In a city awash with V-Day prix fixes of varying quality, we’ve dug up romantic spots—spanning Italian, seafood and more—offering à la carte menus for a Valentine’s Day dinner, from low-key, low-cost options to high-end environs for the grand gesture. Make a reservation today.
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If you’re planning a date at this locavore tavern, a word of advice: Arrive early to avoid a lengthy wait. Pie-hobbyist-turned-pro Paul Giannone produces more than a dozen truly original ’zas, with gorgeously blackened crusts covered in crispy nooks and pillowy bubbles. The Cherry Jones—a frequent special featuring orange-blossom honey, Gorgonzola, mozzarella, dried Bing cherries and wispy prosciutto di Parma—is a beautiful balance of sweet and salty. The rustic setting and low lighting make Paulie’s a charming date spot—and if you’re lucky, you might get a table with a view of the roaring custom-built oven.
A date at this Brooklyn offshoot of chef Andy Ricker’s Portland hot spot feels wonderfully intimate, thanks to its out-of-the-way location and small quarters. You’ll have to queue for a table, but it’s worth the wait for fine renditions of Northern Thai dishes. Impress your mate by ordering the khanom jiin naam ngiew (described as “hard to say but easy to eat,” $14), a savory broth with hulking portions of vermicelli, tender pork ribs and minced beef, plus pickled mustard greens from the condiment plate. The tiny front dining room boasts the coziest environs, with room at the bar and several tables for two.
A clandestine second-floor location makes this dinner-only spot feel like a secret known only to you and your boo (okay, and everyone else packing in for dinner). Chef King Phojanakong channels his culinary pedigree (which includes stints at Daniel and Danube), along with his Thai and Filipino heritage, into elegantly presented small plates, such as an omelette studded with plump, Willapa Bay, WA, oysters, and hunks of seared ahi tuna luxuriating in a spicy miso vinaigrette. Split a dessert, like the coconut ginger rice pudding, or a custardy twist on key lime pie made with kalamansi.
Channel vintage New York romance at this 90-year-old stalwart, which got a face-lift in 2010. The dining room sees checkered cloths covering Art Deco tables, and couples huddled beneath an old poster of a glam Chinese movie star Chow Yun-Fat. The food, too, stands apart: Try the ultrafluffy oversize roasted pork bun ($1.50), the flaky fried crepe egg roll ($3.95) and the tender stuffed eggplant ($3.50) filled with a spiced shrimp-and-squid mixture.
Jody Williams’s diminutive, Gallic-themed “gastroteque” provides a cozy setting for your celebration (as if you needed an excuse to cuddle up). The toque makes a compelling case for reviving old-fashioned French country cooking. Her immaculate renditions of coq au vin, goose-fat rillettes or intense, lacquered wedges of tarte Tatin arrive on tiny plates, in petite jars or in miniature cocottes. The dishes are the perfect inspiration for discussing an impromptu Parisian getaway with your beloved.
Order the audacious smoked-oyster shooters at this tiny East Village wine and ceviche bar, and chef Dominique Martinez will prepare them using a gravity bong right before your eyes. We can’t promise a contact high, but at least there will be a good conversation piece. Other draws include a personable staff prone to friendly banter and bold interpretations of acid-cured fish, in specials like mackerel seasoned with smoked pimenton, fermented black garlic and lemon—a winning blend of exotic flavors.
At Danny Abrams’s popular New England seafood eatery, you can indulge in a purported aphrodisiac, the freshly shucked oyster, for just $1 apiece during happy hour (5–7pm). In addition to a curated raw bar, the bill of fare features plated dishes that salute seafood favorites, ranging from greaseless clam strips with a tangy tartar sauce to a New England clam chowder. It’s tradition at the Mermaid Inn to end your meal with a free cup of rich chocolate pudding and a Fortune Teller fish—hopefully it’ll bode good things for your relationship.
Gabriel Stulman’s 65-seat West Village trattoria is as charming as the tiny street it’s located on, with a marble-topped bar, leather banquettes and stained-wood floors that make it look like a old-school NYC spot. Share market-driven Italian plates, like lobster and caviar with robiolina and leek vinaigrette and agnolotti al sugo d’arrosto (stuffed pasta with roast-meat drippings). To drink, find French and Italian wines, as well as playful cocktails, like the Bernard Hughes Huber, made with apple brandy, Carpano Antica vermouth, spiced syrup and a mix of bitters.
Make your sweetie swoon for spaghetti (and more) at the West Village location of Frankies, the perpetually mobbed tavern from restaurateurs Frank Falcinelli and Frank Castronovo. The menu of rustic sandwiches, pastas and meat plates mirrors their other two locations, but diners can also plump for seasonal specials. Choose from an 80-bottle wine list (made up of mostly Italian vinos), or select a specialty cocktail.
Woo your beloved from morning to night at this warm Soho café. The 40-seat spot—sporting dark-green banquettes, brass railings and marble counters—serves homey fare, like matzo ball soup made with duck fat, a skirt steak sandwich served alongside hand-cut fries, and piri-piri-hot-sauce–marinated chicken kebabs. If your love can’t wait, you’ll find Stumptown coffee, homemade croissants and full breakfast plates—including soft-boiled eggs with challah “soldiers” (strips)—between 10am and 5pm.
Transport your chéri to the City of Light at this East Village bistro, which channels a romantic vision of a bohemian Paris with candlelit tables, Art Deco ironwork and an antique bar imported from across the Atlantic. Enjoy a selection from the affordable, French-heavy wine list and lightened versions of bistro classics, like fragrant lamb stew or a crisp-skinned roast chicken. Finish up with the airy baba au rhum doused in dark Dipolomático rum.
Sushi aces Nick Kim and Jimmy Lau left their respective head-chef posts at Masa and Bar Masa to open this minimalist Japanese eatery, whose sleek decor puts the focus on food—and your dinner date. Take a seat at the small restaurant’s maple counter, inlaid with ebony and order superlative raw-fish specimens. In addition to traditional dishes, the chefs will dispatch creative rolls (such as grilled maitake) and small plates (grilled whole scallop from Boston with Santa Clara umi) from an open kitchen.
You may find yourself reenacting a Lady and the Tramp moment at this terrific downtown homage to classic Bolognese trattoria. Pastas are a success across the board: Try the gnocchi with beef cheek ragu, dried cherries and black olives, or chestnut filled pasta with ricotta, hazlenut and saba. With so much butter and cream, you might want to skip dessert.
Your date will be blown away if you land a Valentine’s Day spot at Mario Batali and Joseph Bastianich’s ever-popular Italian joint, which remains one of the hardest reservations in town to score. But do check that he or she is comfortable with a rollicking dinner soundtrack: The warmly lit, cream-walled townhouse is often alive with jazz and rock & roll. Diners don’t seem to mind, as they consistently pack the spot to dine on pasta and meat dishes, and sample affordable wines by the quartino.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant in the Mark Hotel is especially inviting for a nocturnal date, when the dining room turns dark and sultry. The simple, accessible food is exciting without being too challenging and flawlessly executed: A miniature pizza topped with black-truffle paste and melted fontina is an indulgent treat, as is the restaurant’s fine burger, topped with more truffle and a mild slice of Brie.