The Debbie Downers in your life might whine that Valentine’s Day is a bullshit “Hallmark holiday,” but in Philly, it’s really just another excuse—like you need one—to enjoy a great meal.
“If you’re cooking for somebody, you’re trying to provide pleasure to that person,” says Chef Michael O’Halloran of Bistro 7. “It’s intimate because it requires all the physical senses.” O’Halloran spends most of his time in the kitchen at work, but still finds time to cook for his wife when home. He prefers to make her comfort food, but they celebrate anniversaries at Lacroix. “It’s elegant without being uptight,” he says.
For a more casual scene, the couple revisits their first date at Dmitri’s. “I felt like a big shot, 15 years ago [Dmitri’s] was really jumping before there were 15 other BYOBs,” says O’Halloran. He enjoys the intimacy the tiny restaurant’s Catherine Street location provides.
Bistro 7 will be staying true to its seasonal dishes for Valentine’s and won’t be gauging you with special “For Lovers Only” menus or handing out roses.
Some restaurants go over the top with special prix fixe menus, but Joe Cicala of Le Virtu promises to offer fresh and homemade dishes on its set-priced menu with most items perfect to share—or not. When pressed about his thoughts on love and cooking, Cicala confesses we’ve got the wrong guy: He hates Valentine’s Day.
And though that makes it sound as if he’s a bit of a Valentine’s Grinch, he has a pretty swoon-worthy go-to for the at-home date: “Women are terrified to cook for chefs ... so I usually like to do something interactive where my date could help out. Teach them how to make fresh pasta, like gnocchi. Get their hands dirty. That’s always kind of fun.”
Cicala uses food to weed out incompatible dates. If she orders a salad (“Forget about it”), if she brings Franzia or Carlo Rossi to a BYO (“I’d probably just walk out”) or if she seasons her food before tasting it (“It’s just plain insulting to the chef”).
He jokes these stipulations make him sound high maintenance, but the reverse is also true. For instance, if he took a date to his favorite restaurant on Passyunk, Fond, and “she got the crudo, the foie gras, pork belly (or) pigeon, I would probably ask her to marry me before dessert,” he says.
And what can one expect for dessert on Valentine’s Day at Le Virtu? Cicala’s pastry chef is still planning the menu, but, “there’s going to be something chocolate because of the whole aphrodisiac bullshit,” snarfs the Grinch.
Whether or not you believe chocolate gets you or your date in the mood, there’s no denying it takes center stage on Valentine’s Day. Just ask soda-jerk and now candy shop owner Eric Berley, who runs Franklin Fountain and Shane Confectionary with his brother, Ryan.
Eric proposed marriage two winters ago in a chocolate bar with his grandmother’s diamond ring atop a piece of his wife’s favorite dark chocolate cake. So, yeah, the guy knows a bit about romance and food. We asked him what makes a meal—or, in his case, a confection—sexy. His answer: Going out of your way for appropriate ingredients and taking your time when preparing whatever dish it is you’re making.
For a romantic night out, Eric and his wife head to Bistrot La Minette for the warm service, ruby red decor and cassoulet, a dish the couple first enjoyed on their honeymoon in France. “If we want dessert, we usually have it at home above the shop,” he says. “I love having coffee with my ice cream or espresso. I feel like I need it to balance out the sweetness.”
For Valentine’s Day at Franklin Fountain and the newly renovated Shane Confectionary, the Berley Brothers have a few new menu items. At Franklin Fountain, they’ll debut a black forrest ice cream (chocolate base, brandied cherries and black forrest cake) and an ice cream soda with strawberry and coconut ice cream.
Skip the drugstore box of candies and head to Shane’s for the real, homemade deal. They’ll feature sexy little truffles like a traditional Italian flavor with chestnut and port wine fittingly called, ahem, Nipples of Venus. “No one says ‘sensuous and delicious’ all in one like the Queen of Love, Venus,” says Eric. We won’t disagree.
Whether you pooh-pooh Valentine’s like Cicala or are a romantic like Eric, there’s no reason to stay home on the 14th. And, for God’s sake, if you happen to make it out somewhere, don’t salt the food before you taste it!
7 N. Third St. 215.931.1560. bistro7restaurant.com
210 West Rittenhouse Sq. 215.790.2533. lacroixrestaurant.com
Valentine’s Day isn’t about showering your significant other with gifts. Nor is it an excuse to sit home and weep uncontrollably while listening to Lionel Richie’s greatest hits on repeat. It’s about making time in your busy schedule to enjoy the people you care about, unapologetically eating your weight in chocolate and maybe getting laid. So whether you’re single or attached, here are some things going on in the city that’ll help you realize the true meaning of the holiday.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014