Smile Politely

How to be a Valentine: Past and present

For some, Valentine’s Day provides images of candy hearts, romantic cards, and red turtlenecks periscoping beneath heart-adorned knit sweaters. For others, V-Day conjures up more provocative visions of whipped cream, dirty talk, and sexy lingerie. Despite these seemingly polar approaches, many couples choose to begin their evening in a similar way: indulging in an intimate dinner at a favorite local restaurant. But that commonality may be the only one surrounding this day of romance. In fact, the various ways lovers celebrate are just as contradictory as the origins of the holiday itself.

Valentine’s Day Lore

According to the Christian legend, St. Valentine — whose identity is somewhat vague  — served as a romantic hero to lovers throughout Rome. One myth tells of a third-century emperor who outlawed marriage after “discovering” that single men made better soldiers than their married counterparts. Valentine, sympathetic to true love, illegally performed secret marriages, risking his own imprisonment. Another myth suggests that Valentine, as a prisoner, fell in love with and sent messages to his jailer’s daughter. Before his execution, he signed his last letter, “From your Valentine,” debuting the idea of sending mid-February love notes.

Lupercalia, the Pagan fertility holiday celebrated in mid-February, honored Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus. At the beginning of the festival, select priests gathered in a cave where a she-wolf was said to have suckled Rome’s founding brothers. The priests then made two sacrifices: a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. The goat’s hide was cut into strips and dipped in dog’s blood. The priests then ran through the streets of town, gently slapping women with their goatskin strips. The women, rather than running away, welcomed the delicate whippings as they were thought to increase fertility for the coming year. Later in the day, bachelors drew women’s names out of an urn, and matches — many lasting for only a year, but often resulting in marriage — were made.

Whichever myth you prefer to believe, or if you have your own version of Cupid (although personally I’ve always doubted the ability of a winged-baby cherub to aim his love-drunk arrows — mid-flight, mind you — at unknowing mortals), Valentine’s Day celebrations, unlike some of the relationships Cupid fosters, never seem to lose their pomp.

Modern Fare for Valentine’s Day Pairs

For those of you lucky enough to enjoy the night out with someone you love, here are a few decadent and local ways to celebrate publicly, before the private celebration begins.

Radio Maria will be offering its traditional fare, while also featuring a four course tasting menu for $55, with an optional wine pairing for $75. Dinner will be served from 5:00–10:00 p.m., and reservations are not only accepted, but also highly recommended. Chef Brian Wong’s Highlights include a steamed lobster bun served with roasted maitake mushrooms and a smoked green tea broth, grilled hanger steak with egg yolk carpaccio, fried capers, Worcestershire emulsion, and micro beets, and a polenta fritter with blood orange sherbet, olive oil powder, and dark chocolate ganache. A vegetarian option will also be available.

In addition to their regular menu, Chef Jessica Gorin of Big Grove Tavern will be running a four-course prix fixe menu. The prix fixe will be $50 per person and likely features will include Moore Family Farm Lamb Loin Carpaccio, Braised Beef Shortribs with Mushroom Farro, Pan Seared Escolar with Potato-Leek Puree, Parsley Pesto & Toasted Pistachios, and Caramelized Bananas with House-Made Chocolate Ice Cream, Toasted Almond and Vanilla-Honey Drizzle. Big Grove will be running its special menu Thursday through Saturday.

Escobar’s is also celebrating the holiday with their four course menu option for $40. Options include southwestern style crab cakes, seared duck breast with mole, and pistachio crusted lamb-chops with port-reduction. Los Guapos, a local Latin-Jazz trio, will be performing from 6:00 to 10:00 p.m.

Chef Thad Morrow, owner of Bacaro, will be offering a special tasting menu with wine pairings Thursday through Saturday, in addition to the regular a la carte menu.  This meal is served for $100 per person, not including tax or gratuity. Likely features include cauliflower custard with osetra caviar; crispy pork belly, smoked white lentils, blood oranges and preserved Buddha Hand; potato gnocchi, black truffles and maitake mushrooms; black fin tuna, braised almonds, carrot sauce, baby carrots, and passion fruit; beef filet, lobster hollandaise, and potato pave; St. andre cheese, coconut rice pudding, and mango.

Wherever you decide to celebrate your special evening, be safe and enjoy. As for me, I’ll be busy steering clear of those fertility whips.

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