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Food and fun for Valentine’s Day dates

Citizen Staff Writer
Perfect together:



For many people (read: folks in relationships), Valentine’s Day is so much more than a Hallmark holiday. It’s a litmus test of where the relationship is and where it’s going – or not going. That restaurant you choose will speak loudly (“you don’t care,” “you care too much”) as will whatever entertainment you have planned for the night.

Don’t mess this up.

When thinking about what to do on Valentine’s Day – where to eat, where to play – it’s crucial to consider what stage a relationship is in. You wouldn’t want to, say, take a loved one of six months to eegees for dinner, nor would you want to take a first date somewhere overwhelmingly romantic.

This is no time to be ironic, to take your date to Sue’s Fish and Chips in some postmodern attempt to recognize Valentine’s Day as part of the system while still buying into that system with subpar cuisine.

We’re here to help.

First date

If you’re wackadoodle enough to plan a first date to coincide with Valentine’s Day, there may be no talking to you, but we’ll try.

Tone: Keep it low key. Obviously it was important enough to have a date on V Day rather than be home alone, but, remember, a first date is just one date from single, and if this night is filled with pressure, s/he may not come back for seconds.

The restaurant: If you’re feeling flush and think your date is worth some dollars, Feast (4122 E Speedway Blvd., 326-9363) is a good choice. It’s a casual spot with menu items that put a modern spin on American cuisine. Though Feast normally doesn’t take reservations, it will for its special Valentine’s Day dinner.

If money’s tight, why not take this opportunity to find out how adventurous your date is, culinarily speaking? We recommend Alibaba (2545 E. Speedway Blvd. 319-2559), a Mediterranean joint with good prices. Then, when your lady or guy tries to eat the hummus with a fork instead of just scooping it up on a pita, you can make plans to ditch ‘em.

The entertainment: There’s a reason why “dinner and a movie” is a cliché: It works and it’s fun. Go first, then you’ll have something to talk about during the meal.

We suggest avoiding “He’s Just Not That Into You.” How about “Notorious,” the story of The Notorious B.I.G.? Everybody likes a biopic, and this one’s gotten good reviews.

Going out less than a month

You’re in similar territory as the first daters, but with a twist. That twist is expectations.

Tone: Playful with a side of serious. Assuming you’re past the first kiss and all that, you two are in the fun zone, still learning about each other and liking what you learn. Valentine’s is no time to force things, so make it like a normal date expect better planned and, well, a little special.

The restaurant: For you guys we’re suggesting spending more money on the entertainment (see “the entertainment”), so keep dinner simple and reasonable. Sushi is always fun, what with the sharing and all, and Tatsu Sushi (7332 N. Oracle Road, 219-6989) has a nice, relaxed atmosphere belying its strip-mall locale.

The entertainment: Experimental folkster Andrew Bird is playing at the Rialto (318 E. Congress St., 740-1000). The multi-instrumentalist is just enough under the radar to earn you some cool points and his music is – yep – playful.

More than a month,

less than six months

Can you hear Kenny Loggins singing in the background? You, dear reader, are in the danger zone. If your significant other cares about Valentine’s Day – and, odds are, s/he does – everything will be remembered from this, your first V Day together.

Tone: Serious with a side of playful. Toasts must be made, feelings expressed. And put on some nice slacks, for crying out loud.

The restaurant: Selecting a romantic spot is crucial. If you can afford it, you will never, ever, go wrong with The Ventana Room (7000 N. Resort Drive., 299-2020). Having said that, you also need at least $300 hanging around in your pocket.

Get more bang for your buck – and adoration for your thoughtfulness – by dining at Casa Vicente (375 S. Stone Ave., 884-5253). The Spanish restaurant features tapas, so here you can truly indulge in the pleasures of eating while sharing each dish. Imagine, you reach for a bite of something, brushing your lover’s hand lightly, the sweet sounds of live flamenco guitar wafting gently by . . . You’re welcome.

We’re not done. Leave a little room in your belly and sweep your sweetie away for dessert and coffee somewhere else. How indulgent is that, right? The Cup Cafe (311 E. Congress St., 798-1618) is the evergreen choice here, and for a reason: Their baker rocks the house (so many options) and the espresso drinks are good.

The entertainment: Head to the Loft Cinema (3233 E. Speedway Blvd., 795-7777) for its special V Day screening of “Moulin Rouge.” There’s even a “Lady Marmalade” singalong before the film; that’s the side of playful, no?

Six months to 11 months, 30 days

If your lover (that’s laaaaahhhver) has stuck around this long, Feb. 14 likely isn’t make-or-break for you. Having said that, keep in mind that it’s also a popular holiday for breaking up, so don’t be a total idiot.

Tone: “I’m so lucky to have you.”

The restaurant: In the stage where going out to dinner has given way to pizza eaten in front of the TV? We thought so. It’s time to get out of the sweats and rekindle things a bit. We like JaxKitchen (7286 N. Oracle Road, 219-1235) for this, a restaurant that has been open about the length of your relationship.

It’s fine dining, but the prices aren’t outrageous and the décor is urban-hip, sleek yet cozy. The wine selection is equally good.

The entertainment: Do something active. Head to Club Congress (311 E. Congress St., 622-8848), where they promise to embrace love at this year’s V Day festivities. With Obama in office, we’re pretty sure we’re supposed to stop being cynical, and what’s more straightforward sexy than a burlesque show? Switchblade Parade performs, walking that dangerous line between titillating and giving it away.

More than a year

Don’t be lazy. You know you can be, which is why you shouldn’t be.

Tone: Amorous.

The restaurant: You’ve eaten at so many restaurants together already, it’s getting a bit tough to be creative. So, you need some place that’s new. And what says amore more than Italian?

Luna Bella (2990 N. Swan Road, 325-3895) and Amereno’s Little Italy (2933 E. Grant Road, 721-1210) opened in 2008 and both are excellent. Luna Bella shoots to the head of the class because it’s from Steve Schultz, he of the acclaimed Red Sky Cafe, and its cuisine is focused and decidedly un-Americanized.

The entertainment: Get a room, people. (See our sexy gifts story, page 24)

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