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She Loves Me She Loves Me Not

Celebrating love (and food) on Valentine’s Day

Brennan's Baked Alaska: rich chocolate cake, Bailey's Irish Cream ice cream, baked meringue, creme anglaise and drizzled with flambéed Nocello liqueur

Romero & Romero

 

SHE LOVES ME

Romance & Regale for Couples
 

There is a certain amount of pressure inherent in every Valentine’s Day celebration, pressure to impress a new love interest or surprise a longtime partner with exceptional thoughtfulness and sincerity on a day rife with saccharine, store-bought sentiment. Exceeding expectations can be a challenge, so it’s no wonder many couples opt to enjoy an intimate and elevated meal, certainly an achievable pursuit in a city as full of good food as New Orleans. Expecting a rush of lovebirds, restaurants across the city are preparing for the holiday in a variety of ways.

“I think the French Quarter itself isn’t only one of the most romantic parts of the city, but of the South in general, and Brennan’s, since the renovation, is drop dead gorgeous,” says Christian Pendleton, General Manager. Atmosphere is key for a romantic experience, and Brennan’s has plenty. Though Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday this year, Brennan’s is celebrating the full weekend, beginning with a romantic happy hour on Friday, February 12. Bubbles at Brennan’s Happy Hour offers deeply discounted bubblies, and Pendleton plans to extend the menu offerings with notable champagnes at surprisingly affordable prices.

For diners looking to share a meal, Pendleton recommends the classic Steak Diane prepared tableside.

“The charm of tableside cooking is unique to New Orleans, and Brennan’s is going above and beyond with the quantity of dishes offered tableside,” says Pendleton. Other spectacular sharable dishes will include the Lobster Thermidor and Baked Alaska for two.

Just a few blocks away, Arnaud’s continues to please Valentine’s diners with its classic atmosphere and approach to dining.

“The moment you step through our doors, you’re transported to another world,” says co-owner Katy Casbarian. “Love isn’t one size fits all, so in addition to our private dining spaces overlooking the Vieux Carré, we offer two very different experiences in our Main Dining Room and Jazz Bistro.” The restaurant will be festively decorated with red heart-shaped balloons.

 Well-to-do suitors may opt to pop the question using the Strawberries Arnaud with a Little Lagniappe ($9.85 million).
 



Oysters Arnaud



In partnership with MS Rau Antiques, Arnaud’s provides a 10.06-carat natural fancy royal blue diamond ring to complement the luxury version of Strawberries Arnaud (Ceylon cinnamon, Tahitian vanilla and rare port). As lagniappe, an ultra-luxe version of the signature French 75 is served with Hennessy Paradis, Grand Marnier 100, Cristal Champagne and edible 24 karat gold leaf flakes. The Strawberries Arnaud is also offered in its scaled-down version for $9.

Located under towering oaks and across from historic Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, Commander’s Palace has been a Valentine’s Day destination for generations. For special occasion diners, Commander’s offers a unique way to familiarize yourself with the menu: “We have our Chef’s Playground tasting menu that’s a nice way to try all of chef Tory’s current favorites. It’s a great way to ‘wow’ your date, too,” says Samantha Fritz, Director of Communications.

For sharing, Fritz recommends The Butcher’s Plate, a spread of Duck rillette, smoke-cured foie gras and a griddled ham hock terrine with pickled shimeji mushrooms, mustard seeds and grilled ciabatta. Additionally, she suggests the Shrimp and Tasso Henican, “a lovely starter with local Gulf shrimp and Crystal beurre blanc. Dip your garlic bread in the sauce.” The meal wouldn’t be complete without a perfect wine pairing, and what better place to share a bottle than the four-time annual winner of the Wine Spectator Grand Award.

Just blocks from a variety of live performance venues and the Theatres at Canal Place, Palace Café is at the entrance of the French Quarter on Canal Street and has newly expanded with the addition of a second-floor modern lounge featuring over 120 rums and a sharable kitchen menu by chef René Bajeux. According to Wesley Janssen, Marketing Manager, the bar is “inviting, yet sophisticated – it beckons you to sit and stay awhile.”
 



Palace Cafe's Grande Campagne: Niman Ranch prosciutto, duck liver mousse, lamb terrine, venison salami, duck prosciutto, smoked turkey neck rillettes, country pâté and duck rillettes made in-house by chef René Bajeux



Downstairs, the Palace Café is referred to by Janssen as “New Orleans’ version of a grand Parisian café with soaring ceilings, elaborate tile work and stunning spiral staircase.” She recommends couples share the crabmeat cheesecake or one of Bajeux’s charcuterie platters with cured meats, pates and rillettes. Other decadent options from the bar menu include the brie and leek fondue, foie gras and duck confit poutine.

With Valentine’s Day falling on a Sunday, romantic dining options include a morning or afternoon Sunday Brunch, and Café Adelaide is a downtown favorite for the festive meal. Don a Sunday hat and receive $0.25 martinis to accompany your selection from executive chef Meg Bickford’s menu. Described as a “Cajun Creole whiz,” Bickford is the first female executive chef for the Commander’s Family of Restaurants.

