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Valentine's Day: the madness begins

I was dining out last night for the last time before I nestle safely into my own kitchen for the next few days. It was instructive to talk to the bartender, servers, and chef, who were all girding themselves mentally for a siege over the next two days. It was clear that while they were grateful for the coming surge in business, they still were in utter dread of the Valentine's Day weekend crowds.

I like to say (I know, ad nauseum) that it's silly to dine out on this weekend, as Valentine's Day is part of the great Overpriced, Overcrowded Amateur-Night troika that includes New Year's Eve and Mother's Day, but I guess some Hounds have not-so-terrible experiences or can't manage to duck their V-Day duty. So I've started this thread to capture: who's going out, where, and (in a day or two), how was it? Do you bring reduced expectations? Whatever your expectations, how well were they met?


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  1. I have Vday off, as my sommelier services are not highly in demand with the white zin crowd, so my husband and I are going to this dumpy Italian BYO near our house. I can't imagine they'll see much Vday traffic. We're bringing some aged Barolo and maybe an older Barb I've been meaning to knock back. If the service blows, at least we'll have amazing juice.

    Let the chaos commence!

    1. One of us celebrates a b-day this weekend as well, so it is tough to always follow common sense and stay in. We tend to go back and forth among going out to dinner (and being disappointed almost every time), cooking at home and getting take out sushi. This year we are back in the go out cycle and are hoping to better the terrible experience we had at harvest several years ago on V-Day. We are actually dipping our toes into these waters twice.

      Tonight we are meeting friends at Les Zygomates (for the 1st time in 8 years or so). Tomorrow we will stay local in the neighborhood at Garden at the Cellar as they are taking reservations for V-Day and doing a fixed menu which looks promising without being a total gouge at $50/pp.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Gabatta

        Les Zyg was great. Food, service and atmosphere were all excellent and having a plentiful list of reasonably priced wines (while still maintaining a full bar) doesn't hurt. I will need to make sure I don't wait 8 years to go again.

        I forgot about the raw bar there. Both the quality and presentation were top notch. We sampled some Island Creek's, lobster tail, peel & eat shrimp (huge but cooked perfectly) and clams. All were delicious. Starters included the mussels, pate, frisee salad and french onion soup. All were outstanding. The egg on the frisee was poached perfectly, and the soup was extremely flavorful and avoided the usual molten hunk of cheese with bland liquid underneath trap. While not living up to the impossibly high standards set by Hammersley's, the cassoulet was very good. The tagine braised lamb shank with harissa was memorable as well. Everyone enjoyed the meal very much, and it was served at a relaxed pace.

        We will see if the Garden can do as well this evening. For lunch today I surprised my wife with a lobster roll from Belle Isle, served in the car after picking her up from a nail appointment. She declared it her new favorite roll in Boston and it would be touch to disagree. The roll was bursting with tail and claw meat (the car needs a bit of cleaning now). These were the most generous portions of fresh lobster I have seen in quite awhile. We will definitely be going back there soon. All other lobster rolls in the immediate Boston area are playing second fiddle in our eyes.

        Les Zygomates Wine Bar & Bistro
        129 South St, Boston, MA 02111

        1. re: Gabatta

          I have found Les Zyg to be consistently fine over the years. The wine program isn't everything it once was, but solid bartending otherwise helps. That raw bar is comparatively new, less than three years old, if memory serves, and a nice addition as well.


        2. re: Gabatta

          The Garden was fine on Sunday night, not great, but all things considered about as much as one can reasonably expect on v-day. Per usual, the food was good to very good, while the service and bar tending was piss poor.

          Wife's beet risotto was the standout app, while my ricotta gnudi was fantastic in the entree's. Pork belly app and salmon entree were ok, but nothing special. Desserts were both unremarkable. We left full and satisfied, but overall not a great value. We knew that going in though and chose to go anyway. It was worth keeping within walking distance.

          Holiday or not, they really need to improve the service consistency.

          Probably back to cooking at home next year.

