It’s February again, and if you have a significant other (or several, if that’s what floats your boat), or a life partner, or a karmic co-conspirator, or even a vision quest or aching crush, you’re gonna need to do something about reservations for the 14th—like now. There is absolutely no way (real or imagined) that you’re getting out of dinner on Valentine’s Day. So, you could spend all day around the house, downloading the hottest recipes from the Food Network’s website, popping the petals off a gajillion roses and covering every horizontal surface with them. Then, you’d still have to cook the whole meal, light all the candles, put on Blue Train, Kind of Blue or Blue Monk (whichever of those old Blue Note records you’re gonna put on), hide the ring (promise, engagement, friendship, trophy-wife-appeasement) in the flourless chocolate torte with some sort of berry puree and still have time to run back to the florist for the roses you forgot to leave intact for the centerpiece. Or, you could take him/her/them out, which means you need to call about those reservations as soon as you put this magazine down.
Sure, it’s tough to be original and romantic on Valentine’s Day. Everyone is going out to dinner, but here’s the rub… Not everyone knows how to go out to dinner. So, if you hook your S.O.(s) up with a perfect, multi-course dinner, with immaculate wine pairings and an anecdote for each wine and course, the food, wine and company will keep his/her/their mind off the fact that the guy in the rented tux at the rented two-top only six inches away went a little overboard with the sexy body spray.
Bexley Monk is a fantastic venue for such an arrangement. There’s a piano bar, so the closer you sit to it, the more integral music is to the ambience. If you like it quiet, sit in the comfortable, multi-tiered dining room; but if you think Jazz is a foxy counterpart to exquisite gustatory intercourse, sit at one of the few tables in the lounge, just behind the piano. Wherever it is you are, before cheek-one hits the banquette, order a bottle of bubbly. Champagne is absolutely the best way to begin a meal, especially if the meal needs to be a romantic event. If there are only two of you, get a half bottle. The Monk has both Rene Geoffroy’s Brut Rose and Veuve’s ’89 vintage in a half bottle. If there’s three or more in your party, you could get a full bottle of a nice, brisk, sorta fruity domestic sparkling from J or the much-more-champagnoise ’96 Roderer L’Hermitage from Anderson Valley. Drink some before the salad course comes out, talk about stuff like how the bubbles in American sparkling wine are bigger than the ones in Champagne, then leave some on ice for the dessert.
When ordering the salad course (as will be the case with all subsequent courses), order one salad for every two people. (Note: this will not be necessary when dining on Valentine’s Day proper, because the chef will already have done the coursing and wine pairing legwork. However, those choosing to finagle their romance into any other day than the fourteenth should heed this advice. Plus, all this stuff works great on regular romantic dates, not just Valentine’s dates.) With the salad, whether it is the legit Traditional Caesar or the Roasted Beets, try a glass of the Aluvium Blanc, or maybe a bottle of something tart and clean, like a Cortese di Gavi. Ed and Laurie over at Beringer are getting some interesting honey/fig things out of their Sauv Blanc/Semillon/Chardonnay blend, that ought to slay with any of Chef Denver Adkins’ leafy concoctions. The same is true of most of those lesser known Italian white varietals, like the Gavis.
Barrel headlong into the appetizer course. Remember, one item for every two people. Ask the kitchen to split or have the server bring side plates. Get something to go with a really cool, dry-finish Alsacian, like Pierre Sparr or Trimbach’s Gewurtztraminer or Albert Mann’s Tokay and Pinot Gris blend. The Jumbo Lump Crab Risotto Cake should jump out at you immediately. This slant on the omnipresent crab cake is tremendous in it’s paucity of crabmeat. The risotto is allowed room to be creamy and delicious on it’s own terms, without being overwhelmed with crustacean. In fact, the risotto is such an integral part of this dish, it is almost like a pasta course.
Skip the pasta course. Get something out of the wood-fired oven instead. For this course, order one item per four people. If there are only two of you, get a box, those hand tossed pizzas and calzones reheat splendidly. Mushrooms, smoked and cured meats and fishes, pungent cheeses, and tomato and pesto sauces abound on and inside the good-enough-to-eat-by-itself crust, so get something Burgundian (in style, not necessarily origin), like the Rex Hill Pinot Noir, from Wilamette, or Provencal, like Bonny Doone’s Rhone Blend, Le Cigare Volante. Monk has halves of both. Or you could really do it up with the Beaux Freres Pinot Noir or Girardin’s Echezeaux, but those only come in seven-fifties.
Get one of the huge Bordeaux blends to go with the main course. Monk has Opus in fulls and halves, Justin Icosceles, Caymus, Rubicon and Quintessa. And, in the straight cabernets, they have some crazy-good juice from Staglin, Heitz’s Martha’s Vinyard, and the Select Hillside at Shafer. Banter about how the Cabernet Franc in the Rubicon gives it a very soft floral on the finish, even though it’s only in there at three percent. Ignore everything you know about pairing wine with food. Go ahead and drink this enormous wine with scallops or stuffed fish, your palate is ready for that by now. Or, get the granddaddy of all Bordeaux pairings: Lamb. The memory of when lambs were game meat still remains, even in farm raised chops, and nothing goes better with Cabernet and Merlot based wines than game.
Now it is time for a brulee or something sweet and the rest of that Champagne, which will be great for toasting when he/she/they say yes to whatever proposal you had in mind when you had the chef hide that ring in there, you cheeseball.