Valentine’s Day is the year’s biggest night for restaurants. Who doesn’t love love? For some it’s proposal night; for others, a renewal of vows. Or snuggle-up time. Or hoping-to-get-lucky night. The chefs await you with the most sensual menus of the year. Here’s a selection of romantic restaurants at a wide price range to make your evening enchanted.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to go out. A personal favorite private celebration: two dozen chilled, super-fresh raw oysters from Blue Waters on India Street, to be eaten on the half-shell with a little Nawlins-style oyster sauce (bottled chili sauce, horseradish, lemon juice, Tabasco, a touch of Worcestershire if desired, carefully blended to taste). I don’t know whether oysters are really aphrodisiacs, but if you love ’em, well, yeah, they work. (Note: Amateur shuckers should wear a heavy glove or mitt on the oyster-holding hand, because if the oyster knife slips, there will be blood — yours.) Another wildly erotic oyster dish is available at the better sushi bars: “Honeymoon Oysters” (raw oyster, quail egg, tobiko, etc.). Whoo! I’ve tasted outstanding versions at the sushi bar at the Fish Market (of all places!), Tomiko’s in Encinitas, and Nobu in Solana Beach. Add a couple of uni nigiri and you’re on your way — to a sexy dinner.
You may have noticed the paper is a little smaller these days (hence, fewer words), so the listings below include only the neighborhoods and telephone numbers. Call and reserve as soon as possible if you hope to get in at your first, second, or third choice. Note: Prix-fixe prices don’t include tip, tax, or beverages except as noted.
Special Menus at Romantic Restaurants
1500 Ocean, Hotel Del, Coronado, 619-522-8490. A beautiful room overlooking a sea-view patio, with four courses (plus amuse) of chef Brian Sinnott’s delicious cooking for $100 per person, $40 additional for paired wines. Numerous choices for each course, including Kobe beef carpaccio or shellfish bisque to start, duck two ways, and vegetarian handmade truffled pappardelle with pea leaves for a main, and then outrageous desserts.
333 Pacific, Oceanside, 760-433-3333. Oceansiders finally have a romantic restaurant of their own, right under the pier. This new Cohn Restaurant Group venue will be offering a three-course surf-and-turf Valentine’s menu for $50.
Anthology, Little Italy, 619-595-0300. The city’s premier date spot for adults offers a four-course dinner with seatings at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. for $90, including a foie gras starter and entrée choices of surf-and-turf, roasted lamb loin, or monkfish (plus vegetarian option), all set to the music of the Anthology House Band Motown Review.
A.R. Valentien, Torrey Pines, 858-453-4420. Enjoy intimate small dining rooms filled with antiques and a special menu of Jeff Jackson’s superb farm-fresh cooking, with four courses for $75, $125 with matched wines. Highlights include Provençale-style huachinango (red snapper) or butter-poached lobster, followed by Sonoma duck or mushroom-crusted filet mignon with Bordelaise sauce. First and last courses are equally extravagant.
Bertrand at Mr. A’s, Banker’s Hill, 619-239-1377. The best cityscape view in town, and a three-course California-French menu at $85 per person, with numerous luxurious choices, including a vegetarian entrée and even a truffled “mac and cheese.”
Better Half, Hillcrest, 619-543-9340. This eclectic bistro offers a special menu on Friday the 13th, as well as the 14th, with a leisurely four courses plus amuse for $55 (wine pairings additional). Seatings at 6:00 and 8:30. Among the choices: wild-mushroom bisque served over a wild-mushroom terrine that melts into the soup; butternut squash ravioli with browned-butter Pernod and bittersweet chocolate sauce; half a Maine lobster in a soufflé, with roasted asparagus and lemon-tarragon butter — a recipe chef John Robert Kennedy learned from his friend Julia Child — followed by adventurous desserts. Vegetarian dinner available with 72 hours’ notice.
