Romance is in the eye of the beholder: One couple’s perfect date is another’s eyeroll-worthy cheese-fest. With that in mind, we offer up an eclectic Valentine’s sampling of what might be...
The Intimate Pizza Date
Barbuzzo, 110 S. 13th St. 215.546.9300. barbuzzo.com
It gets loud inside Barbuzzo, occasionally smells like meat and garlic, and, on a busy night, you’ll have to suck in your gut like you’re wearing a pair of too-small Spanx just to squeeze your way through to the restrooms. Which is exactly what makes Barbuzzo such a romantic spot: Physical proximity isn’t just an option here—it’s a requirement. So give in to it and get all up in one another’s proverbial grills. Snuggle close, either at your table or a barside perch. Order a French Farmer cocktail (St. Germain and champagne) or a sexy-rich bottle of Portuguese red, and let the primal juices flow with a house-cured charcuterie platter. From there, hit the stations of the umami cross and see where the night takes you: Dig into roasted marrow bone, feed each other chunks of gorgonzola dolce, share the now-legendary Uovo pizza with its truffled egg glistening on top (pictured, right). Maybe order a plate of tonnarelli and slurp at the noodles Lady and the Tramp-style. Your PDA may gross out your dining room neighbors, but hey: It’s Valentine’s Day. If you can’t devolve into a puddly mess of love on Feb.14th in a narrow, urbane space like this one, then you may as well, to misquote the great philosopher of eros, Young MC, go hang yourself with a celibate rope. —Brian Freedman
The Classic First-Date Dinner
R2L, 50 S. 16th St. 215.564.5337. r2lrestaurant.com
From the 37th floor of Two Liberty Place, R2L’s sparkling, panoramic views of the city are the ideal setting for an old-school, dress-to-impress first date. Sweep your companion up the private elevator and into the dimly lit lounge, situated around a sleek, lush bar that offers a host of original drinks and an impeccable wine selection. The inventive New American menu features selections ranging from grilled Scottish salmon filet to red wine-braised short ribs with crushed salt-baked potatoes and peppercorn jus. The lobster mac and cheese isn’t your typical Krafty affair; extra-large pieces of macaroni are individually treated to mounds of luscious cheese sauce and topped with chunks of the delectable crustacean. The perfectly sized portions will guarantee you don’t overindulge or—horror of horrors—feel compelled to ask for a doggie bag on the first date. But the real feast here is for the eyes: Cozy up to your sweetheart while taking in all that Philly has to offer through floor-to-ceiling windows that offer a breathtaking view of the city skyline. Bonus points if you plan ahead and time your arrival to just before sunset: You might start the rest of your lives as the sun dips below the horizon and turns the sky brilliant shades of red, pink and gold, revealing the twinkling nighttime sky. —Anastasia Barbalios
The Literary Romantic Meal
London Grill, 2301 Fairmount Ave. 215.978.4545. londongrill.com
OK, it may not bear the iconic status of Le Bec Fin or the lamented Bookbinders. Still, London Grill has nonetheless been around long enough—two decades in its current incarnation, and another 150 years before that in one form or another—to be fairly considered a Philadelphia institution. Its Fairmount location means that, if it’s a nice night or you’re bundled well in appropriately European overcoats and scarves, it makes for a briskly soothing walk from the Museum of Art, the Rodin or the Library. So start there—at the Rodin, say, musing over the intertwined human figures, the torsos and hands and all that sensual whatnot. Talk it over on the stroll to Fairmount Avenue, then sit down with one of the best beer-cocktail lists in town to choose between the Gentleman & a Scholar, the Chocolate Cherry Love Child or the Flower Bud. Move from there to the butternut squash ravioli, the Szechuan duck spring rolls, and come what may. —Stephen H. Segal
The Sports Fan’s Stab at Romance
City Tap House, 3925 Walnut St. 215.662.0105. citytaphouse.com
The elevator whisks you up to a room filled with delicious aromas, and the hostess seats you in a cozy, corner table in the large wood-trimmed open dining room, far away from the noisy bar teeming with the West Philly in-crowd. You longingly gaze across the table to lock eyes and start this perfect night, and your date looks back with love ... at the game on the big screen over your shoulder. That’s OK; if your sports-obsessed partner is more interested in the guy in tights who’s a thousand miles away, at least you can enjoy a delicious meal and sparkling two-minute conversations during commercials. City Tap House offers a New American twist on traditional pub fare: Burgers and sandwiches are joined by more interesting items like ricotta gnocchi and a smoked octopus and chorizo flatbread. Their famous Tap Burger is spruced up with a thick layer of crispy pork belly, Lancaster rustic cheddar, agrodolce onions, beer gastrique and dijonaise. The daily-changing beer menu features more than 60 taps, including stouts, IPAs, Belgians and even gluten-free options. The restaurant also features a green outdoor seating area high above Walnut Street outfitted with fire pits that you and your date can cozy up to—once the game is over, of course. —A.B.
