit the Central Virginia Food Bank. Day Passes: $35 in advance; $45
at the door. Call 804-349-6909.
Everett Potter's Travel Report:
I consider this the best and savviest blog of its kind on the web. Potter is a columnist for USA Weekend, Diversion, Laptop and Luxury Spa Finder, a contributing editor for Ski and a frequent contributor to National Geographic Traveler, ForbesTraveler.com and Elle Decor. "I’ve designed this site is for people who take their travel seriously," says Potter. "For travelers who want to learn about special places but don’t necessarily want to pay through the nose for the privilege of staying there. Because at the end of the day, it’s not so much about five-star places as five-star experiences." THIS WEEK: TEL AVIV AFTER THE CENTENNIAL.
Eating Las Vegas is the new on-line site for Virtual Gourmet contributor John A. Curtas., who since 1995 has been commenting on the Las Vegas food scene and reviewing restaurants for Nevada Public Radio. He is also the restaurant critic for KLAS TV, Channel 8 in Las Vegas, and his past reviews can be accessed at KNPR.org. Click on the logo below to go directly to his site.
Tennis Resorts Online: A Critical Guide to the World's Best Tennis Resorts and Tennis Camps, published by ROGER COX, who has spent more than two decades writing about tennis travel, including a 17-year stretch for Tennis magazine. He has also written for Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel, New York Magazine, Travel & Leisure, Esquire, Money, USTA Magazine, Men's Journal, and The Robb Report. He has authored two books-The World's Best Tennis Vacations (Stephen Greene Press/Viking Penguin, 1990) and The Best Places to Stay in the Rockies (Houghton Mifflin, 1992 & 1994), and the Melbourne (Australia) chapter to the Wall Street Journal Business Guide to Cities of the Pacific Rim (Fodor's Travel Guides, 1991).
Family Travel Forum (FTF), whose motto is "Have Kids, Still Travel!",
is dedicated to the ideals, promotion and support of travel with
children. Founded by business professionals John Manton and Kyle
McCarthy with first class travel industry credentials and global family
travel experience, the independent, family-supported FTF will provide
its members with honest, unbiased information, informed advice and
practical tips; all designed to make traveling a rewarding, healthy,
safe, better value and hassle-free experience for adults and children
who journey together. Membership in FTF will lead you to new worlds of
adventure, fun and learning. Join the movement.
nickonwine: An engaging, interactive wine column by Nick Passmore, Artisanal Editor, Four Seasons Magazine; Wine Columnist, BusinessWeek.com; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.nickonwine.com.
MARIANI'S VIRTUAL GOURMET NEWSLETTER is published weekly. Editor/Publisher: John Mariani. Contributing Writers: Robert Mariani, John A. Curtas, Edward Brivio, Mort Hochstein, Suzanne Wright, and Brian Freedman. Contributing Photographers: Galina Stepanoff-Dargery, Bobby Pirillo. Technical Advisor: Gerry McLoughlin.
Any of John Mariani's books below
may be ordered from amazon.com by clicking on the cover image.