Los Angeles Times

Romantic Restaurants

Romance comes in all shapes and styles, whether you find it in a Bronx auberge or Midtown power spot.

Feed Your Fantasy. If you're a serious chocaholic, head to the Upper West Side, where chef Scott Campbell is going all out, with an extreme chocolate menu that starts with chocolate martinis and gets ever more exotis. Appetizers include chocolate barbecued spareribs and smoked pork with chocolate; mains range from pan-seared chicken with mole to braised beef with chocolate stout. Desserts include chocolate-dipped gooseberries or gianduja ice cream sandwiches. (270 Columbus Avenue; 212-579-0100)

Power Dining: Lever House. What is it with full-throttle egomania and modernist sensibility? Four Seasons had it, and now Lever House does, too. Still, the menu includes plenty of things you want to eat; for Valentine's Day dinner, choices include poussin with foie gras sauce, lobster tails and wild mushroom risotto. Prix-Fixe: $85 per person for a three-course meal. Power included. (390 Park Avenue; 212-888-2700)

Romance on a Greek Island: Snack Taverna. No columns, no murals. The place is relaxed and sophisticated; the only visual cue to the Aegean are the photographs on the brick walls. But the taste of the islands is all over the menu: braised lamb with a citrusy yogurt, grilled snapper for two, roast monkfish. The big concession to Valentines is that they can reserve a table ahead of time. (63 Bedford Street; 212-929-3499)

Snuggle Up to a Friendly Italian: La Bottega. Well, yes, it comes with plenty of buzz. But it also has a friendly feeling about it, and the food is basic and fortifying. Service is friendly, and the vibe is as relaxed as anything with this much vibe can be. (88 Ninth Avenue; 212-243-8400)

Have Breakfast in Provence: Nice Matin. During the day, this bright, sunny room bursts with enthusiasm, but at breakfast time (starting at 7 a.m.) the place is a good deal calmer. Provencal-inspired specialties include an omelette built around a flavorful ratatouille, a spicy lamb sausage and egg scramble, and a choice of fritattas. At dinner, go for the hearty daube.(201 West 79th Street; 212-873-6423)

Love on a Tropical Island: Les Enfants Terribles. Yes, we know how cold it's been, but the folks at Enfants Terrible don't seem to pay it any mind: walk through the door, and you might as well be on an island off the coast of Africa. While the chef promises a few specials for Valentines, he says they won't stray far from the regular carte -- the place is new, he says, and people haven't gotten bored with it yet. So, we figure you should plan on ordering the picana, the African-accented steak-frites, just like always. (37 Canal Street; 212-777-7518)

Head South: Jezebel. The place is more than a little over the top, with shawls, bits of lace, screens, chandeliers, all hung strategically around the room. The menu comes direct from New Orleans: Charleston She-Crab Soup, fried chicken and waffles, seafood Creole, and smothered pork chops. For the folks here, Valentines Day is the same as any other -- the place has earned its romantic rep, and it's always got a contingent of folks falling in love at the next table -- and the menu will be its same familiar self. (630 Ninth Avenue; 212-582-1045)

Thai One On: Erawan. Queens residents have kept this Thai restaurant a pretty good secret, but the food makes it a place that deserves more recognition. Go for the whole crispy fish or the Talay Thai -- seafood with lime leaves, chili, and basil. (42-31 Bell Boulevard, Bayside; 718-428-2112)

Splurge on Food: The Grocery. Smith Street's little restaurant that could is playing in the big leagues, with New American cooking that stands up to anything across the river. The candle-lit interior is typical Smith Street style, which means the room is long and narrow and slightly cramped. Valentines night there will be a special menu, although the chef hasn't decided what's on it yet. Note, though, that this level of cooking comes with a price tag that's just as high as Manhattan's: the four-course dinner will set you back $100 per person. (288 Smith Street; 718-596-3335)

Head for the Shore. And stay awhile. Le Refuge, the French country auberge on City Island serves up classic French cooking in a pretty dining room. After dinner, you can get romantic in one of the rooms upstairs in the inn. Three-course prix-fixe dinner is $65 per person. (620 City Island Avenue; 718-885-2478)

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