As is the nearly yearly case, New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration will eclipse Valentine’s Day in 2009. Boobs and beads replace birds and bees; “Love Potions” outrank No. 9 by at least 150-proof liquor and romantic endeavors are dropped for excuses such as, “But the Choctaw/Adonis/Pontchartrain/Shangri-La/Caesar/Sparta/Pegasus/Olympia/Mona Lisa and Moon Pie/Gladiators parade is toniiight.”

Not to knock Mardi Gras – never. But Valentine’s Day, even if only as an occasion to celebrate your sweetie, deserves its share of the spotlight. So, as is the solution to so many dilemmas, compromise: Split your time between Cupid and Bacchus by planning a romantic date for another night. With a little forethought, you can have an ideal V-Day – just maybe not on February 14.

Heart-y Meals
A little predictable, but tried-and-true, a dinner date at a romantic restaurant is a Valentine’s standby. One restaurant assured to set the stage for romance is Café Amelie. The restaurant is located in the French Quarter’s Princess of Monaco courtyard, named for New Orleans-born Alice Heine (1858-1925), technically the first American princess of Monaco.

Diners can choose a table inside the historic Carriage House or outdoors in the secluded garden courtyard. The café serves rich dishes such as Pan Seared Wild Pacific Salmon with Horseradish Cream, as well as small plates such that can be enjoyed as appetizers or combined to create a tapas-style meal.

Stella! is another French Quarter gem, serving complex dishes such as Pan-Seared Georges Bank Dry Pack Scallops and Jumbo Gulf Shrimp with Truffle Andouille New Potato Hash and Caviar Butter. Chef and owner Scott Boswell, graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has traveled extensively – France, Florence, Tokyo – and has drawn from those experiences to create Stella!’s innovative menu.
As such, Stella is a pricey restaurant. Entrées range from $29-39, and the most expensive appetizer – 120-Day Aged Grilled Japanese Kobe Beef Tenderloin with Watermelon Radish, Vintage House Kimchees and Louisiana Citrus Korean Barbeque Butter – is $47.

The Upperline, a ritzy Garden District eatery, also serves ‘Contemporary Louisiana Cuisine.’ Entrées include hearty favorites such as New Orleans-Style Veal Grillades with Mushrooms and Cheddar Grits, as well as eponymous Upperline Bar-B-Q Shrimp. Curious epicureans can choose a “Taste of New Orleans,” a prix fixe ($38.50) selection of seven Louisiana-inspired dishes including Duck Etouffée, Andouille Gumbo, Roast Duck with Ginger Peach Sauce and bread pudding.

Public Displays
Support the symphony with your sweetie Feb. 7, at 8 p.m., with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s presentation of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6” at the newly restored Mahalia Jackson Theatre of the Performing Arts. Conductor Carlos Miguel Prieto leads Wu Man (pipa) in the program, which will also include Haydn’s “Symphony No. 59 (in A major)” and Harrison’s “Concerto for Pipa with String Orchestra.”

Vexing vixens will fawn over tickets to see the New Orleans Opera Association’s presentation of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre (March 20 and 22). This opera has gifted its genre with some of its best-known songs, including the “Toréador Song” and the “Habanera.”

The story (Don José falls for Carmen; his old girlfriend dumps him; he mutinies at work and turns criminal, only to have Carmen reject him for another guy), while admittedly a bummer, remains relatable and intriguing.

Lovebirds over the age of 21 can stray from the arts and open their hearts by attending one of February’s sexiest charity events, WYES’s annual Chocolate Sunday. Held Feb. 8 at Generations Hall, Chocolate Sunday is a Wonka-grade festival where patrons can feast on sweets from treat purveyors such as Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse, Blue Frog Chocolates, Community Coffee and more to be named. (Tickets can be ordered online at

A lower-calorie option is the Antique Rose Sale, Feb. 14, 9-12 a.m., hosted by New Orleans Botanical Garden. This year will be the first since summer 2005 to be held at the Pelican Greenhouse – to see a list of roses for sale, check

A gift certificate for a bit of pampering is another oldie-but-goodie, fail-safe route. New Orleans has many fine day spas, such as Spa Aria at the Hotel Monteleone. Amongst Spa Aria’s long list of lush treatments are the “Body Rituals,” each of which includes a Body Polish and 45-minute massage.

Lovejoy Day Spa is small (two treatment rooms, two manicure chairs, two pedicure chairs) but offers some good deals; for example, the “Pure Joy” package includes an hour-long full body massage, 30-minute foot reflexology and a 15-minute scalp massage for $135. Spa Manhattan on the West Bank is accommodating couples by offering V-day specials all month. For couples, the spa has a “candlelit room,” complete with hydrotherapy tub (and candles). Also offer are couples massages (for an idea of price, a 1-hour Swedish couples massage is $140).

Fly, Float, Feast!
New Or-love-ians can fly high with Air Reldan, Inc., a charter flight company based out of New Orleans Lakefront and St. Tammany Regional airports. The company offers specialty flights including the $240 (per couple) Wine & Cheese flight; 45-minute Champagne Flight; Joy Ride (only $65 a person!); and the hilariously unambiguous, 1-hour, “complete privacy assured,” Mile High Club flight. (Provide your own entertainment for that last one.)

Those who’d rather float than fly can board a NOLA port city icon, The Steamboat Natchez, for a relaxed dinner cruise. You can make a date for any of the regularly scheduled jazz dinner cruises, or for this special occasion, the Steamboat’s special Feb. 14 V-Day cruise featuring a buffet dinner, and champagne toast.

Also toasting Valentine’s Day is Savvy Gourmet, which will host an aphrodisiac cooking class on Friday, Feb. 13. The 3-hour, $75 per person class will instruct lovers on how to compose three dishes: Champagne poached oysters; pan-seared duck with vanilla rum butter; and chocolate fondue for dessert.

With all of these options for romantic fun, who could resist celebrating Valentine’s Day? Just remember, it is the thought that counts – so think of something good!

Cafe Amelie, 912 Royal St., 412-8965.

Stella!, 1032 Chartres St., 587-0091,

The Upperline, 1413 Upperline St., 891-9822,

Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, 523-6530,

Carmen, 529-2278, (800) 881-4459,

WYES Chocolate Sunday, 486-5511 ext. 200,

Antique Rose Sale, New Orleans Botanical Garden, 482-4888.

Spa Aria, 214 Royal St., 523-9990, (866) 319-2742,

Lovejoy Day Spa, 200 Metairie Road, Metairie, 828-1997,

Spa Manhattan, 1901 Manhattan Blvd., Harvey, 365-7001,

Air Reldan, Inc., (985) 893-0096,

The Steamboat Natchez, 586-8777, (800) 233-2628,

The Savvy Gourmet, 4519 Magazine St., 895-2665,