        3. I think we will be going out for dinner Valentine's Day; having nothing to do with the fact that it is a "special day" and everything to do with the fact that we someone to watch our toddler that night. The good news is we will be out early, by 6ish, so hopefully we will not be impacted by the crowds. I have no interest in prix-fixe and/or special menus so I'm seeking out spots that will offer their usual suspects. I posted previously about being in the Brighton (actually Allston) area and so I think we're going to try Carlos' italian or Washington Street Tavern. Depends what we are in the mood for.....

          1. I've found that hole in the wall ethnic is the way to go. Not terribly romantic, but good food.

            1 Reply
            1. re: trufflehound

              Amen to "hole in the wall ethnic"! Usually interesting and fun, sometimes great. We did our V-day dinner at Tepthida Khymer in Lowell. Not quite a hole-in-the-wall but almost. Wonderful food! Buy-an-extra-order-to-take-home good! Even Better? Dinner for 2 prix fixe at $39.99, and an additional $5 off with coupon! That includes app, soup/salad, entree, desert, and beer/wine for two! It's a keeper for us.

            2. Bukowski's followed by Jackie Greene at the Paradise.

              1. I cook a lot and sometimes just don't feel like making my own dinner on Valentine's Day - its nice to look forward to a great dinner out. I've found the places that do this best are those that don't do a prix-fixe, serve their regular menu with maybe a couple of V-Day specials, and handle smoothly a holiday as they do any other busy night of week. Our go-to was always Prezza.

                I never understood why this is so difficult for restaurants on holidays. I understand a restaurant that is not usually busy and can't handle the crush, but if you're a successful spot that is used to being fully booked, why do so many fail to deliver.

                Prezza Restaurant
                24 Fleet St Ste 1, Boston, MA 02113

                1. We're going to China Sky in Winchester... except to be surrounded by families who are looking for a nice dinner out. Hopefully not couples at nauseum. Maybe some specials for Chinese New Year? That would be great!

                  1. Guess I'm on the fence, I do like to out on the day, but when the holiday falls on the weekend it makes it that much more difficult. My local after work spot is not normally open on Sunday but because it's Valentines Day they decided to open and since they're not actually advertising the fact (not even on their website) I'm thinking it just might work. Of course, I could just say the heck with it and go to the local pub for an Irish breakfast, we'll see.

                    1. I'm cooking tomorrow, but tonight (Saturday) we are heading to Cragie on Main. We are there all the time anyhow, and they are always at capacity, even in the middle of the week, so I'm confident Chef will continue to turn out high quality dishes.

                      We shouldn't make too much of this "don't go out on Valentines" bit. For those of us who cook at home a lot, it is a nice reprieve. If you hit the right place--one that takes food seriously any night of the week--I don't think it will be armageddon. That said, obviously I'm heading out tonight and not tomorrow, so I am curious what other dinners experience.

                      2 Replies
                        1. re: rlove

                          As expected, last night was wonderful.

                          Craigie offered a Valentines prix fixe for $85 (today is a grander, larger prix fixe for $150) but we ordered à la carte off the standard menu (given to all guests along with the Valentines menu), which was priced as usual.

                          Couple excellent cocktails by Paul while we waited. To eat, we started with the tempura cod cheeks and the ragoût. Shared the roast chicken for two.

                          The ragoût is killer; Tony has been making it in various renditions for about a year: seasonal vegetables, wild mushrooms, and a perfectly-poached runny egg atop. Last night's had pioppini (shimeji) mushrooms, boudin noir, and rabbit sausage.

                          They were packed and crazy, but then they always are. I love the energy. Excellent food, service, and drink.

                        2. I continue to fear going out with any expectations around Feb 14. That said, we had our dinner out last night at Moultons and it was amazing with lobster scampi and lobster pie as well as a really generous serving of perfectly-fried oysters to start.

