Smile Politely

Valentine’s Day 2016 Guide to Dining Out

There is no better occasion on which to celebrate Champaign-Urbana’s fantastic dining scene than Valentine’s Day. More than any other holiday, this is when chefs really seek to impress with select menus and wine tailored to discerning diners. Wherever your tastes lay, our local restaurants are sure delight!


V. Picasso

Hosting Valentine’s dinners on February 12th, 13th, and 14th, four courses with an option for wine pairings. Guests will choose one of two options for each course. They will also have their regular menu available.

Seared Sea Scallop with spiced honey, pickled cucumber, raw tomato
#1 Grade Ahi Tuna with fried oysters, avocado, grapefruit

Willow Creek Farm Butter Lettuce with roasted beet, aged cheddar, crispy bacon
Roasted Tomato Soup with gorgonzola chips, greenhouse basil, cracked pepper

Filet Mignon with whipped potatoes, Willow Creek vegetables, port reduction
Pan Roasted Salmon with shrimp etouffee, swiss chard, lemon

Dark Chocolate Mousse with caramelized banana, spiced whipped cream
Strawberry Crème Brulee with chocolate covered strawberries

Price: $55 per guest, $85 with wine pairings.
Reservations: Call 217-351-9463 or book online at


Offering a special and exclusive Valentine’s tasting menu on Sunday only. It will include seven courses created by Executive Chef Jae Lee and his team in their unique style of modern Asian cuisine steeped in French and Korean influence. Having recently been selected as an OpenTable Diner’s Choice winner for Central Illinois, Miga is sure to provide an exceptional Valentine’s experience for the discerning palate.

Napoleon arcadian greens

soy balsamic vinaigrette, parmesan cheese crust sheet garnished with dry baby shrimp & bonito

Andriano Pinot Bianco

Korean beef radish soup

radish, green onion, chive oil, sesame chili oil

Birichino St. Georges Pinot Noir

Scottish salmon

served medium rare, potato & spinach purée, oven dried tomatoes, edamame confit, calamari salad, chive oil and micro cilantro

Mas Fi Brut Rose Cava

Smoked duck

shaved onion, wasabi mayo, wild berries, wine reduction

Moonlight Meadery ‘Desire’

Beef tenderloin

potato & spinach puree, topped with caper cream, caper salsa, garlic chips, and micro cilantro

Ones and Zeros Syrah Blend

Bi bim bap

crisp mixed greens, assorted marinated sauté vegetables, sunny side up quail egg, and sun-dried chili pork sauce

Himezen Ume Sake

Luxardo dark cherry chocolate cake

wild berries, Luxardo cherry, white chocolate chip and crispy crumbles

Arzimo Recioto di Soave 

Price: $85 per guest, $120 with wine pairings
Reservations: Call 217-398-1020

Big Grove Tavern

Known for featuring farm-fresh product in her modern craft approach to Midwest cuisine, Chef Jessica Gorin at Big Grove has put together a delectable and intriguing special à la carte menu for Valentine’s weekend. It will be available from Friday through Sunday night. Guests can choose any or all of the four courses, making this a versatile option for couples with a full evening planned. Their regular menu will also be available.

Lake Trout Gravlax with potato pavé, salmon roe, chive crème fraiche, bacon… $12

Lobster and Lemon Pappardelle with white asparagus, preserved kumquat, smoked almond… $27
Winter Squash Ravioli with curried yogurt, oyster mushroom, roasted apple, kale… $24

Almond Biscotti with chocolate mousseline, apricot gastrique, candied thyme… $8

In addition to their special menu, Big Grove is hosting a live jazz band on the evening of Saturday, the 13th. The Matt Endres Trio will be performing from 6 to 8 p.m., with no cover charge, so be sure to plan accordingly if you want some live jazz with dinner.

Reservations: Call 217-239-3505 or book online at


Although bacaro’s Valentine’s Day spots are sold out — the menu is as such, in case you were curious:

Roasted Baby Cauliflower

picked cherry tomatoes, sage, brown butter

Lobster Bisque

charred leek and lobster salad, extra virgin olive oil, chili flake

Spaghetti Carbonara

triple s pancetta, kale, farm egg, black pepper

Butter Poached Dover Sole

celery leaf, baby carrots, chive

Seared Short Ribs

roasted mushrooms, whipped potatoes, broccoli gremolata

Fresh Burrata

aged balsamic, arugala

Chocolate Beet Tart

chocolate ganache, mascarpone, orange beet marmalade

Price: seven course tasting menu $85
Supplemental wine pairings $45

Nando Milano

While there doesn’t appear to be a special menu of sorts for this holiday, it is surely a romantic spot to choose for this February 14th. It is authentic Italian — what more can you ask for, really? As we inquired, we were informed that there are just a few spots left that remain, though after 9:30 p.m., if you’re looking for something later in the evening.

