Caveat Emptor: I've said this before, but it's worth saying again: If my e-mails, letters and telephone calls are any indication, Valentine's Day is number one when it comes to generating eating-out complaints.
It makes sense. It's the second-busiest restaurant day of the year (only Mother's Day is busier), but it's probably the meal where the expectations are highest.
And all sorts of foul-ups and irregularities occur. Restaurants often scrap their regular menu for a special holiday menu. That means that the veal parmigiana, ahi tuna or pork chop that you always order at your favorite place may not be there. Instead, the menu may force you to choose chicken and steak.
Some too-tricky-for-their-own-good proprietors, looking to make a killing, use the occasion to jack up prices. That $50 meal for two that you saved up for might be $75 on February 14.
Getting a restaurant reservation for Valentine's Day is like getting an airline reservation for the day before Thanksgiving. Even with a reservation, you can get bumped. Just because you confirmed an 8 o'clock seating, doesn't mean you'll be seated promptly at 8. Like the airlines, some restaurants overbook, hoping to wring extra money out of waiting couples by shuffling them to the bar. They'll try to squeeze in extra seatings, too. Instead of pacing the meal at, say, two hours, they may try to whisk you out in 60 minutes.
Do the heart-smart thing. When you call for a reservation, check the menu, check the prices and check how long you might expect to linger. Better yet, if you have the courage, make your Valentine's meal on Friday, February 12. (This year, Saturday, February 13, figures to be just as busy as Sunday, February 14.) Your sweetie will appreciate your good judgment.
Restaurant Romance: So where should you wow and woo her on Valentine's Day? If she's partial to great views, swanky settings and solicitous service, check out Different Pointe of View, at the Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs. You may run into the likes of coriander-blackened sea bass, smoked Muscovy duck breast and chile-rubbed venison chops.
If she likes cozy, BYOB places run by talented chef/proprietors, consider Gregory's Grill (7049 East McDowell, in Papago Plaza) and Coup Des Tartes (4626 North 16th Street). At Gregory's Grill, she'll enjoy the beer-marinated filet mignon, tandoori-spiced pork tenderloin or grilled halibut in green coconut curry. Coup Des Tartes offers a terrific lamb shank with dried fruit, and the fabulous banana brulee tart will make her think you have more charms than you actually possess.
If your love exceeds your budget, consider a lower-cost ethnic meal. San Carlos Bay (1901 East McDowell) features this town's best Mexican seafood: crab-stuffed chile rellenos, devilishly spicy shrimp endiablados and pescado Veracruzana. If she's a real adventurer, consider Cafe Lalibela (849 West University, Tempe), the Valley's only Ethiopian restaurant. There's no silverware. Instead, you use spongy injera bread to scoop up fragrant stews and vegetables. It's very sensual.
Suggestions? Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,
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