                          We stay in tonight with seared halibut (Sazerac kicking off the evening in my new, perfect rocks glasses!) and then look forward to using the special occasion excuse tomorrow night for home-cooked prime filet with mushroom madeira, spinach salad, and creme brulee for dessert (again, great excuse to break out the blow torch- just wish I could find a TAHITIAN vanilla bean or two...) with a nice Gigondas.

                          1. I walked home tonight past House of Tibet outside Davis and there were only 3 couples dining around 6pm (it's been sadly very empty these days) but the scene, framed by the big windows, was lovely, cozy and modest.

                            1. We will be heading into Boston next weekend. Will pretend it's the 14th. Neptune Oyster for lunch!!

                              1. My husband made reservations at Craigie about two months ago, and wanted to keep the restaurant a surprise. I suspected that the reservation was at Craigie, and when the menu came out, I saw that it was a whopping $150/person for Feb. 14. So I asked him if he had seen the menu for our special night, and he said no. I told him it'd be a good idea to check it out just in case they marked up the prices way above what we expected.

                                Turns out I was right, and we changed our reservation to the 15th, when the menu is still marked up ($75/person) but we'll stil be saving enough money for 3 weeks of groceries by going a day later!

                                So to celebrate on the 14th, we've decided to treat ourselves to a little Burdick's hot chocolate and call it a day before preparing for our fantastic meal at Craigie the next night. I think it's a brilliant plan!

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: ineemeeny

                                  Wait, I'm confused -- isn't Craigie closed on Mondays? Are they opening special this week?

                                  1. re: purple bot

                                    You are correct: normally closed Mondays. Special Valentine's weekend 4-course prix fixe, $75 on Monday.


                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      Due to popular demand Craigie will be open on all Mondays starting 2/15.
                                      I'm on their mailing list, and this info was sent out along with the V-Day info.

                                      1. re: kimfair1

                                        Just got a Tweet from Craigie that says their plans to open regularly on Mondays are now "on hold for a while".


                                  2. re: ineemeeny

                                    I was at Craigie for their Valentines day dinner last year and left feeling so ripped off that I didn't go back for several months, except for an occasional drink or bar bite.

                                    1. re: ineemeeny

                                      Our Monday night dinner at Craigie on Main was fantastic! An amuse bouche, appetizer, entree, dessert, complimentary dessert wine and Taza hot chocolate for $75 was a pretty good deal, we thought!

                                      Between the two of us, we ordered everything on the prix-fixe menu. The best dishes were the appetizers and the mixed fruit tart. The mushroom ragout with poached egg was so rich and delicious! And the sashimi had an amazing combination of textures and spices! Mmm! The mixed fruit dessert was really special, and the canela ice cream on top had such a unique flavor! Some of our dishes, like the scallops and gingerbread pain perdu, were just alright.

                                      The service was top-notch, and the atmosphere is great, and most of the food was really good...but I have to say that we both enjoyed our V-day at Ten Tables JP better, mostly because every course we had there was completely mind-blowing.

                                    2. We planned for tonight instead of tomorrow and went to Scutra. They had one or two specials for the day, special drinks, free chocolates with the check, etc, but otherwise were on their game. We had a very nice meal and will happily hide at home tomorrow night!

                                      1. Yesterday we ate a late brunch (3:30) at Sel de la Terre, Natick. That was our "family" V-day, for my hubby, daughter and me. This morning I made Nutella-stuffed French-toast cut into a heart shape with mascerated strawberries for the fam. For tonight, will stop by Concord Cheese Shop and get a variety of yummies and wine for a romantic night in. No desire to fight the crowds, especially since I don't have tomorrow off.

                                        1. My partner and I will be going to our favorite place tonight! Troquet is doing the regular ala carte menu, no gouging. That is one of the reasons it remains our favorite restaurant!