The Flirty French Crepes
Beau Monde, 624 S. 6th St. 215.592.0656. creperie-beaumonde.com
It was almost four years ago, and I had spent months attempting to court she who was not yet my girlfriend. We’d done almost everything the casual-dating world had to offer: hikes, book readings, bars, dinner. I’d met her friends; I’d even creepily read books she’d mentioned liking so we’d have more to talk about. But she was still unsure about me. I can be awkward as hell. That is, until one October evening when we headed to the creperie Beau Monde for dinner. She’ll never admit it, but I’m pretty sure our evening at the Bainbridge restaurant finally tipped the scales in my favor (or, maybe, broke the camel’s back; still trying to figure out which analogy is the appropriate one). The first thing that’s sort of striking about Beau Monde is that the crepes are actually good—and worth their steep pricing. I’m not a foodie; my idea of a crepe before that night was peanut butter and Nutella wrapped and microwaved. Who’d have thought you could shove things like roasted leeks, seafood sauce, shrimp, spinach and herb butter in there, too? That’s exactly what she ordered, while I took on the crepe with spinach, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese. We shared the food. We shared knowing gazes. And I even managed to hold that eye contact despite the fact that Beau Monde’s waitresses are dressed like French maids. Steph and I are now going on our third year in cohabitation. —Randy LoBasso
The Vegetarian Nirvana
Vedge, 1221 Locust St. 215.320.7500. vedgerestaurant.com
Kate Jacoby and Rich Landau’s Locust Street redoubt has it all: A decor as elegant as it is comfortable; a menu whose procession of courses moves like a symphony, from the deceptively simple to the overtly sublime; and service on par with other fine dining destinations in town. Add to the fact that even the bones of the building harken back to one of the more romantic spaces in Philadelphia’s dining history—Deux Cheminees, Fritz Blank’s legendary homage to all things French and civilized—and you have the perfect location to play the role of either (a) Rick Blaine or (b) Ilsa Lund, minus the cigarettes and Nazis that they had to deal with in Casablanca. But this is a thoroughly modern restaurant, Chef Landau’s flavors often toeing the line between the familiar and the exotic, and all the more complete for it. So: Ensconce yourself at a table and in the glow of the always-flattering light, share a bottle of wine from Jacoby’s remarkable list, and let the quiet sophistication wash over you. The meaty depths of portabella carpaccio. The exotic kiss of saffron cauliflower soup. The sweet potato paté, all deep and layered from its stint on the wood grill. This is a great, romantic restaurant that just so happens to be vegan. Flavor is king here, and the result is a perfect V-Day destination. —B.F.