Valentine’s Day dinner guests may want to go multi-course with Chef’s Creole Packages, which offer a choice of starter, entrée and dessert. Bridge the gap between Sunday brunch and dinner by trying Chef Meg’s Breakfast at Dinner: crispy veal grillades with cane-cured Creole tomatoes over black truffle stone ground grits with glace de viande and a slow-cooked hen’s egg. Share an appetizer with your special someone, and try the Cajun Style PEI Mussels with smoked Cajun ham, Andouille sausage, toasted garlic and Creole tomatoes.
 

SHE LOVES ME NOT

Food & Fellowship for Singles
 

Whether you’re looking to avoid the traditional customs of Valentine’s Day or just for a different way to celebrate with friends or a date, there are number of ways to escape the necessary reservations and rose-colored decorum of long-established culinary institutions. From grabbing a bite at a hip, young restaurant to drowning your sorrows in a pint of beer – or even laughing over cocktails and a competitive game of bowling – the options for not-so-Valentine’s Day fun are prevalent across New Orleans on February 14.

Tucked in a corner of Mid-City near City Park, MoPho is the vision of chef and partner Michael Gulotta, former Chef de Cuisine at John Besh’s Restaurant August. With a menu that highlights both Louisiana and Vietnamese cuisine, Gulotta’s MoPho is bustling most nights with enthusiastic regulars and newcomers intrigued by the menu.

“It already has a bit of a party atmosphere and is the perfect place to bring all of your friends – including the special someone if you have one – and order a bunch of food and drinks to share for the table,” says Gulotta. He recommends the currently popular Cast Iron Sticky Rice Paella with Shrimp, Octopus and Clams, which can be shared by two, by a table or not shared at all.

 Gulotta also oversees the kitchen at well-known Irish pub Finn McCool’s, which Gulotta refers to as “more like a Mid-City community center than a bar.” What better place to squash Valentine’s Day loneliness than in a pub full of friends? Inside Finn’s, Rum & the Lash offers Gulotta’s version of elevated pub fare.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of effort developing a damn good burger,” says Gulotta, highlighting the optional pimento cheese spread and bacon marmalade toppings.
 



"The Burger" at Rum & The Lash, which also offers optional pimento cheese spread and bacon marmalade toppings.



Lively atmosphere can also be found at Fulton Alley, where Concept Director Leanne Mistretta says the emphasis is on fun.

“Between the energy and the atmosphere, it’s a great place to be yourself and to create memories with friends,” she says.

Located in the CBD, Fulton Alley is more than a bar and a bowling alley. With a well-curated menu and expanded game parlor, the venue offers a variety of entertainment options for singles, couples and groups. On Valentine’s Day, Fulton Alley will present a Sunday Funday Social Soiree with drink specials and a DJ. The bar recently launched cocktails on draft, available in singles or carafes. One favorite (and a perfect option for Valentine’s) is the Strawberry Agave Julep.

Live music lovers looking for fellowship and good food should consider a bar and restaurant combination located on burgeoning St. Claude Avenue. Known for its rock music and comedy shows, Siberia is also known for Kukhnya, the small restaurant it houses in the back. Kukhnya, Russian for “kitchen,” serves “a mix of Eastern European classics and American burgers and sandwiches,” says chef and owner Matt Ribachonek.

“A rockin’ music club serving Ukrainian Babcia food, burgers and fries might sound romantic to some, but not most. … But if you like having your mind blown by beautiful music, shots of Zubrowka and shared bites of kielbasa and cabbage rolls, come see us,” laughs Ribachonek.

Popular dishes at Kukhnya include the Pierogi, Beet Burger, Black and Blue Burger and Beef Stroganoff. Accompanying the food on Valentine’s Day will be Alexandra Scott’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, a second annual music show featuring a variety of local artists performing sad, beautiful love songs in a fun, sing-along style.
 


           
LEFT: MoPho's Cast Iron Sticky Rice Paella and Som Tam: seasonal fruits and vegetables with Thai chili, tamarind and cilantro; RIGHT: Chocolate and Raisin Bread Pudding Beignets: served with vanilla ice cream and topped with lemon-bourbon sauce at Fulton Alley



Arnaud’s. 813 Bienville St. 523-5433. ArnaudsRestaurant.com  Brennan’s. 417 Royal St. 525-9711. BrennansRestaurant.com  Café Adelaide. 300 Poydras St. 595-3305. CafeAdelaide.com  Commander’s Palace. 1403 Washington Ave. 899-8221. CommandersPalace.com  Fulton Alley. 600 N. Fulton St. 208-5569. FultonAlley.com  Kukhnya/Siberia. 2227 St. Claude Ave. 265-8855. SiberiaNOLA.com  MoPho. 514 City Park Ave., Suite F. 482-6845. MoPhoNola.com  Palace Café. 605 Canal St. 523-1661. PalaceCafe.com  Rum & The Lash/Finn McCool’s. 3701 Banks St. 265-8977. RumAndTheLash.com

 

 

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