Mike and I, the wine enthusiasts in our quartet, happily availed ourselves of the tasting flights: four are available -- two red, two white -- running about $10 each for three small pours. Mike caught me eyeing his reds, secretly comparing our pours. "Yes, they gave me more than you," he confirmed. Although he's cuter than me, we speculated that it was really because whites (like those I was drinking) can go back into the fridge, while reds, once opened, have to be vacuum-treated to store overnight, and even then lose a lot of savor if the bottle is more than half-empty -- hence, the heftier pour. Each glass of a flight is decorated with a "wine charm" around its stem, and you get a little card identifying the wines (by their charms) and describing each of them in breathless winelish. For instance, the Fritz Winery "Dutton Ranch" Chardonnay supposedly displayed "subtle tropical fruit flavors and overtones of honeyed pineapple," where my call would be "very ripe, high-acid grapes with powerful undertones of oak fermenting barrel." But if you like any of the quaffs enough to want to buy a bottle at a store, you can pocket the cards to remember what you tasted.
Along with the view, the house-made desserts make Humphrey's a V-Day destination. The waitress brings the evening's full array on a tray, and all are things of beauty. The pastry staff will probably go all out for V-Day, but even on a regular night they're artful. The prettiest (but not the most interesting) that evening was a gemlike chocolate-cherry "bonbon," a half-dome the size of a Hostess Snoball glazed in shiny dark chocolate, concealing a soft center of milk chocolate mousse layered with crème brûlée and cherries. On the plate, it's surrounded by a coulis made from rehydrated dried cherries. It's -- what more can I say? -- very sweet.
Our favorite was a small square of warm almond cake, with a fine crumb and deep nut flavor -- a sweet for grownups. At the other end of its long rectangular serving plate was a coffee cup topped with chocolate-striped whipped cream, hiding a pleasant "mocha cappuccino mousse." A lemon-zest cheesecake needed more lemon, and more zest in general. It was plain and heavy on a graham crust, surrounded by commercial-tasting raspberry syrup dotted with a few berries.
By the time we were done, the show at the Backstage Lounge was in full swing. I'm happy to say that in the restaurant we didn't hear a note of it. That's romantic for you. Now touch hands.
OTHER VALENTINE'S DAY DESTINATIONS:
For Popping the Question: These are places where you should have reserved three weeks ago, the day you bought the ring: A.R. Valentien at the Lodge at Torrey Pines, Azzura Point at the Loews Coronado Resort, Bertrand at Mr. A's, El Bizcocho at Rancho Bernardo Inn, Firenze, George's at the Cove, Marine Room, Milles Fleurs (the rock better be huge), Sky Room at the Valencia Hotel (ditto), Vincent's Sirinos.
Maybe You'll Pop the Question Soon: Azul La Jolla, 150 Grand, Alfiere, Candelas, Casa De Vega, Delicias, El Agave, Lamont Street Grill, Le Passage, Sally's, Tapenade.
Take the Old Lady Out -- Or Else: De Medici, Fifth & Hawthorne, La Bastide, Laurel, Le Bonne Bouffe, Molly's, Osteria del Pescatore, Primavera, Terra, Vivace at the Four Seasons (or any of the above, or a weekend brunch wherever you fancy, including Humphrey's).
My partner and me? Last thing we want is to go to a restaurant on their most crowded day of the year. He'll buy a dozen-plus oysters at Blue Water, bring them home and shuck them, while I make a zippy cocktail sauce and chill a nice bottle of Muscadet. Works for us, trust me.
ABOUT THE CHEF
The last time I visited Humphrey's (four and a half years ago), the chef was Jim Hill, a few months before his premature death. Until recently, his sous-chef carried on. A few months ago, veteran chef Paul Murphy stepped in to the top toque position. (He was on vacation at this writing and unavailable for interview.) He has worked at El Bizcocho, Temecula Creek Inn, and Delicias (in Rancho Santa Fe). From there, he went to Belgium to complete his apprenticeship and then became executive chef at the West Side Bar and Grill, a French-American bistro in Pau, in the extreme south of France. Returning to the U.S., he was executive sous-chef at the Ritz Carlton in Phoenix, specializing in seafood, before he came to work at Humphrey's.