THE ANNUAL ONSLAUGHT of bouquets, hearts, candy and Cupids is nigh. Why not eschew the sentimental souvenirs and consider an intimate dinner for two? While less economical than a box of candy hearts, the romance it inspires is priceless. Is anything more seductive than an elegant repast accompanied by candlelight and a bottle of wine? The following restaurants may help to provide an answer.
Wildflower Grill. 7037 N. Oracle Road. 219-4230. A prix fixe Valentine's Day dinner for two sets the stage for romance at Wildflower Grill. At $75 (plus 18 percent gratuity) per couple, the menu features an enticing selection of starters and entrees. First courses include Belgian endive and baby spinach tossed with caramelized pecans & crisp Fuji apples, tempura prawns atop an Asian cucumber salad dressed with yuzu vinaigrette, fresh artichoke heart salad with shaved Parmesan and pressed olive oil drizzle, and Maine lobster bisque topped with crispy leeks and black caviar. Among the featured entrees are pan-seared Atlantic salmon with pear-tomato truffle salad atop a basil potato puree; pan-roasted rack of lamb with a Dijon crust, sautéed asparagus, oven-roasted new potatoes and rosemary au jus; grilled ahi tuna with sesame seed ponzu, baby bok choy and wasabi whipped potatoes; two-ways cooked maple leaf duck with Asian greens, plum wine glaze and miso chop sticks; simple roasted free-range chicken in its own au jus with whipped potatoes, young winter vegetables and herbed tagliatelle in a rich mushroom broth with sautéed forest of wild mushrooms, fresh peas & pearl onions. An assortment of freshly prepared desserts assures a sweet ending to the evening.
The Dish. 3200 E. Speedway Blvd. (In back of the Rumrunner Wine & Cheese Co.) 326-1714. Since the beginning of January The Dish has been closed on Mondays, but Valentine's Day will be an exception. The restaurant offers a scaled down version of the regular menu for the day, in addition to some incredible evening specials. "Little plates" include roasted beets tossed with pecans and gorgonzola, butternut squash flan, smoked salmon blini with caviar and crème fraiche, and an oyster bake comprised of a half-dozen bivalves sautéed with mushrooms, shallots, pancetta and a dash of sherry mounded onto a toasted slice of French bread and sprinkled with a grating of melted gruyere cheese. Still not sated? Try rack of lamb, beef medallions served in a zinfandel sauce with roasted garlic and a mushroom and onion confit, pork tenderloin medallions served with amontillado, apricot and serrano sauce, and roasted lobster tail with a sherried lobster-vin blanc sauce served with sautéed spinach and roasted Yukon gold potatoes. For dessert, individual heart-shaped chocolate cakes with raspberry sauce provide the pièce de résistance. Pair your meal with a selection from The Dish's fine wines -- its matchmaking at its best.
The Gold Room (Westward Look Resort). 245 E. Ina Road. 297-1151. For those looking to get starry-eyed, the Gold Room is the place to spark the necessary twinkle, with food every bit as glorious as the spectacular views of the city lights below. There's no spot more ideal for a romantic candlelight supper. The Gold Room ushers in the holiday early, with a special four-course menu on Saturday and Sunday, February 12 and 13. A prix fixe meal with choice of entree ($65 per person) could include oysters on the half shell, lobster bisque, rack of lamb, filet mignon served with lobster tail, or peppercorn-crusted duck breast. The Gold Room features a slightly enhanced version of the four-course special on Valentine's Day for $80 per person.
Janos and J-Bar. 3770 E. Sunrise Dr. (Westin La Paloma Resort). 615-6100. Master Chef Janos Wilder gives lovers two distinct dining options, one innovative and upscale, the other joyous and playful. Janos offers a five-course tasting menu for $75 person, $100 with wine accompanying each course. The menu's details are still being perfected, but possibilities include chile-cured beef sirloin and fois gras-stuffed goose. Next door, J-Bar celebrates the evening with a more casual and equatorial flair. A four-course Valentine's Day tasting menu costs $40 per person (no wine or cocktail included). Duck tamales and grilled cabrilla are just a sample of the delicacies to look forward to at this emerging hot spot.
Daniel's. 4340 N. Campbell Ave. 742-3200. Daniel's has planned a three-course menu for the Valentine evening, which includes choice of four appetizers, four salads and six entrees. Cost is $65 per person, and highlighting the selected entrees are beef tenderloin, roast loin of veal, mesquite lamb rack chops, roasted half duck and seafood stew. Reservations with a credit card deposit are required to assure your place at this gustatory event.
Elle: A Wine Country Restaurant. 3048 E. Broadway Blvd. 327-0500. Back by popular demand is a revival of Date Night, Elle's summertime delight, which featured a three-course meal and a choice of red, white or pink wine for the reasonable price of $59.95 a couple. Elle offers this special menu on Sunday, February 13, as well as Valentine's Day. Particulars of the Valentine's menu are still being worked out, but fresh fish and poultry dishes are certain to make an appearance.
Le Rendez-vous. 3844 E. Ft. Lowell Road. 323-7573. Appropriate for any romantic encounter is Le Rendez-vous, a restaurant featuring outstanding French cuisine served among a magical array of sparkling lights in a setting of understated gentility. The set five-course Valentine's menu costs $42.75 per person. Even without finalized plans for the evening, this eatery is so popular that reservations have filled quickly. Some seating is still available, but you'll most likely be eating after 9 p.m. or later. Fortunately, Le Rendez-vous is well worth the wait.
Le Bistro. 2574 N. Campbell Ave. 327-3086. Le Bistro likewise has something passionate planned for Valentine's Day. A special limited menu is currently being developed for the occasion, and given the lush greenery of the main dining room and the consistently fine fare, the restaurant is set to make a big impression on sweethearts. Call the restaurant to check on the details of the menu.
Anthony's in the Catalinas. 6440 N. Campbell Ave. 299-1771. On Valentine's Day, Anthony's presents a limited selection of the regular menu's choicest items. Once again, details are still uncertain, but the meal is sure to be another of Anthony's culinary successes. The food here is consistently as lofty and delicious as the fabulous view of the city.
Barrio. 135 S. Sixth Ave. 629-0191. Lobster highlights an extended list of Valentine's specials at Barrio. And a divine dessert assortment will naturally be available to sweeten the festivities. Space goes rather quickly at this popular bistro, so make sure to reserve a table early.
I've no doubt overlooked some beguiling Valentine's dining opportunities, but these selection will get you started on planning an evening of delicious romance.