Last-Minute Thoughts Can Save the Day


In an ideal world where not only the flowers are rosy, suitors and spouses would get on the phone to their favorite restaurant and florist soon after New Year’s Eve. If that’s your world, you’re all set.

If it’s not, join the club--the Valentine’s Eve club, where true-to-life ditties go something like this:

(Heart) ‘Twas the night before Valentine’s, and all through the houses, couples were panicked like scared little mouses . . .

(Heart) Pick a card, any card . . .


Call it romance on the run.

“Many of the more upscale restaurants have been sold out for a month,” reported Gwen McHugh of Laguna Niguel, who compiles a trade newsletter for concierges. “A month before! I was astonished.”

Conversely, McHugh isn’t surprised by the multitudes who haven’t made plans for Valentine’s Day.

“I worked for a Hallmark store in high school,” she recalled. “At 5:30 on Valentine’s Day the men would come piling in saying, ‘I don’t care, I’ll take anything!’ . . . They’d cross out ‘wife’ or ‘honey’ and write ‘Happy Valentine’s, Mother'--or vice versa. . . . Men must really be thinking in advance this year!”


Not all men, of course, and not all women. But then, those who haven’t planned ahead may be the ones who enjoy the holiday most, as there’s something inherently romantic about spur-of-the-moment activities, on Valentine’s Day or any time.

You don’t even have to be a couple to enjoy them. Here’s a sampling:

Chefs for a day: Chef-owner Dennis Burrage invites guests to work with him for five hours in the kitchen at his Capistrano Depot Restaurant. The cost of $55 per person or $90 per couple (plus tax and tip) includes a chef’s outfit and a three-course lunch or dinner with wine for each participant.

* 26701 Verdugo St., San Juan Capistrano. By appointment. (714) 488-7600.

A cyber-kiss: Take kissing to a new dimension at a virtual kissing booth at Cyber-lovers create e-kisses by selecting favorite lip colors, sizes and patterns--or by choosing from pre-puckered models including a special Valentine’s Day kiss--and sending them to their loved one’s e-mail address.

* (800) 558-6778.

European love songs: The William Hall Master Chorale presents “Valentine’s, A Gift of Love,” an evening of Romantic melodies and popular songs of romance from the French, German and Italian repertory at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. Audience members can serenade their loved ones during a sing-along of sentimental favorites.

* 600 St. Andrews Road, Newport Beach. 8 p.m. Fri. $15-$35. (714) 556-6262.


Eating late: Just because restaurants are booked on Friday doesn’t mean you can’t have a Valentine’s Day-themed dinner. Twin Palms makes a weekend of it with “first dates” including Escargots With a Red Dress On and Smokin’ Emotion Salmon ($9 each); “serious proposals” Hey Sugar, Snap My Shrimp ($18) and Veal Always Have Paris ($20); and such “bliss” items as You Take the Cake, Valentine ($7).

* 630 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach. Valentine dinners served 5-10 p.m. Sat. and Sun. (714) 721-8288.

Romance afloat: Rent a kayak from Balboa Boat Rentals ($15 per hour for double kayaks, $10 per hour for single kayaks) and follow your heart through Newport Harbor; tandem models are practically capsize-proof. Pull up on a beach and enjoy a picnic lunch. Southwind Kayak Center offers rentals in Dana Point on Saturday and beginner’s programs in Newport Beach over the weekend ($10-$65).

* Balboa Boat Rentals, 510 E. Edgewater (next to the Balboa Ferry), (714) 673-7200. Southwind Kayak Center, 17855 Sky Park Circle, No. A, Irvine, (800) 768-8494.

From the art: Sutton Place Art Gallery is spread out over four floors of a hotel. Romantic art includes Hessam’s “Love Is Here” and “Romance Suite,” Martiros’ “Color of Love,” Shlomi Haziza’s “Interlude,” Richard Franklin’s “Eros, Goddess of Love” and Sabzi’s “Passion.” Consider following your tour with a glass of wine in the Trianon Lounge.

* 4500 MacArthur Blvd., Newport Beach. Continuous viewing. (714) 955-5600.

Racing pulses: Los Alamitos Race Course is giving away three weekend vacation packages for two (including air fare) to Cabo San Lucas during its Valentine’s Day harness program. Saturday, the first 3,500 guests receive Los Alamitos Harness Racing sweatshirts.

* 4961 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos. First post, 6:15 p.m. Wed.-Sun. $3 admission. (714) 236-4400.


For play: A disguised princess pursues an anti-romantic young man in Marivaux’s “The Triumph of Love,” an 18th century comedy exploring the wonders and dangers of falling in love. Preview performances begin this weekend on South Coast Repertory’s Mainstage.

* 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. 8 p.m. Sat., 7:30 Sun. $18-$31. (714) 957-4033.

Cards and teddies: At the Newland House Museum, view the “Bears ‘n’ Balentines” exhibit of collectible bears and valentines going back 80 years. The grounds of the Queen Anne-style house, which dates to 1898, are a splendid place for a picnic; the cards are up through Feb. 23.

* 19820 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach. Noon-4 p.m. Sat. and Sun., 2-4 p.m. Wed. and Thur. Adults $2, children $1. (714) 962-5777.