Not the most endearing title for a blog post, admittedly, but hear me out. According to the red, heart-shaped boxes of chocolate lining the entryways at Target, it's love week. Dining out and dining in often serve as the center of February 14th celebrations near and far. In fact, the origins of Valentine's Day are deemed "St. Valentine's feast day" by some historical accounts.
So, how do you make the most of your meals this Thursday and quite frankly, every day year-round?
Two ways: focus on your "feel good" foods. Whether you're a foodie or a TV dinner enthusiast, there's something special about food and the joy it can bring. Here are two ways you might consider tapping into the joys of food this week and weekend:
1) Dine out.
Today is Monday, February 11th. If you're planning on dining out with your love or your loves (friends) this weekend, you're likely in the hot seat at this point in the reservation-making game. I will say, though, I was surprised to find that "according to 2017 Valentine's Day dining data, OpenTable has seen that "Valentine's Day reservations are made on average 11 days in advance of the holiday." Only 11 days? Less than two weeks? Push through, procrastinators, I am impressed. And you should be, too, because that means that you actually do still have a chance to grab that #1 spot. To save you the trouble of a frantic search, here are a few places that are still taking reservations for 2/14 in New York and D.C. (as of 6:50 PM EST on 2/10):
Stella 34 Trattoria (NYC, W 34th St.)
Whaddaya know, one of my forever favorites still has a table for two at 7 PM. I talked in detail about my love for Stella in this post, so I won't reinvent the wheel here. What I will say is that Stella is always a great place for conversation (music is noticeable, but not too loud to hear), pasta (haven't had a dish I didn't enjoy), and cocktails (even their mocktails are good).
Also surprised to see an opening at this gem. Sarabeth's is certainly on the list of tourist-friendly and -frequented locales in the city, and for good reason. The food is good, the aesthetic is chic and classic, and the service is quality. I've only been to Sarabeth's for brunch, most recently for a prix fixe work brunch at that, but I trust that their dinner offerings are just as enjoyable as their Lemon & Ricotta pancakes.
My first and only visit to Limani was with my linesister, Nicole, for her birthday during restaurant week a few years back. If you're not a fan of muted blue lights brightening your dining experience, maybe this one isn't for you. But, otherwise, it's a great spot for seafood lovers. The huge, square fountain in the center of the restaurant only adds to the aquatic aesthetic.
This one makes me smile; I went to Da Marino for my first, and only, romantic dinner date since I've lived in New York City. $5 to the person who can guess why I chose this restaurant in particular.
Kidding on the bet, of course I'm going to share: Mr. Big brought Carrie to this authentic, Italian restaurant in Sex and the City. And I understood why as soon as I descended the narrow stairs into the cozy, aromatic lower level of the restaurant. The music is classic, the waitresses and waiters are genuinely excited to give you a run-down of the wine and food menus, and the pasta is sublime. Though my visit was back in 2015, I trust that the character that survived for Carrie and Mr. Big through the 90s and up to my trip to Da Marino is still thriving today.
I could go on and on about this place for days. I stumbled into this restaurant on my walk home from an OKREAL event at Lou & Grey NYC. This place has the best grits I have ever had at a restaurant. Ever. EVER. And for the record, I do not play with grits. My grandmother, rest her soul, used to cook the best, smoothest, yellow grits, a skill she garnered during her formative days in Sumter, South Carolina. I'm a harsh critic as a result, and I promise you, you will not be disappointed by Mayville's Smoked Roasted Chicken with a side of the smooth and creamy goods in question. If you find otherwise, please let me know so we can duke it out over our grits style preferences.
Shout out to Loosie's for catering to me and a fairly large group of my friends for my birthday this year (aesthetic, though not food, pictured below). The kitchen and dining area are set in a world all their own behind the cozy, low-ceiling bar that bears the same name. I got the risotto, a dish that was surprisingly filling for an appetizer-turned-meal. Food quality aside, you just cannot beat the casual yet classy aesthetic, especially if you catch it while the sun is still streaming in through the ceiling windows.
I visited La Tasca's Old Town, Alexandria location for my Honors Humanities capstone project on flamenco dance while still a student at the University of Maryland, College Park (go Terps). I'm not sure if live flamenco dancers also perform at the D.C. location, but I do know the restaurant is offering a Valentine's Day Special for $79.99 per couple. Get you some paella and live your best life.
Something in me feels like I've dined here at least once before, but I can't quite place the date or occasion. In any case, SEI has great reviews (4.7 stars with over 2,300 reviews on OpenTable, check y'all out) and they're also offering a Valentine's Day Special on the 14th (3 courses, $75 per person) and a Rose All Day Bottomless Brunch from the 16th to the 18th.
2) Dine in.
If you're still with me, you're amazing and I hope you have the best meal of your life in some way, shape, or form this weekend.
I mentioned aphrodisiacs above and I honestly believe that whether or not you're celebrating the holiday romantically, it's generally enjoyable to indulge in feel-good foods. Here are a few foods that are known for their mood/hormonal benefits and a few Pinterest and black girl blogger recipes you can whip up that incorporate them.
Known for having a "scent and texture [that] is very aromatic and sensual." I'm a huge fan of one-pot recipes, and this Balsamic Chicken with Fig recipe seems right up that alley. It's also grain, gluten, and lactose-free, so most should be able to stomach this without complication.
If you're down with the year-round grilling movement, check out this Grilled Lamb and Fig Skewer recipe. Pro tip: this can likely be made on a George Foreman, or equivalent, indoor, counter top grill. There are both open top and press and close options available for indoor grilling devices. No need to freeze for the fig.
Salmon, tuna, mackerel: fish varieties in the fatty fish family (say that five times fast) elevate dopamine, a chemical messenger that's involved with feelings of reward and motivation.
If you roll with the rare/raw fish wave, this Spicy Crunchy Teriyaki Tuna recipe looks like a good one to try. I really just dig anything with a spicy mayo component, but I also like this one because the tuna is served over a salad. This quick fix should leave you with more time for talking after less time spent chefing.
My life's greatest joy is perfectly searing pieces of salmon. If you're with me on that one (or if you want to be), try Chef Resha's Garlic & Ginger Soy Glazed Salmon Bowl recipe. This is a nice switch-up from the traditional carb-heavy, red-meat laden Valentine's Day dinner recipes. Plus, Chef Resha's recipes always come extremely highly recommended, so you can trust her to guide you down the right cooking path.
This one is most widely known for being anchored in romance, so, I saved it for last. You can't go wrong with chocolate, though, you just can't. If you're looking to plate something super impressive but also extremely reasonable to create, look into this Chocolate-Orange Tart recipe from Foodie in New York. Whenever I see orange peel spirals, I know the recipe is serious.
In keeping with the citrus theme, here's a recipe for Citrus Chocolate Truffles brought to you by Sweet Potato Soul. Sweet, nutty, citrus-y. The flavor profile for this sounds out of this world, but without being overwhelming. And did I mention that it's vegan?
That's all for now, folks. I hope these restaurant and recipe recommendations serve you well this week and the next, and the next after that...you get the point. Have any restaurant and/or recipe recommendations for Valentine's or Galentine's Day foods? Share them with me in the comments or over on Instagram.