Blue Point Coastal Cuisine, Gaslamp Quarter, 619-233-6623. “Gimme some seafood, mama,” Fats Waller sang. This busy downtowner’s ambiance is more chic than intimate, but the menu is decidedly sexy: for $69 you get three courses, with numerous choices for each, including oysters on the half shell, crab cakes, or lobster bisque among the starters. Day-boat scallops with ravioli, grilled Prime aged rib-eye, and miso-tangerine-marinated salmon are among the entrée choices.
Candelas on the Bay, Ferry Landing, Coronado, 619-435-4900. (also in the Gaslamp Quarter, 619-702-4455). This new “view” location of the Gaslamp’s gourmet Mexico City–style restaurant, overlooking the bay, offers four courses for $75 (kids half-price), plus 17 percent tip. Includes one glass of house wine or beer. The exquisite menu includes lobster-stuffed smoked salmon rolls, foie gras and duck terrine salad, or a crab-cream soup, and a choice of fish or beef filet and dessert.
Crescent Heights, downtown, 619-450-6450. For $55 (with automatic 19 percent tip), plus $22 for paired wines, there are as many as five choices for each of three courses, plus additional dishes for supplemental fees. Among the highlights are chef David McIntyre’s haunting celery-root soup with black trumpet mushrooms or his noumenal Chino beet and burrata salad, and, among the desserts, the airy, ravishing lemon-ricotta tart.
Currant, downtown, 619-702-6309. Offers a $65 four-course menu (not final at this writing). The bar will feature special cocktails and a sparkling rosé called “Naughty Bubbles” for $14 glass or $50 bottle.
Eclipse Chocolat, University Heights, 619-578-2984. $65 per couple on Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th for four chocolate-touched courses: cocoa-buckwheat crèpe with wild mushroom ragout, French onion soup with white chocolate olive-oil crostini, pink peppercorn-crusted pork tenderloin with cocoa, cherry, and shallot jus or baked fromager d’affinois with cocoa, cherry, and shallot jus, rose petal crème brûlée. Rush to reserve — several seatings on both nights are already sold out.
El Bizcocho, Rancho Bernardo, 858-675-8550. This exquisite hotel dining room, helmed by newly appointed avant-garde chef de cuisine Steven Rojas, will be serving a romantic ten-course tasting feast, each course presented on one plate for couples to share, $110 per person, $150 with matched wine pairings. Expect the unexpected.
Farm House Cafe, University Heights, 619-269-9662. Prix-fixe four-course (plus amuse) modern French dinners on Friday the 13th as well as Saturday for $45 per person, add wine pairings for $25 and an additional course of foie gras or oysters for a bit extra from there. Truffled-mushroom soup with duck confit or house-cured Alaskan salmon are the starters; surf-and-turf entrées match pork belly with scallops, or short ribs with shrimp, followed by ethereal desserts, including Meyer lemon panna cotta.
Firenze Trattoria, Encinitas, 760-944-9000. At this beautiful, semirural restaurant, where town turns into country, $60 per person buys diners a multiple-choice three-course Italian menu with something for every taste, including a lacto-vegetarian eggplant parmigiana.
George’s at the Cove, La Jolla, 858-454-4244. You don’t have to crowd in on Saturday — the special menu runs from Friday through Sunday. Three courses for $55 includes one appetizer (hot or cold), entrée, and dessert. Four courses for $65 covers one cold starter, one hot starter, entrée, and dessert. The automatic gratuity is 20 percent. The choices are too many to enumerate — pretty much a whole menu’s worth. And you get a great Cove view, especially if you luck out with a window table. A special three-course dinner menu will also be available on February 14 at the Ocean Terrace & Bar and George’s Bar for $45.
Grand Del Mar, Carmel Heights, 888-314-2030. Numerous Valentine’s Day packages available, including Addison’s exquisite six-course menu, $125 per person, or $200 per person with superb wine pairings, and Amaya’s four-course array for $110 per person, or $155 per person with paired wines.
