CINCINNATI -- As Valentine's Day draws near, is your heart palpitating over the love of your life … or the pressure of figuring out where to dine on such a symbolic day?
Some restaurants will require reservations while others won't, but Valentine's week is usually a busy time for eateries. Call as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
Here are some places to try around the Tri-State:
Memorial Hall (Over-the-Rhine): Restaurateurs Elias Leisring (Eli's BBQ) and Paul Weckman (Otto's) are teaming up to bring a one-of-a-kind progressive dinner to Memorial Hall. The three-course dinner will unfold in different spaces -- from the ballroom to the theater -- to showcase this lavish venue. Strolling musicians will help set the mood. Tickets are $60 per person and include dinner, dessert and a glass of wine.
Restaurant L (Downtown): A joint venture between two restaurant veterans, chef Jean-Robert de Cavel and maitre d'hôtel Richard Brown, Restaurant L brings the finesse of Parisian dining to the heart of Cincinnati. This Valentine's Day, indulge in a five-course prix fixe menu peppered with luxurious items like lobster, warm foie gras and lamb. The cost is $125 per person, with an optional wine pairing for an additional $65. Gratuity is included in the pricing.
Mita's (Downtown): Immerse yourself in the romance of Spain and Latin America. Chef and owner Jose Salazar has a menu that tantalizes with items like tapas, ceviches, cured hams, cheeses and main courses such as Paella Valenciana (a perfect shareable choice for the occasion). In addition to the regular menu, Salazar hinted he would create specials and augment the champagne selections for the occasion. A la carte menu; entrees range from $18-$36 (paella $63, serves two to four).
Wildflower Cafe (Mason): In this once-residential space nestled in old-town Mason, chef and owner Todd Hudson fires up creative New American cuisine using locally sourced and responsibly grown ingredients. For $135 a couple, savor the seven-course prix fixe menu featuring items like lobster tail, beef Wellington, Arkansas black apples, house-made bacon and roasted local squash. For an additional $45 per person, complement your dinner with a paired, premium wine flight.
Sultan's Mediterranean Cuisine (West Chester): Take your beloved on a culinary journey to Turkey and savor food that goes back to the Ottoman Empire. Chef and owner Mustafa Koylu brings specialties -- like kebabs and baklava -- from his hometown of Gaziantep (500 miles southeast of Istanbul). Together with fellow chef Mehmet Coskun, Koylu will offer Ottoman specialties in addition to the regular menu on Valentine's Day. Expect hunkar begendi (deeply seasoned braised cubes of beef served atop creamy smoked eggplant puree) and manti (Turkish "ravioli" of spiced lamb and beef served with garlic-yogurt sauce). The restaurant will also gift your significant other with a rose. A la carte menu; entrees range from $16-$35.
20 Brix (Milford): Located in historic downtown Milford, chef Paul Barraco offers his interpretation of New American cuisine prepared with seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. Longtime general manager and sommelier Clay Mitchell said 20 Brix will offer chef's specials like dry-aged steaks and lobster tails in addition to the regular menu during Valentine's week. 20 Brix also has a wine bar and retail store with 200 wines from around the world. A la carte menu; entrees range from $15-$29.
Brown Dog Cafe (Summit Park, Blue Ash): This Blue Ash staple is serving a four-course prix fixe menu on Valentine's Day: appetizer, salad, soup and entree. Chef Shawn McCoy is including lobster and borscht on the menu "because of their (Valentine) red color." The cost is $75 per person (tax and gratuity included). Sides like grilled asparagus with truffle dust and gnocchi mac and cheese ($5-$6 each) are also available for sharing.
Primavista (Price Hill): With a commanding view of downtown Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky and the Ohio River, the view alone may well set the heart aflutter. Longtime chef Chris Prince maintains the tradition of Italian cuisine punctuated with seasonal specials. On Valentine's Day, Primavista will offer a special a la carte menu (instead of its regular dinner menu) that includes specialties like veal, fish and filet mignon. Entree prices range from $18-$39.
The Littlefield (Northside): If a casual night out is more your style, this neighborhood bourbon bar and bistro might just fit the bill. For $65 per person (tax and gratuity included), the Littlefield is offering a three-course prix fixe Valentine's Day menu with cocktail pairings featuring Watershed Distillery's line of spirits. The menu will include chef Shoshannah Hafner's braised oxtail with risotto and chocolate pate choux. Seating is communal.
Because it's hard to stop at nine:
Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar (Covington): This farm-to-table restaurant is bound to bowl over your main squeeze in the charm department alone. Chef and owner Stephen Williams is serving the regular dinner menu to "keep it simple," but hinted he'll likely fire up a halibut entree and a "small plate" special as well. A la carte menu; prices range from $16-$27.
Soupes and Startups (Over-the-Rhine): Take a lunch date and pop in to Union Hall on Valentine’s Day for a little “soupe” and savvy. For $20 per person, sample La Soupe’s assortment of soups (prepared by the city’s top chefs) and check out the work of the city’s promising startups. This showcase -- a collaboration between StartupCincy and La Soupe -- will run from noon to 1:30 p.m.
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO.com. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.