                                          5 Replies
                                          1. re: csammy

                                            Troquet was excellent once again. We both started with a glass of Krug Grande Cuvee while we looked over the menu. I started with the Foie Gras Duo and a glass of Sauternes and my partner had the Nantucket bay scallop ceviche, I don't remember what he had to drink. For our entrees I had one of the specials the rabbit sous vide with black truffles ($38 a bargain). My partner had the Suckling Pig which is always great. We splurged on a great bottle of 1978 red Burgundy which was out of this world. For dessert we split a special, baked Alaska which was one of the best desserts that I have ever had. It was a great night, my only regret was that I didn't have room for the cheese trolley.
                                            Total bill for the food was about $110 ( Our wine bill was steep but still a steal for aged perfection).

                                            1. re: csammy

                                              I love that pig dish. I notice that the prices have crept up since the last time I was there, especially apps: tough to get app/entree for much under $50 these days.


                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                Yes, probably but I still think all of the entrees are under $40. Then again everything has crept up in price, gas, milk, movie tickets etc. Why should a restaurant be any different, if they are paying more for foie gras, then they did 2 years ago, should they not charge more? I feel Troquet is one of the few places where there is value at the high end, both with their food and their wine.

                                                1. re: csammy

                                                  Not a criticism of Troquet's value, but it did strike me. It had been a while since I'd been back.


                                              2. re: csammy

                                                I am definitely a fan of Troque tand have been wanting to try that roast suckling pig. Now that I know they have baked alaska I think I'll have to make more of an effort to get there. I've made baked alaska a few times, and it's a fair amount of work but people still are in awe of it, not because I made it but because of the whole concept. Love their cheese selections.

                                            2. It's not always about the venue. My first choice,a local spot, wasn't opening until 4:00 and I really just wanted a relaxing lunch. I ended up at the local Irish pub, Sonny's in Adams Village (Hamster are you reading this?) with zero expectations. However, Sonny's has new people in the kitchen and I was totally surprised and pleased at how good the baked stuffed shrimp was. Add to the fact that Keno worked out well, and we had the company of people I hadn't seen in ages, I could not have been more pleased.

                                              1. We went out Saturday night instead of Sunday. I chose Rendezvous because it's been on my To Try list for so long and seemed the right combination of casual but somewhat romantic. Most importantly, they were serving their regular menu. It was a lovely night.

                                                We were seated promptly for our 9:00 reservation, in a cozy corner banquette complete with pillows. I had an Orient Express (gin, pomegranate, lemon, rose), which I was concerned would be sweet, but it was delicious and deceptively potent. I'm not usually a fan of sourdough bread, but theirs was so moist and doughy I couldn't resist eating a big slab.

                                                For apps, I had two cheeses (from Formaggio). I can't remember the names, but one was a semi-hard goat that reminded me of Morbier, and the other was a semi-soft cow with white rind. They were good, neither was too strong--I'm not a stinky cheese fan--but I won't be on the lookout for them. It's always fun to try new cheeses, though. They came on a board with toasts, jam, nuts and apple slices. The bread was the best vehicle. My DC had the Boston Lettuce Salad with pecans, cheddar and apples, and really liked it even though he's not a big salad fan and was being "good."

                                                For mains, I had a wonderful vegetarian dish, the Bollito Misto, which was a stew of mushrooms, carrots, cauliflower, kale, (I'm probably missing some), on a bed of polenta. Yum. It's a rare pleasure for a vegetarian to eat a hardy stew. My DC had the steak frites, perfectly cooked medium rare with garlic butter, spinach that he found good enough to comment on, and meaty french fry wedges.

                                                For dessert I had the pear crostada with strong rum ice cream. It was nice, but my DC's warm apple fritters were great--crispy outside, doughy (again with the doughy) inside.

                                                Maybe it was because we were seated at 9:00 that, although the place was full, we weren't at all rushed. Each couse was perfectly-timed, and we finished at 11:00. The service was excellent and understated, just how I like it. I like Green Street around the corner, but for about the same price, Rendezvous is a step up in all departments.

                                                1. It appears most people on the board went out Saturday, and not on V-Day itself.

                                                  I'm in that group as well: went out to Evoo on Saturday. I've never been, but it seemed "normal busy" for a Saturday night.

