Over the years I've made some boneheaded moves on Valentine's Day, and after 25 years of marriage I'm doing pretty well on the learning curve. (Champagne good. Yellow roses bad.) Here are five lessons I've learned over the years.
1. If you have to eat out on Valentine's Day, choose the restaurant wisely. Go to a dining room that you know and order a favorite dish, something reliable. Feb. 14 is not a night to experiment. Not to begrudge restaurants one of their most lucrative days of the year, but rarely is a chef at his or her best that night. It's too busy, and often for sanity and expediency's sake, the menu is limited, so you seldom get to experience the kitchen's full range of flavors or talent.
2. Drink sparkling rosé. There's not a wine that captures the day better, from that festive color to the lively flavors, it's the only way to go. For a splurge try Schramsberg Rosé North Coast J. Schram 2004 (92 points, $130) or Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne NV (92, $85), and if the budget is tighter, look for Roederer Estate Brut Rosé Anderson Valley NV (91, $27) and Korbel Brut Rosé California NV (88, $13). The Korbel is often discounted and surprisingly good for the price.
3. Don't let the wine and food snobs bug you. Why do so many foodies call Valentine's Day "amateur night?" That superior attitude is just insulting. But, sure, let them champion causes like Slow Food, then sneer at Americans on one of the few nights they embrace the cause. Way to win people over. Smaaaaaaart.
4. Never assume it's too late to get a good table, especially this year, when Feb. 14 lands on a Tuesday. A quick check on Open Table early this week and there were more than 100 restaurants in Sonoma and Napa with tables, including some top dining rooms with something other than 5:30 and 9:30 p.m. reservations.
5. After the pink bubbly, definitely have oysters on the half-shell and a crisp white wine. Save the Chardonnay for another time, unless it's Chablis, and think Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre, Vouvray or Chenin Blanc, or an Italian white such as Arneis or Tocai Friulano. Oysters are also considered an aphrodisiac, so that's a bonus.
My colleague Laurie Woolever offers some excellent Sauvignon Blanc recommendations (along with a recipe for oysters), and here are a few other vibrant whites worth trying:
Beringer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2009 (89 points, $16)
Dry Creek Fumé Blanc Sonoma County 2010 ($12)
Enotria Arneis Mendocino 2010 ($15)
My wife and I can joke about the yellow roses I gave her all those years ago, and occasionally I'm tempted to slip one in the reds. Maybe this year. Hmm, on second thought …
What hard-earned lessons from Valentine's Day have you learned? I can't be alone on this one.
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — February 8, 2012 10:39am ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — February 8, 2012 12:20pm ET
William C Strickler — DC Suburbs — February 9, 2012 5:47pm ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — February 9, 2012 6:04pm ET
Mark Lyon — Sonoma, CA; USA — February 9, 2012 8:02pm ET
John Jorgenson — Seattle, — February 9, 2012 11:30pm ET
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