Make a reservation via their Facebook page, or call at 217-954-1439

UPDATE: Here’s the menu:

Pappa al pomodoro (traditional Tuscan soup)

Arancine al Nero di Seppia (squid ink Arancine filled N’duja zucchini prawn fontina)

polipo e calamari alla catalana (grilled Spanish octopus, squid calamari with rice timballo catalano) 

Burrata e bollicine al Tartufo (creamy mozzarella, bouble truffle prosciutto cotto di Parma tomato confit)

braciola di cervo (rulled venison filet stuffed mozzarella, prosciutto fontina)

served with ruchetta, carpaccio di bietole pere e Caprino (bet, pear Caprino chess carpaccio)

Primi PiAtti Aragosta in Bellavista (house made fettuccine lobster tail mussels, clams, chef’s signature imperial sauce)

gnocchetti al bianchetto (house-made gnocchi filled Gorgonzola, served with porcini mushrooms, truffle sauce, fresh grated imported white truffle )

Lasagna bolognese (traditional house-made lasagna beef Ragu bechamel)

Risotto allo Zafferano (imported aquerello risotto, mix mushrooms, with saffron cream sauce)


Branzino alla Mediterranea (Sebas Mediterranea) 

Dover sole mugnaia, Salmone alle Mandorle (encrusted almond Canadian Salmon spinach potato purea grilled asparagus)

Filetto Mari e Monti (surf and turf beef tenderloin main lobster tail in caper lemon glaze

Costata di manzo brasata al cioccolato (braised short ribs served imported aquerello rice Parmesan risotto stracotto sauce)

costoletta di vitello All’Emiliana (veal chop served speck sage fontina Chese)


bombolone alla nutella, semifreddo alla fragola e cioccolato


For the past decade, this restaurant has been a popular and central fixture in the Champaign dining scene. Their signature Latin flair and creative menu offerings have distinguished them over the years. This year they will be hosting their final Valentine’s dinner, as Escobar’s plans to close their doors in January 2017 in order to focus on their older location, Milo’s in south Urbana. If you are a fan of Escobar’s or are looking for a Vday dinner with some spice and panache, this holiday is a great chance to visit them for a memorable experience.

Reservations: Call 217-352-7467

Radio Maria

This neighborhood hotspot will be offering a four-course tasting menu with an optional wine pairing. They will also have their full menu available, with a limited selection of tapas.

Reservations: Call 217-398-7729

Watson’s Shack and Rail

The arrival of this “chicken shack” has local diners slavering at the mouth. Their grand opening is scheduled for Friday the 12th, just in time for Valentine’s Day! If you are looking for somewhere out-of-the-box to take your date this year, head to Watson’s. Provided you are willing to contend with the opening day crowd, they are hosting a live bluegrass band on the 12th and will be serving up craft southern-style fried chicken and tasty libations. A great alternative to the classic Valentine’s dinner!



Silvercreek Restaurant

This quaint and popular Urbana restaurant, known for its inventive approach to continental cuisine, is running a special a la carte menu for Valentine’s Day. Couples are sure to enjoy the interesting variety of classic meat preparations, as well as the “Mountain of Love”, an impressive chocolate-themed dessert buffet.

In addition, Silvercreek will feature a jazz performance from local artist Kristin Sponcia on Friday evening from 5:30 to 8 p.m. They will also be hosting a special Valentine’s Day brunch on Sunday from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., families welcome.

Reservations: Call 217-328-3402

Black Dog Smoke & Ale House

The Urbana location of this storied barbecue restaurant will be hosting a Valentine’s Day dinner, with timed seatings at 5:30 and 8 p.m. To start the meal, they will feature a Smoked and Fried Oyster Salad with buttermilk dressing. For the main course, couples will enjoy the house’s Smoked Beef Tenderloin and Smoked Crab Legs. For dessert, Black Dog will be serving a Chocolate Mousse Trifle.

Price: $50, not including beverages
Reservations: Call the Urbana location at 217-344-9342. Be sure to let them know which seating you prefer.

The Bread Company

This spot on Goodwin St. has been praised highly for their evening dinner menu offerings, and this Valentine’s weekend is no exception. They will be featuring a special Valentine’s fondue menu, which will be great for couples looking to share a dining experience. The meal will begin with cheese fondue, with a selection of items to dip in the cheese including their house-made bread. The next course will feature beef fondue, which is traditionally small cuts of beef and a simmering broth accompaniment in which to cook the meat. The meal will finish with their chocolate fondue and fruit pairings. They will also be serving a special wine accompaniment, Alexander Valley’s Sin Zin, a highly prized Zinfandel from northern California. This menu will be offered throughout the weekend. Bread Company is also planning a Valentine’s Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.


Outside of C-U

Allerton Park and Retreat Center

For those adventurous couples or groups looking for something a little different, the historic mansion located at Allerton Park (30 minutes southwest of town) is hosting a “Valentine’s Alternative” night on Friday the 12th. This will be a perfect option for anyone looking to have a relaxed and casual evening celebration. Live music will be featured in the form of Rebecca Rego & The Trainmen, a thoroughly charming and talented folk outfit from Wisconsin. Appetizers and a nacho bar will be on hand for light dining and a cash bar will provide libations. The area around the house is ideal for a romantic stroll under the stars. Rooms are available for the night at the mansion house, complete with a continental breakfast the morning after. This is a great chance for a short getaway, especially if you were not able to book into the sold-out “Valentine’s Date Night” on Saturday night at the mansion.

Visit Allerton’s event website for information and tickets. $30 a person for the evening, $90-$110 for a room for the night. Call the front desk at 217-333-3287 to book a room. 

For anyone stymied by full reservation books, I encourage thinking outside the box. This weekend is a great time to try a place you’ve never been to before when the classic date spots are packed, or share a quiet and laid-back meal at one of the delicious local Chinese restaurants or pizza spots. Any place can be romantic and fun, if you decide it will be so. Your date may enjoy the adventure of trying something new for Valentine’s Day!

Images from Facebook and by Jessica Hammie. 

Editor’s Note: A few menus (bacaro and Nando Milano) were added late by the Managing Editor after receiving information from the restaurants close to the publishing deadline.

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