By Robyn Johnson
Despite what you might hear from Dean Martin, it’s not an empirical fact that everyone loves somebody sometime. It has, however, been proven that everyone needs to eat.
For the people that fit both categories, here’s a list of dining opportunities and options for the upcoming grand romantic holiday — organized from expensive (or $$$$, in Yelpspeak) to recession-conscious.
A go-to place for the symphony and opera set, Jardinière talks the talk and walks the walk, serving some of the most highly regarded French-American food in the Bay. The Valentine’s menu offers up tasty bits like duck breast with lentils and candied kumquats, frozen lemon soufflé with rose petals and milk chocolate sauce, and a whole host of delectables that guarantee to assuage any doubts about parting company with a few Benjamins.
300 Grove, SF. (415) 861-5555, www.jardiniere.com. $125 prix fixe
In my mind, dining at Supperclub must be like Eyes Wide Shut meets that Eurotrash club I drunkenly walked into while hostelling in Prague meets François Mitterrand’s last meal. In other words, an absolutely decadent place. The Valentine’s menu and entertainment is a surprise, but management promises an experience not for the “light of heart,” as illustrated by the photo on the Web site of two dudes in collars making kissies with a sternly sexy-faced woman.
657 Harrison, SF. (415) 348-0900, www.supperclub.com. $100 prix fixe
Cozy ambience and an expansive California wine selection has made First Crush a date-spot favorite. On the five-course Valentine’s menu, you’ll find pistachio-crusted wild Hawaiian walu accompanied by goat cheese fondue and globe artichokes braised in barigoule. (In case you’re wondering, walu is a fish similar to white tuna, known for its buttery flavor. Barigoule? According to Larousse Gastronomique, it’s a fancy method of cooking stuffed and braised artichokes, usually involving pork.) Yum.
101 Cyril Magnin, SF. (415) 982-7874, www.firstcrush.com. $89 prix fixe
According to the Bella Trattoria calendar blog, the Valentine’s meal will be a family-style affair during which the “waitstaff will be insistent that you feed each other.” Luckily, you can look forward to airplaning with their much-loved and infallible gnocchi, to speak nothing of other highlights such as grilled hanger steak fillet with Sangiovese bone-marrow glaze and mango. When planning your dinner here, keep in mind that the pricing’s a bit tricky: From 5 to 6 p.m., the prix fixe menu consists of three courses and costs $45; from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., it’s up to five courses and $70; and from 10 to 11 p.m., it’s back down to three courses and $50.
3854 Geary, SF. (415) 221-0305, www.bellatrattoriasf.com. $45-$70 prix fixe
Why do we love this tiny Duboce Triangle restaurant so? Might be the red walls, the simple and classic French cuisine, or the neighborhood quaintness. Or that dining here feels like being at a dinner party in Amelie’s living room. Perhaps it’s simply the rich and savory coq au vin or the tiger prawn raviole, both the height of patron adoration, along with the chocolate banana bread pudding. Or maybe it’s that no single dish is more than $20. Parisian romance on a recession budget? Awesome.
151 Noe, SF. (415) 437-2600, www.lardoisesf.com. $15–<\d>$30
At Flora, you could choose your meal by throwing darts at a menu pinned to the wall and still have one of the best dining experiences of your life. This Oakland hotspot, which serves up fancified American cuisine and art deco elegance, changes its menu frequently. The orgasmic caramel pudding topped with sea salt, however, seems to stick around and would make a fantastic choice to top a sexy Valentine’s meal. An added bonus: if you get tired of looking at your date, check out the charming old-timey decor and adorably suspendered waitstaff and bartenders.
1900 Telegraph, Oakl. (510) 286-0100, www.floraoakland.com. $15–<\d>$30
Serving up innovative Caribbean fare, newcomer Hibiscus is already creating a buzz in foodieland with its casual yet chic atmosphere, friendly service, accessible prices, and on-point cuisine. Expect to be blown away by the crispy plantains with garlic oil, refreshing cocktails with homemade syrups, pepperpot stew, fried chicken, and pretty much everything else on the menu.
1745 San Pablo, Oakl. (510) 444-2626, www.hibiscusoakland.com. $15–<\d>$25
With its shabby pink awning and Tenderloin location, Pagolac ostensibly maintains a total lack of affectation. But much like Dr. Parnassus’ Imaginarium, once you step through the threshold, you enter a radically different world. Well, sort of. The interior is still modest, but the sparseness creates an elegant minimalism that highlights the authentic homey Vietnamese food. The signature dish is the seven-course beef, but cheaper options, like the make-it-yourself wraps, are just as fun.
655 Larkin, SF. (415) 776-3234, $10–<\d>$20
I’ve never eaten here for lunch or dinner because the brunch is just that good — among the best of the East Bay. Mainstays are the light and nutmeggy challah bread French toast, the lemon ricotta hotcakes, and the banana Nantucket flapjacks, but you really can’t go wrong with any of the menu choices. The coffee drinks are also phenomenal, especially the mocha with Chantilly whipped cream.
2327 Shattuck, Berk. (510) 540-5950, www.venusrestaurant.net. $10–<\d>$15
STREET FOOD CARTS
If you’re looking to get more bang for your buck (and yes, I just made a tasteless semi-ironic pun), then take your sweetie out on the town for a street food adventure. From crème brûlée to adobo to empanadas, it’s out there waiting for you like some big edible treasure hunt. You can follow the vendors by their Twitter accounts.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE CAFÉ
For a simpler Valentine’s Day excursion, skip straight to dessert and have a hot chocolate at Bittersweet. Personally, I’m convinced that the Spicy!, with its pepperiness and delicate note of rose, is direct evidence that there is a God and that s/he is kind and benevolent.
2123 Fillmore, SF. (415) 346-8715; 5427 College, Oakl. (510) 654-7159; 730 Camino Ramon, Suite 120, Danville. (925) 837-9900, www.bittersweetcafe.com. $5
Another option for the truly cash-strapped: grab a morning bun or croissant and enjoy the living theater of Dolores Park.
600 Guerrero, SF. (415) 487-2600, www.tartinebakery.com. $5
On what is a blatantly consumerist holiday, dining options can seem pretty bleak for the frugal and broke among us. Chances are if you’re far on the margins, you probably don’t give much of a crap anyway. But for those who remain sentimental, have an indoor picnic. All you need is some candles, Yann Tiersen, bread, cheese, and Two-Buck Chuck. Also, on certain days Rainbow Grocery, bakeries, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s have bountiful leftovers for freegan perusal.
Your living room, sf.wikispot.org/dumpster_diving. $0+