                                                  I'm generally not a dessert person, but I've long heard that their herb-infused crème brulée was excellent. They had a basil crème brulée on Saturday, and it was in fact awesome.

                                                  Mrs. A and I shared the beef tenderloin with an orange bernaise and roast chicken entrees. At first I thought "orange??" but it worked well. Roast chicken also great.

                                                  Apps were a trio of perfectly crisp and delicious spring rolls and a beet salad--mmm... beets!

                                                  Wines were, I thought, incredibly reasonably priced!

                                                  Need to up Evoo in the rotation. Hopefully the prices will remain the same in their new location. I thought this place was a bargain for what you got.

                                                  On V-Day itself, pumpkin pancakes for breakfast.

                                                    1. My wife was a server at various fine-dining restaurants in Boston for 10 years, and went through V-Day hell many times (I actually enjoyed having an excuse to celebrate on a different day, I have to admit!). So of course, what's the first thing she wants to do now that she is done with the restaurant industry?

                                                      Go out for Valentine's Day!

                                                      We were in the mood for Italian so we went to Rialto and it was actually quite nice. There were a few service mishaps (check left on the table from previous diner, mid-course snack we were sent but wasn't cleared before mains arrived), but way less than I expected given how fried folks must have been by the rush, and they were serving their regular menu so you weren't locked in to an event menu. The food was on par with recent visits during much less crowded weekends. They are serving a wild-game agnolotti as part of a focus they are doing on the Piedmont that is out of this world- earthy, meaty, melting deliciousness.

                                                      All in all, for going out on Valentine's Day it way exceeded my (low) expectations.

                                                      1. I certainly wasn't celebrating V. Day but a friend was in town and we were going to Church anyway, so we ate at the restaurant. I was thinking we'd sit right down, and I did grab 2 of the last 3 seats at the bar, but they were jammed. Bartender was crazed but was a good guy, just had a glass of gruner. The bread basket was fine but the butter seemed a little old. No special set menu, most everything is <$20 but they've got a new menu and it's set up kind of weird. So appetizers of the fish variety are listed with the entrees, meat apps and entrees together, etc. Split some fried artichokes which is a very good way to spend $4. I had the shrimp scampi flatbread and that was good, no complaints for $7. Friend ordered salmon but they had to change it to tuna which she didn't mind, came with rice and grilled asparagus for $18. Dessert of butterscotch creme brulee was delicious and only $6. Once again, got lucky on one of those days that everyone else hates going out to dinner.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Joanie

                                                          Hi Joanie. Which restaurant?

                                                          We went to Bon Savor (one of our favorites) on Saturday and there was the standard menu with no markup. We enjoyed the steak argentina (great taste and value), rice and mushrooms, and the peruvian tuna (there were three of us) and shared the daily pate (head cheese) and a warm pecan pie with chocolate chile ice cream. Nice meal but overly crowded. Sunday was dinner at home for 6. Proscuitto and melon, roast leg of lamb, roast potatoes and asparagus with shiitake and miso butter, a salad with roasted beets, goat cheese and shaved fennel, and a pear tarte tatin. Simple and classical but tasty.

                                                            1. re: Joanie

                                                              oops. i thought you were going to church not Church.

                                                        2. Ha - this is the classic Yogi-ism - "It's so crowded, no one goes there anymore..."

                                                          Did anyone actually go out on Sunday?

                                                          I made this instead - http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/mem...

                                                          Substituted turkey for beef/pork - secret is to use 1lb. of dark meat ground turkey.

                                                          1. We did end up going to Carlo's on Brighton Ave and had a good meal. I was there years ago but barely remembered; good homestyle italian. Not the most relaxing spot as they really pack 'em in there...loud and bustling and by 6pm totally full. Big portions, good food, cooked w/lotsa butter, which was fine, albeit just a bit too rich for my DC. It was their standard menu with a few v-day specials. Great place to enjoy a meal and didn't seem to matter much whether or not it was v-day; I have a feeling they are always that busy.