The Meat-Lovers’ Rendezvous
Koo Zee Doo, 614 N. 2nd St. 215.923.8080. koozeedoo.com
Flowers and chocolate are for amateurs. At the end of the day—or the evening—the fact remains that love is a biological phenomenon, and nothing pumps up your love muscle like an endless stream of hot protein. Enter Koo Zee Doo. “The Portuguese are a people who express love and friendship through their cooking,” claim David Gilberg and Carla Gonçalves. They know of what they speak: The husband and wife team—he cooks the dishes, she bakes the desserts—opened up this cozy BYOB after falling in love across kitchens all over the city. So romance is in the air here, and at $50 per person, the chef’s tasting is well worth it. Sit at the open-kitchen counter-top and watch Chef Gilberg shake a pan of moelas (that’s braised chicken gizzards) that will make your taste buds sing with a sharp mix of guilt and joy. You won’t know exactly what you’re going to get—just like marriage!—but no matter what, you will likely get to try traditional Bacalhau. They serve up the dried and salted cod specialty as either a crispy potato and cod croquette (Pastéis de Bacalhau) or creamy version with roasted carrots and onions (Bacalhau com Natas). On a recent visit, 10 chef’s selections featured only one non-meat dish. The mushroom and bread porridge with cheese and poached egg dish was delicious, but by then, hours of feasting on meats and drinking bottles of champagne in the warm cozy restaurant had converted us, a quinoa-and-kale loving people, into stark raving carnivores. Tip: Even if, like us, you can be a bit shy about eating the digestive tract of other mammals, request the chicken gizzards. The dish is both a revelation, and a lesson in love: You have to be willing to try everything once—and then you may just want to do it again. —Tara Murtha
The Broke-and-in-Love Special
Franklin Court, 317 Chestnut St. 215.965.2305. nps.gov/inde/franklin-court.htm
Maybe you’re a teenager, putting all your off hours into homework, extracurriculars and babysitting your little cousin, so you don’t have an after-school job this semester and also don’t have much in the way of extra cash left over from the last birthday. Or maybe you’re a full-fledged adult working a crappy job 50 hours a week just to pay the rent and bills, and still don’t have any significant extra dough to speak of. Either way, here’s the important thing to remember: You don’t need to spend a lot of money on celebrations of love if you’ve got a big ol’ vault full of earnest, wide-eyed sincerity to offer your sweetie. So head to Old City, where you can walk down cobblestone streets holding hands and marvel that hey, George Washington’s boots might have touched the road in exactly the same place our feet just landed now. Pick up a couple of $4.50 cheesesteaks or falafels at the cart out on the corner of Third and Market, and carry them up a block to Franklin Court, where, regardless of whether the historical stuff is under renovation (again!) you can stretch out on the benches in the garden—quieter, greener and somehow realer than Love Park, despite whatever lingering tourists might be about in February—feed one another, and savor the idea that you don’t need anything for a romantic meal the Founding Fathers didn’t have. Except cheesesteaks. And, uh, falafel. —S.H.S.
The Classy Edge-of-Town Getaway
Mica, 8609 Germantown Ave. 267.335.3912. micarestaurant.com
Once upon a time, back in the dark days of our city’s culinary life, you had to come into the heart of the city proper for a seriously romantic meal. But as the range of great restaurants has expanded within the downtown area, so, too, has it outside the traditional bounds of the edible Philadelphia. Which is all to say that Mica, in the far northwestern reaches of the Philly city limits, is as sexy as anything closer to the Liberty Bell or Rittenhouse Square. The dining room—full of earth tones and expanses of wood, the fireplace off to the side—is a cozy, comfortable space. The wine list affords you the opportunity to drink like a millionaire even if you’re bringing home an intern’s wages: Smart selections that won’t break the bank mean you can imbibe without worrying that the good folks from your credit card company will mug you at the end of the month. As for the food—well, it’s more than earned the tidal wave of love, both local and national, that has broken over it since the beginning. Chestnut potage with duck rillettes. Amish chicken all soulful and exciting with sour cherries and mushrooms! If this stuff doesn’t get your sweetie in the mood, I’d consider updating your online dating profile and looking for a new person to spend Valentine’s Day 2014 with. —B.F.
The Erotic Dessert Metaphor
RIM Café, 1127 S. Ninth St. 215.465.3515. rimcafe.com
With layer after overflowing layer of warm, decadent gooeyness, RIM Cafe’s award-winning “chocolate volcano” will blow most hot dessert beverages you’ve ever had right out of the water. And what could be more romantic—well, erotic—than an oozing concoction that erupts in your mouth? If the volcano doesn’t send you into a diabetic shock, consider trying one of the café’s badass “Godfather” cannolis or handmade gelato. Heavenly desserts aside, the real reason to go to this hole-in-wall French chocolate espresso bar is for its eccentric owner, Rene Kobeitri. Known best for his obsession with The Godfather films—which play in the window 24/7—and his infectious catch phrases (“Make it happen!”), Kobeitri insists that patrons stand and witness as he skillfully crafts their chocolatey potions, which is an experience in itself. Valentine’s Day also just so happens to be his favorite holiday: Adding to the already rather eclectic vibe, Kobeitri literally covers the place in festive decor. Oh, and at some point, you and your significant other are probably going to be forced to take kissy photos during an impromptu photo shoot. See, he’s also an amateur photographer—and a master of love. —Nicole Finkbiner
PW's Holiday Guide 2014