Grant Grill, downtown, 619-744-2077. Two decadent choices for your evening here. The five-course (plus amuse) dinner menu for $85 starts with aphrodisiacs — either a fricassee of oysters, sea urchins, and supporting maritime characters, or a smoked-duck consommé with ricotta gnocchi. Second course has sea scallops with caviar cream (among other garnishes) or ahi with foie gras. Entrées include a pork extravaganza, a Niman Ranch steak, or a lamb loin with lamb sausage, followed by a cheese course and a choice of stunning desserts. The alternative spread, at $189 per couple, offers a miniature of the same choices in three courses, along with a glass of wine, followed by ballet tickets for an 8:00 p.m. performance of Romeo and Juliet at the Lyceum.
Island Prime, Harbor Island, 619-298-6802. For $65, along with an eye-popping bay view, you get three courses from local favorite Deborah Scott. Choices include ahi stack or fennel-crusted diver scallops to start, then filet mignon, Colorado lamb rack, cedar-plank salmon, or roast Jidori chicken, ending with a decadent dessert to share.
JRDN, Pacific Beach, 858-270-5736. This chic singles’ spot with its feet right in the sand offers five courses for $70, or $95 with wine pairings — starting with an oyster shooter, then salad, a mid-course of black bass with fig or butternut squash agnolotti with Maine lobster and vanilla, climaxing with a choice of venison or natural Meyer beef filet, and concluding with warm chocolate-chili cake.
Marine Room, La Jolla, 858-459-7222. The room with the best close-up sea-view of all, and a kitchen with Bernard Guillas, one of the best chefs in the region, offers an extraordinary prix-fixe menu on both Friday the 13th and Saturday for $125. Four courses with a huge range of choices, followed by a multi-part dessert extravaganza, and a finale of mignardise (sweets). If the sensual, adventurous cooking and that amazing view don’t make you love each other even more, well — try couples’ therapy.
Mistral, Coronado Silver Strand, 619-424-4000 X 6300. Mistral’s lyrical Mediterranean menu highlights organic fruits and vegetables from nearby farming communities, locally caught seafood from Baja, and herbs from the resort’s own organic garden. The special four-course V-Day menu for $75 per person includes several choices for each course, including diver scallops or truffled wild-mushroom ravioli, followed by Brandt beef tenderloin, Arctic char, or vegetarian risotto, concluding with four ravishing dessert possibilities.
Nine-Ten Restaurant, La Jolla, 858-964-5400. Chef Jason Knibb offers four courses for $80 per person ($99 with wine pairings). After the amuse, you choose between wild mushroom soup or a bistro salad of asparagus, frisée, and organic egg; followed by a prawn salad or an artichoke–Meyer lemon risotto. Entrées include gorgeously garnished Maine lobster tail or roasted petite filet, ending with a choice between two outrageous desserts.
The Pearl, Point Loma, 619-235-5616 x250 or 226-6100. This fun date venue features a Valentine’s Day for Lovers and Singles, with three courses for $50 per person, or $99 for two, seating times at 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. (Want to stay on overnight? They have a deluxe “Jewel” guest-room package, including dinner for two at $249. And if they’re not full, you might be able to score a room at midnight for $79.) Pray for no rain: the heated tables by the swimming pool are where it’s at, compared to the cramped “meet market” bar interior. Dinner includes Jidori chicken ravioli en brood or arugula, hazelnut, and goat cheese salad; followed, by sea bass en papillote or roast venison saddle or a vegetarian main dish of vegetables and polenta; and a choice of rich chocolate or fruit desserts.
Prado, Balboa Park, 619-557-9441. Think of Fred and Cyd dancing in Central Park. Here, it’s dinner in Balboa Park (and nobody’s stopping you from dancing up and down the pathways). Three courses for $70, or $90 with matched wines, include an amuse with a glass of wine, followed by four delicious- sounding choices for each course, concluding with a trio of desserts to share.