                                                            1. We went to Erbaluce. Food and service were both excellent, though we waited a long time between appetizers and mains (on the order of 30 minutes). They were busy, even in the bar area, but seemed happily so. The food certainly didn't suffer from the curse of V-Day. Regular menu and pricing, with a few interesting specials (razor clams, sardines, a shallow water variety of mackeral, white chocolate budino) to spice things up.

                                                              7 Replies
                                                              1. re: peelmeagrape

                                                                I think that long pause between app and entree at Erbaluce is pretty typical in my experience, not just an event-night thing. I don't like that kind of leisurely pacing everywhere, but it makes sense to me there. My last dinner there took about two hours, a great evening.


                                                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                  I should be so lucky. On Saturday a friend and I- rather forgetting that it was V. Day eve- went to Bistro du Midi.

                                                                  I had the foie gras appetizer and venison main course, and both were excellent (as were my friend's app and meal).

                                                                  Even though they brought all of them at the exact same time.

                                                                2. re: peelmeagrape

                                                                  I think MC Slim may be right - we experienced the same thing between our apps and entrees at Craigie on Main.

                                                                  1. re: ineemeeny

                                                                    Don't want to speak for MC, but I think he was referring specifically to the wait btwn app and entree at Erbaluce...right?

                                                                    1. re: twentyoystahs

                                                                      I think he was, and I've experienced it too--Erbaluce just has a noticeable lag in bringing out your secondo. I don't love it, but it doesn't ruin the evening--I am usually there for a special, long evening.

                                                                      1. re: twentyoystahs

                                                                        I was referring to Erbaluce.

                                                                        I don't think I've noticed a similar pause at Craigie, but I've also had most of my meals there at the bar, and not usually an app/entree or anti/primo/secondo sequence there. More like: burger, catnap, digestivo. Or potato galette, salad, pig's tails. Or cocktail, cheese plate, dessert.


                                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                          Oops. Misinterpreted what you said. But it happened at Craigie anyhow when we ordered our four-course meal...

                                                                  2. I've been in NYC the past few days. We went to Fragole in the Carroll Gardens section of Brooklyn. It was a bit loud and pretty busy, but they had their regular menu (with specials) and there was no push to have our table given to the next party. And the food was absolutely incredible. All in all, a great Valentine's Day.

                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                    1. re: hiddenboston

                                                                      Hey Marc, you go to NYC fairly often maybe you would be willing to post on the Manhatten board with a few more suggestions? I"ll be there next week (Times Square) for a conference.

                                                                      1. re: Pegmeister

                                                                        Send me a note if you have a chance, Pegmeister, and I'll send you a list of restaurants I like. I'll also try to head over to that board over the next few days.

                                                                        1. re: hiddenboston

                                                                          Thanks, I sent you an e-mail through your hiddenboston site.

                                                                    2. We went to No. 9 on Saturday night and had the V-day tasting menu, which was fantastic. Oyster to start, king crab or monkfish cheek as a next course, followed by taleggio agnolotti with truffles, then the prune gnocchi, followed by a delicious ribeye with mushrooms, then dessert. All courses were perfectly portioned and executed, and service was fantastic. We even got to take home the centerpiece, which was a potted arrangement of forced bulbs with rose buds. To finish out the night, we enjoyed the hot chocolate bar set up in the cafe. All in all, it was a perfect meal!

                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                          $150 for 6 courses plus the complimentary hot chocolate bar- not too bad.

                                                                          1. re: hsquare2southend

                                                                            I assume that's per head, and didn't include wine, tax, or tip?


                                                                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                                              Yup. That's correct. Worth the splurge for us since we're expecting and may not be getting out again for a LONG time!

                                                                      1. Didn't go out V day but tonight went for an oyster and martini fix to Legal. WE were told that they still had "big boy" lobsters from vday and we could have the vday special for $200.
                                                                        An 8 1/2 lb lobster, oysters, two side dishes and dessert(dinner for 2).