It never fails. In the third week of February I get an inbox full of complaints from people whose Valentine's Day dinner at this or that restaurant was disappointing. Actually, "disappointing" is too mild a word. The descriptions, in tones eerily reminiscent of a jilted lover, usually range from "horrid" to "tragic." It's enough to make me long for the simpler days of second grade, when my inbox was a shoe box filled with phrases like "bee my honey."
I sympathize, really I do. But let's face it. Valentine's Day is the busiest night of the year in the restaurant business. Wait staff and kitchen are pushed to their limits, and often beyond. Compounding the problem is the fact that many restaurants replace their regular menu and familiar service patterns with a "special" Valentine's Day package. Guess who gets to be the guinea pigs while the staffs go through the learning curve?
This year, I decided to opt out. Instead of getting reservations at a restaurant, I made a romantic dinner at home. I roasted a rack of lamb, one of my wife's favorites -- and, as luck would have it, one of the easiest things in the world to cook. The only things easier might be the sides that I served with the lamb: baby broccoli sautéed lightly in extra virgin olive oil, fingerling potatoes drizzled with truffle oil and crusty French rolls (no, of course, I didn't bake them myself) with sweet butter. Even the dessert, individual chocolate pots de creme, delivered a lot of gourmet bang for surprisingly little effort.
When my bride of five years got home from work, I greeted her with a couple of dozen roses and a cocktail. We dined by candlelight and soft romantic music -- not original, but she seemed pleased. Of course, I did have a few dishes to wash afterward. On the other hand, the entire meal cost less than a decent bottle of wine in a restaurant. And man, did I ever rack up some Cupid points.
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In fact, the evening went so well that I'm already planning another romantic dinner at home next year. Yes, I recognize the irony. I am, after all, the guy who publishes an annual list of recommended restaurants for Valentine's Day dining. But that's my job. If I didn't publish the list, I reason (OK, maybe I'm rationalizing), somebody else would do it. Still, it doesn't mean that I have to follow my own advice. Nor, for that matter, do you.