February 14 has come to mean different things to different people.
Valentine’s Day has morphed into a day of obligation for established couples and new relationships as well as a day of atonement for past minor indiscretions or absent-minded goof ups. Flowers are a staple and, at times, an expected offering as well as chocolates and other confections. More amorous gifts are also part of the giving menu. An important component of this tradition is dinner out.
This part of the day’s expectations is at times a lifeline for restaurants. It interrupts the slow weeks from New Year’s to the spring thaw. Full-service restaurants tend to hunker down during the dark and stormy days of January and February by offering mid-week specials and at times truncating their hours. The sale of gift cards during the holidays help with cash flow but the Lover’s Day bump in sales is crucial.
So how, you ask, did this tradition get its genesis?
Come to find out there really was a Saint Valentine. Wikipedia tells us that he was one of the early Christian martyrs 86’ed for one reason or another but folklore has it he was secretly marrying soldiers who were banned from taking a bride. There, I believe, is the string from the tenth century to the greeting card industry as we know it today.
Valentine’s Day took a while to be ingrained into popular culture but the holiday and its adornments took off with abandon and is now celebrated all over the world. It has also become a competition.
Restaurants vie for customers to fill the seats and since almost all reservations are deuces one may see a few more tables added to the dining rooms. Chefs plan enticing menus and bar managers create special cocktails, stock up on sparkling wine and even Rose (pink being the color of the day). Men and women challenge themselves on making the day more memorable than last year.
I am going to give you some restaurant tips on not having this day turn into a disaster.
First and most important, call early. Every dude in the city is racing to grab the table that your significant other wants at her/his favorite restaurant so be the first off the line. Do not – and I say this with all seriousness –do not send flowers ahead and have them placed on the table as I have witnessed a good many dinners turned to life-changing catastrophes this way. Examples: The flowers were delivered to the wrong restaurant, they were placed on the wrong table due to a last-minute reservation switch or, the worst, a card with its dedication was placed by the florist on the wrong bouquet. The subsequent scenes should not be played out in public.
I recommend you temper your alcohol consumption as the impulse to go overboard on these occasions can override common sense. Also, the next day is a work day for most. For dinner, I suggest that you order what you like, not what you think you should. Laying out substantial cash for the chef’s special menu only to find out that you would have rather had at the roast chicken puts a bad spin on both the meal and the occasion.
Finally, please be aware that this is a special night for the restaurant as well and they will need your table again. Remember you would be more comfortable gazing into each other’s languid eyes in a more familiar setting. I hope I’m not coming off as too callous, but when everyone wants to do the same thing at the same time, especially on a day that is meant for us to reinforce our affection for the ones we hold dear, it is possible to lose sight of its true purpose. It’s not the things we buy but the feelings we share that are key.
As an alternative, the day after Valentine’s is always a great day to visit your favorite restaurant. The crowds are gone, the servers are not stressed, the chef is in a better mood and you can stay as long as you like. Start a new tradition.
If you forgot to call ahead and could not get that 7:30 reservation, a romantic meal at home with minimal fuss can give you cover. This is an easy recipe and one of my favorites. You can add whatever you want to it or just leave it as is. Pick your favorite pasta, get some good bread, olive oil, a bottle of really good Pinot Noir and “Bob’s your uncle“!
- 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes
- 1/2 cup basil leaves
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
- 3/4 cup EVOO
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- * 2 garlic cloves (or not)
- Kosher salt
In a blender place the ingredients in this order: 1) olive oil; 2) sundried tomatoes; 3) parmesan cheese; 4) basil leaves; 5) salt and red pepper
Blend until smooth and toss on warm pasta. Top with more parmesan.
Let me know how you did and I am also here to answer any other kitchen or food-related issues. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.Talk to you soon.