Valentine’s Day for many usually means a fancy, multi-course meal at a splurge restaurant. Restaurants plan for the day all year, and many couples make reservations weeks in advance. So what does that look like in a year with a global pandemic?
For restaurants known for romance, it’s been an unusual journey to keep the Valentine’s Day offering as exceptional as usual. But as restaurants have proven time and again this year, they were up for the challenge.
At stylish French bistro La Goulue in New York City, the focus is on an outdoor dining experience as swanky as its dining room, while at two-Michelin-starred Providence in Los Angeles, an ultra-luxe takeout menu helps keep the love alive at home. And at Philadelphia sushi haven Morimoto, an under-the-sea-inspired art exhibit caps off an eight-course omakase odyssey.
Here’s a closer look at how these three iconic date-night restaurants are pivoting to help diners create Valentine’s Day memories this year that are just as special as usual — and likely even more. If you’re looking for something just as special near you, explore what’s available.
Morimoto: Omakase meets fine art
This Valentine’s Day, Morimoto — Philadelphia’s pioneering sushi restaurant — and artist Adam Wallacavage join forces to offer people an unforgettable date night. It starts with Morimoto’s omakase menu and ends with viewing of Wallacavage’s “After Forever” exhibition at Hot Bed gallery, located just upstairs from the restaurant. It’s a two-for-one adventure that maximizes fun while minimizing pandemic planning and risk.
“We’ve always wanted to do something special with Hot Bed. We’ve been neighbors a long time,” says Kyoko Noguchi, Morimoto’s general manager. And the Wallacavage exhibit presents an ideal opportunity. Both the artist, best known for his vibrantly colored, whimsical octopus chandeliers, and Morimoto are clearly inspired by creatures of the sea, Noguchi points out.
Upon arrival at Morimoto, diners will have their temperature taken — the first of numerous COVID safety protocols. Then, those dining inside will be seated at spaced out tables divided by plexiglass for the eight-course omakase menu. Outdoor diners will go to their heated chalets, enclosed on three sides. Over a leisurely one-and-a-half to two hours, the tasting menu unfolds with hot and cold dishes as well as sushi. It features many of the restaurant’s best-loved dishes, including black cod miso and chawanmushi. Optional Valentine’s Day-worthy upgrades include caviar and black truffles.
The meal caps off with a special dessert: a ruby chocolate heart. It’s an unusual confection made from the pink-hued fourth type of chocolate discovered a few years ago. But that’s not where the journey ends.
“After the dessert course, we escort diners to the gallery,” says Noguchi. The gallery and restaurant will be in close communication to ensure the occupancy limited is never exceeded. “The space is just beautiful. It’s all white, with high ceilings and filled with plants,” the ideal backdrop for Wallacavage’s work. In the current exhibit, the octopus chandeliers are joined by a collection of vintage lamps that Wallacavage transformed in his signature surreal style.
Between the pandemic and the winter season, cabin fever is at an all-time high. People are craving nights and cultural experiences more than ever. “We think this will be a wonderful night out for those who want to do something fun in addition to food and drinks,” says Noguchi.
Providence: A chef’s tasting menu at home
James Beard Award-winning chef Michael Cimarusti isn’t letting a pandemic stop him from cooking one of his favorite tasting menus of the year. “Here in California, mid-February means the early spring ingredients like baby artichokes, radishes, and peas are in,” he says. “The Valentine’s Day menu is always a mix of incoming spring and outgoing winter ingredients, and the confluence of the two seasons is really the best.”
Though Cimarusti usually serves a spectacular nine-course tasting menu for Valentine’s Day at his two-Michelin-starred fine dining temple Providence, this year, for takeout friendliness, he’s constrained himself to a mere six courses, featuring luxuries like wagyu beef and truffles. And each course is composed to maximize the diner’s success of finishing the dish at home.
For example, one of the dishes is a john dory filet that’s showered in black truffle and wrapped in chard leaves. It’s steamed very lightly at the restaurant, and after the diner reheats it at home for just a few minutes, it emerges at the ideal level of doneness. Diners don’t need to worry about their cooking skills – very precise instructions are included, and Cirmarusti also posts videos demonstrating exactly how to finish the dishes.
For those who want something special but shorter than a six course tasting menu, Providence is also offering black truffle pasta kits, local house-smoked black cod, black truffle brie, and rare bourbons to help diners celebrate this Valentine’s Day.
“When you think about it, it might be more romantic to celebrate at home with food prepared at a very high level,” Cimarusti says. “It’s very intimate.”
La Goulue: Bringing indoor vibes outside
Atmosphere is a big part of what makes La Goulue an iconic date-night restaurant and a coveted reservation come Valentine’s Day. Its tiny bar, warm woods, vintage light fixtures, and pressed tin ceilings evoke France, attracting Upper East Siders looking for some Parisian luxury. Creating a similar vibe in the sidewalk seating area is a challenge, but it’s not impossible, says Bernard Collin, director of operations.
The first hurdle is making diners comfortable in the elements, even if temperatures dip below freezing or if there’s snow. La Goulue is prepared with efficient radiant heaters to keep diners warm in colder temperatures, and the cabana-style seating offers protection from rain or snow. Planters filled with winter-friendly flowers line the whole structure, adding a touch of whimsy. To cap it all off, the outdoor tables are set with the same place settings, linens, and china that La Goulue uses to set the tone indoors.
Sidewalk seating can be unpleasantly loud with cars speeding by and pedestrians weaving past your table — hardly want you want on Valentine’s Day. This isn’t an issue at La Goulue, according to Collin. “It’s very quiet here. There’s essentially no traffic coming down at night,” he says. And though candles aren’t permitted at outdoor tables, Collin says they’ve found the ideal small, flickering LED lights to set on each table to cast a warm romantic glow.
It’s all accompanied by a decadent three-course menu with options such as lobster consomme, steak au poivre, and profiteroles. Though the same menu will be offered indoors — which reopens on Valentine’s Day in NYC this year — the outdoor setting should make it so that those opting to sit outside will feel little difference in their date night.