Quarter Kitchen, Gaslamp Quarter, 619-814.2000. “His and hers” six-course menus for $80 per person from new top toque, local favorite Nathan Coulon (a nominee for a James Beard Award as “rising chef”). If you love each other, you’ll share. “Hers” includes local lobster bisque, salad, crab cake, sorbet, potato-crusted yellowtail with champagne beurre blanc and caviar, and apple financier spiced three ways, while “his” offers cream of mushroom soup with truffle oil, salad, roasted squab with foie gras, sorbet, grilled Prime New York steak, sauce béarnaise and Bordelaise, and liquid chocolate cake.
Red Marlin, Mission Bay, 619-221-4868. In a handsome dining room with a harbor view, lovers receive four courses for $55 per person, both Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th: mushroom-barley soup; prosciutto with Parmesan, pears, pine nuts, and truffle oil; petite filet with lobster, savory bread pudding; and concluding with a chocolate tasting.
Roseville, Point Loma, 619-450-6800. This rosy, airy, ultra-romantic setting offers Amy DiBiase’s leisurely five-course menu for $75, with $35 for matched wines and multiple choices for three of the courses. Highlights include ricotta gnudi dumplings with shaved truffles, half-shell oysters with Osetra caviar, crispy veal sweetbreads, foie gras torchon, diver scallops with salsify confit, and lamb rib-eye with truffle gratin. Best choice for a discreet tryst, if you don’t live in Point Loma.
Tapenade, La Jolla, 858-551-7500. Celebrity chef Jean-Michel Diot offers a “Madame et Monsieur” three-course (plus amuse and mignardise) French menu for $75 per person. Madame starts with a Maine lobster and mango salad, Monsieur with ahi tartare dressed with Sevruga caviar. Main dish choices include wild striped bass (the bisexual entrée), her veal tenderloin, or his short ribs with black truffle sauce Perigourdine. (Jean-Michel won’t be shocked if you taste each others’ plates — he’s a sophisticated Frenchman, non?) The sexes finally come together over a shared dessert.
Terra, Hillcrest, 619-293-7088. $59 for four courses in this warm, comfortable setting. Start out sharing a Gruyère fondue, followed by lobster bisque or baby spinach salad with goat cheese. Entrée choices include filet mignon and gulf shrimp with roasted shallot lobster sauce, or roast quail, or a duo of salmon and barramundi, each with clever accompaniments, plus a dessert sampler to share. Vegetarian and gluten-free options available.
Thee Bungalow, Ocean Beach, 619-224-2884. Three courses for $46 per person in this charming, intimate venue. The choices for each course are many and sublimely attractive (shall it be oysters or lobster bisque to start?). The conclusion is a Champagne toast with a shared trio of desserts. Vegetarian options are available on request.
Other Romantic Evenings, Regular Menus
Clay’s La Jolla, 858-551-3620. In a lovely room with a view and fine food, the à la carte menu will include a few romantic specials. Full vegetarian menu available.
Costa Brava, Pacific Beach, 858-273-1218. Delicious small tapas plates to share in a warm-blooded Spanish atmosphere.
Kous-Kous, Hillcrest, 619-295-5560. The Arabian Nights, in a room decorated with beautiful Moroccan crafts, with delicious food seasoned with the aromatic spices of North Africa. The honey lamb tagine is beyond wicked.
Marrakesh, La Jolla, 858-454-2500. The full-out Moroccan experience, including sitting at low tables on thick pillows and eating wonderful, exotic foods with your fingers. Feed each other tidbits, hand to mouth. Mmm.
Peohe’s, Coronado Ferry Landing, 619-437-4474. Gloriously silly, over-the-top tropical decor and stunning views of the bay make this a favorite spot for proposals and weddings. The à la carte menu emphasizes Hawaiian-style seafood and steaks and extravagantly indulgent desserts.
Rama, Gaslamp Quarter, 619-501-8424. A gorgeous, sexy setting for the sensual pleasures of Thai “royal cuisine.”
Vincent’s, Escondido, 760-745-3835. Perhaps the most romantic restaurant in Escondido offers a menu of classic French food made from local-grown ingredients that changes weekly. There may well be something special for V-Day (specifics weren’t ready by press time).