Valentine’s Day might be our most manipulative holiday. I say it’s high time we start manipulating it back and take the day on our own terms.
You have to reckon with it in some way. Even deciding to ignore Valentine’s Day means acknowledging it. It is a consumer event and consumer events are after our money and attention like hot-blooded lotharios.
There’s nothing wrong with the classic romantic dinner date on Valentine's Day. But if you’re reading this now and have an upscale restaurant meal in mind, you are rapidly running out of options. You have to get creative.
Can't see video below? Click here.
My solution? Part ways with the script, and think about what your beloved really loves that might be accessible without a reservation. In New Orleans we have a whole bag of tricks to make Feb. 14 our own.
Let’s have some fun:
Moonstruck for mudbugs
Crawfish are messy. So is love. Both are worth it.
But can crawfish be Valentine’s Day food? They stoke a passionate response. They’re scarlet red. You can arrange them into a heart shape that will get you all kinds of likes and loves and cute emoji responses on social media. I think we have our answer.
The spirit of the day is giving your dearest something truly special. There are people in this own who consider nothing more special than crawfish.
Another bonus: crawfish purveyors, the full-service restaurants and take-out markets alike, are largely exempt from Valentine’s Day reservations drama.
In New Orleans, crawfish are still pricey at this point in the season. Maybe that qualifies them a bit more of a luxury item for your Valentine’s splurge.
Romance in the raw
I am on the record (some might say on a broken record) for my love for the oyster bar, particularly the New Orleans oyster bar.
For our purposes of the last-minute Valentine’s Day dash we add this: the oyster bar may be the ultimate in unscripted dining grace. Even when a restaurant is booked to capacity, the oyster bar is often a first-come, first-served, step-right-up option.
I’m thinking of the stand-up oyster bars at Pascal’s Manale or Mr. Ed’s Oyster Bar and Fish House, the indoor/outdoor oyster bar with a view at the lakeside location of Felix’s, the food hall stands for Elysian Seafood (in St. Roch Market and Auction House Market), the nook at Superior Seafood, the rollicking fun and clubhouse feel of the "oyster room" at Seither's Seafood, that window-side perch at Peche Seafood Grill and the beautiful curve of marble around the Bourbon House oyster bar.
And if you happen to find a pearl in one of your oysters, just consider it a lagniappe Valentine’s Day jewel.
King cake for your queen (or king)
Remember last year when Valentine’s Day fell on Ash Wednesday, the ultimate buzz kill?
This time around the day arrives just as the heart of Carnival season is revving up. King cake is everywhere, and palates are primed for it. Like our crawfish example above, king cake unlocks a particularly fierce envie in this town.
That king cake your dearest has dropped hints about really wanting to try – the one that’s hard to get, only available across town, or is dancing all across the social media feeds? That could beat a box of chocolates hands down.
This time of year, some king cakes can even take a Valentine’s shape. Haydel’s, for instance, adds a Valentine’s version of its traditional king cake, layering on the pink and white and red toppings (order ahead to ensure there’s one with your name on it).
Eat your heart out
Going local can make even a standard play like Valentine's chocolates feel like an above-and-beyond effort.
My leading example right now is Piety & Desire, a tiny chocolate shop where proprietor Chris Nobles syncs his creations with local flavors, seasons and even the city’s sense of humor. This is chocolate for New Orleans lovers who love New Orleans.
King cake bonbons are shaped the king cake and taste like king cake, with the spice of cinnamon and a whiff of vanilla. Brandy milk punch, the Bacchanal Ball with red wine ganache and the Lil Big Shot coconut bonbon fill the chocolate case for Carnival time.
Piety and Desire’s killer creation for Valentine’s Day, however, is a chocolate heart modeled on the one actually beating in your chest. Variously called the Open Heart Delight or the Requiem for a Broken Heart, it’s a divino corazon, anatomical style chocolate heart, built around a collection of bonbons. You have to break the heart to get at them, but you get to eat the delicious debris too (order at least a day in advance).
No reservation, no problem
While reservations are the golden rule for dining out on Valentine’s Day, this city is filled with silver linings at spots that don’t take reservations anyway. You just need to expand the view of a Valentine’s outing beyond the candlelit dining room.
Those bacon-wrapped dates, mussels and some salt-speckled chocolate bark in the Bacchanal patio with a bottle of self-service wine sounds like a nice answer. So does a charcuterie plate and a self-guided tour of wines on tap at Bayou Wine Garden. Cheese plates and hard cider at St. James Cheese Co. have never let me down, though it’s an early night (closes at 8 p.m.)
Bakery Bar is a unique. You’re not coming here for dinner, but for the most important meal of any Valentine’s Day: dessert.
Bakery Bar is set up like a tavern but serves desserts and brunch by day and desserts and snacks by night (and cocktails and wine throughout). The specialty is doberge cake, this city‘s year-round Valentine’s present to itself. Of course Carnival themed treats are everywhere this time of year too.
Peter Nguyen had a big idea for the little storefront next to his family’s Texaco station in Metairie, but his mother, Mary, didn’t think much of it.
Beignets are back in City Park following a brief hiatus, and, for the time being, they’re on wheels.
There are many ways to sum up a year in New Orleans dining scene. Below, I'm giving you 52 of them, snapshot style, with tastes that contribut…