Friday, February 08, 2008

V-Day Alternatives to Richmond's Restaurant Romance Racket

My coworker was telling me about the difficulty of getting a Valentine's Day reservation for dinner. She feels like she needs to decide now to beat the rush and start budgeting for the big splurge, ehem, I mean, outpouring of love. For me, this doesn't quite compute, because I usually cook something (and I hate holiday gimmicks). Last year, I made heart shaped tuna carpaccio (pink!), a la Eric Ripert.

Regardless of whether you stay in or go out, I feel like the specialness of the night is enhanced by the right combination of food n'tude and not by how much you spend or how fancy you dress. After all, V-Day is about being together rather than buying distractions.

So (if you're not a stickler for ambiance) here are a few places that may inspire sentimentality while steering clear of the romance racket.

-Royal India
This place may be the best Indian restaurant in Richmond (if you're not hung up on India K'Raja) and it might even have a degree of romantic atmosphere. Be sure to try one of the many paneer (cheese) dishes and anything with a sauce that sounds creamy (like shahi). Another fave is the fish pakora appetizer.

-Cool Breeze Chaathouse
A few doors down from Royal India, the same owner runs the Cool Breeze Chaat House. Never been to a chaat house? Here you can casually lounge inside or out sampling little plates of snacky Indian treats and swilling lassi libations. Lots of potential for eye-gazing and hand-grazing while digging into shared jumbles of curried goodies. A nice informal prelude to a movie or a good strategy for leaving room for ice cream or gelatto.

-Vietnam One
If you've tried one pho noodle house, you've tried them all, right? That's what I thought until I visited Vietnam 1 (having tried many of its' previous incarnations). The inside is tidy, but not appropriate for "setting the mood." What is special here is the food. The real discovery for me are the jicama rolls. It's the ubiquitous (and awesome) soft rice paper wrapped "summer roll," but the noodles have been swapped for threaded jicama. How very Atkins appropriate. The grilled meats (or tofu) over broken rice is beautiful, delicious, and plentiful. Of course the pho is good too, but it's not date food, unless your really comfortable together (slurp!). Plus, you don't have to wait in the always crammed Pho So 1.

-Taqueria del Sol
If I'm a broken record about this, then I've finally gotten it right. Start with an horchata and two straws. Then, split a shrimp cocktail and a side of guac. If you're not prim and propper eaters, dip a chip into the guac and then plunk a shrimp down on top with a bit of that coctail gazpacho soupiness. Mmmm, this might just be an aphrodisiac. Next, order a couple homemade tortilla sopes or gorditas of different varieties (meat or grilled veggies or mix'n'match). Your other half might order the ceviche or the enchiladas con mole poblano or tacos al pastor (although you'll be getting kinda full at this point). Theses dishes will be so successful as to deplete almost all of your erogenous energy right there at the dinner table. Taqueria del Sol even makes fried ice cream better than everywhere else.

-The Phoenician:
This place has bonafied romantic ambiance: Lebanese in the casbah. Plus, they're brand new (eager to please) and it'll feel good to spread the love by throwing your support to a new food endeavor. You can go cheap with a couple apps and split an entree or splurge on an enormous mezze spread. If you hit it up, lemme know how you liked it. I can only vouch for the hummus and falafel. (4400 block of W. Broad)

-8 1/2
Get some take out and get on the couch with your sweetie. If you both get garlic breath, neither of you is allowed to act all offended.

-Cajun Bankok
This place is gonna make you swoon with their thai style she-crab soup and their coconut appetizer. Beyond this, you'll get things heated up with etoufee on just about every main dish. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Again, share the love with a fledgeling Carytown restaurant and finish with a stiff drink at Can Can.

Even as I write this, my wife is trying to convince me that "girls want ambiance on Valentines Day," but the amor does not have to be all about the benjamins. Nonetheless, if these options strike your fancy, put yourself in the hands of Ms. Timberlake at Style. I think you'll be back here eventually, but that weekly rag often has stuff that you really oughta read. Of course, please feel free to post your ideas here as well.


