Find some Valentine's dining privacy
The scene: a couple is enjoying an intimate Valentine’s Day dinner. The desserts arrive, and lo and behold, there’s a ring inside one of them.
Tobias MacDonald, chef de cuisine at La Belle Auberge, has inserted his fair share of rings into the final course. “It’s a little clichéd,” he says, laughing. He’s done it so many times that he once turned it into a joke on a friend. When his friend came to the restaurant on a second date with a young woman, MacDonald placed a fake ring in her piece of cake just to scare his friend with her reaction.
This year, with all the Olympic hoopla and heinous traffic, finding a place to cuddle and nibble—on excellent food, of course—in relative peace may be challenging. However, there are numerous options away from the fray. (Unless otherwise noted, restaurants will be offering only their special menu, rather than their regular menu.)
La Belle Auberge—a Ladner stalwart located at 4856 48th Avenue—is situated in a century-old heritage house full of Victorian charm and free from 2010 buzz. “It’s the perfect place to hold hands and stare into your lover’s eyes, and have a great meal to go with it,” MacDonald says by phone.
His gastronomical wooing consists of a decadent five-course menu ($120) offered on Saturday and Sunday (February 13 and 14) with choices like lobster bisque baked in a puff pastry crust, cinnamon-smoked duck breast with Westham Island blueberry sauce, and a dessert trio of chocolate mousse, crí¨me brí»lée, and lemon tart.
Like La Belle Auberge, Burnaby’s Pear Tree Restaurant (4120 Hastings Street) has received a lot of weekend bookings, but fret not if you haven’t snagged a table there yet. The Pear Tree, which is normally closed Mondays, will also be open on February 15. Diners can swoon over a $55 three-course menu, which features Bradner Farms organic rock hen with mustard spaetzle, celeriac purée, and hon shimeji mushrooms.
Down the street from the Pear Tree is Vita Bella Ristorante (4544 Hastings Street), a Burnaby Heights secret. This year, co-owner and executive chef Leo Moschetti is looking forward to welcoming couples from outside the neighbourhood who might otherwise dine downtown. “We’re downtown quality with lower prices,” he says in a phone chat. His $55 three-course menu, available February 13 and 14, lets diners choose between mains like porcini-dusted filet mignon with truffle-infused demi-glace and grilled venison with sun-dried blueberry demi-glace.
Kerrisdale, where residents tend to go to bed before 9 p.m. (okay, maybe 9:30 during the Olympics), offers the promise of quietude for romance-seeking diners. Suvai (2279 West 41st Avenue), a Kerrisdale favourite, will be full of local folk supping with nary a Quatchi in sight. Jack Parasiuk, owner of this snug bistro, admits he gets warm and fuzzy over romance. “I will have it [the room] decorated for Valentine’s with balloons and heart candles on the tables,” he says during a phone chat. “Lovey-dovey with good food—the whole meaning of life!” The regular menu will be on offer on February 13 and 14, as well as a $40 three-course table d’hôte with a creamy shrimp bisque, roasted quail with blueberry cognac sauce, and profiteroles.
Away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway and West 4th, Trafalgars Bistro (2603 West 16th Avenue) in Kits is another cozy neighbourhood spot. (Feel free to whisper those sweet nothings.) Head chef Chris Beltrano has a $45 four-course menu that features comforting selections like tomato-braised beef with roasted carrots and pommes purée, and buttermilk fried chicken with chickpea purée and carrot slaw. “Nothing says romance like fried chicken,” he jokes over the phone.
Couples who want to go eclectically global without getting near the chaos downtown can dine on the Drive. Harambe (2149 Commercial Drive) serves delicious Ethiopian fare in unassuming surroundings decorated with African art. The restaurant will be sticking with its regular, very affordable menu on the 14th. For those in a sharing, feed-your-partner sort of mood, the combination platters for two are ideal. The meat version ($24.99) consists of yebeg wat (lamb stew), doro wat (chicken stew), assorted veggies and salad, and plenty of injera (sourdough flatbread) for scooping it all up.
Trevor Booth, executive chef at Havana (1212 Commercial Drive), put together an à la carte Valentine’s menu (mains $17 to $20) because he wanted to appeal to families and groups of friends as well as couples looking for a more casual experience. It includes lobster and halibut ceviche, roasted pork loin with Yukon potato purée and glazed apple, and a molten chocolate cake that one customer swears is so good it induced her labour. (Watch out expectant couples!)
Over the phone, Booth says every proposal that has taken place at the restaurant over the years has been successful. As for his track record with placing rings in desserts”¦that’s another matter. In one case, the suitor in question forgot to monitor his girlfriend’s every bite. “The young lady almost ended up swallowing the ring because he was distracted by something else that was going on.” Don’t worry, she didn’t swallow it—and she said yes.