  1. Good advice! - Plus I really want to try the Lebanese place. We, however, never go out on V-Day. Regardless of where you go they are trying to force as many tables through the door. We like to linger and don't care for a host staring at us across the room awaiting our departure.

    Typically we'll go out sometime in the week before or after trying an old favourite or a new place. This year we are going someplace new (at least to us).

  2. Couldn't agree more with Bookstore Piet. Most Valentine Day dinners I've had pale in comparison to what the restaurant can actually do. I don't consider cramming into a restaurant with a bunch of people who only eat out once a year a form of celebrating.

    Check out Tastebuds on MacArthur Ave. on Northside. You can order a gourmet meal to-go and enjoy it at home without the crowds. Make your own ambience. That's what I'm doing.

  3. My wife says she agreed with both Anne and bp, but she's standing her ground about the need for romance on VDay. Too bad we haven't figured out our plans, cuz I can't read these signals. More carpaccio? You really can't go wrong with Eric Ripert. With his recipes, it's all about the sauce. I really do need to visit Northside's little Berkeley at MacArthur and Bellevue. I think Mainly Pasta filled that gourmet to go thing for Byrd Park for a while, but I didn't jump on the bandwagon. Now, the new managers of the European Market have definitely got some good cooking ideas going on; perfect for reheating at home.

  4. For a mouth watering review of the Phoenician, see this comment by Smurkette.

  5. But we are doing something romantic on V-Day. We're braving the PETA picket line and taking our 3-year-old to his first circus! A few days later we have a sitter and will be trying 1NB for the first time. Hoping it will be yummy!

  6. That's TWO PETA picket lines! But I'm sure you'll find some way to atone. After my baby arrives in April, I'll have to wrestle with the circus question. But, I've already been to 1 North Belmont. The service and food were amazing, but it was tough to find dishes that DIDN'T feature baby cows or tortured duck livers (my omnivorous wife won't go near either). Be sure to get the lobster bisque (if they have it) and ask to split it. Romantic? Or penny-pinching? It's a matter of perspective.

  7. great post-excellent suggestions
    we have tried everything on v-day to find that there are a million people everywhere- we once did sushi in the southside of all places and that was valentine's he>>. we attempt to cook in now and watch stupid movies.

    i agree with anne - tastebuds could be an excellent change. not a big fan of the 1nb, however, we found that even though we were going to spend the cash since we didnt "look" like we were - they were not very nice to us. i will say it has one of the best coffee and dessert services in the ric. souffle with rich coffee and all the trimmings - chocolate, fresh whipping cream, brown sugar etc.
    if you have to go, i say eat somewhere els and go for dessert. h-v-day!

  8. Vino: I love the strategic dining suggestion. How about chaats at Cool Breeze and cafe y beignet at 1NB?

  9. we are going to DO chaat this sunday, looking forward to it. belated v day if you will.

  10. 1nb is great. I've had all types of service there though. Some waiters don't care if you "look" like you're going to spend the $ and treat you as you should be treated in a restaurant of that caliber. Others have the snob factor going on. I think the snobby ones are slowly being filtered out though. Go sit at the bar and have the cheese plate. Divine.

    But great idea, a progressive Valentine's Day dinner! I've already placed my Tastebuds order but maybe I can close out the night somewhere other than my kitchen table.

  11. Vday alternative? dont go out on thursday. Go out wednesday friday saturday or sunday. I serve in several restaurant and most servers call V day "amateur night" ( definition: most customers who go out on this night go out to eat twice a year and are generally cheap) If you go out on other nights this week you will get way better service and not have to fight the crowds! We in the restaurant would love to see you on any other night of the week!

  12. RVABoy4u: For me? I'm flattered. But seriously, that's a really helpful insight.

    The misses are I are still negotiating our plans. There's some doctor's orders and gestating baby issues that might keep us from enjoying ourselves to the fullest. I may just have to revisit the pink carpaccio (beets, for all you vegans).

    In vino veritas: Thanks so much for the "follow the foodie" post. Can't wait to hear about your chaat experience. I'll look for your blog post on chaat, or maybe a chaat chat.


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