CINCINNATI -- Candlelit dinners, chocolates, wine: these are the de rigueur trappings of Valentine's Day.
Honestly, Valentine's Day is kind of high-pressure: Make a reservation, get dressed up, spend a lot of money on dinner. If that's your thing, that's great (and we have a great list of delicious, romantic restaurants for you to try), but what if you want to do something different? Here's a list of nine offbeat dinner ideas for either Valentine's Day weekend or simply a romantic but quirky evening.
1. Dixie Chili: A chili parlor, romantic? Sometimes, you just need to go old-school. There's no alcohol and no candlelight; just pretend you're teenagers going out after the big game (or adults who want to completely avoid Valentine's Day crowds). Find a booth and share some chili-cheese fries or a coney. Celebrate Valentine's Day Cincinnati-style.
2. MOTR: Do you and your Valentine like rock? MOTR has great food (including the MOTR burger, vegan BLT or spicy St. Francis Monastery mac & cheese), reasonable drink prices and plenty of live music. White Violet from Athens, Ga., will be headlining on Feb. 13, while the Bluebird Twins, Dan Van Vechten and My Brother's Keeper play Feb. 14.
3. Famous Neons Unplugged: Neons’ sweet spot may be summertime, but in the winter it’s a cozy place to catch up. With an extensive beer list as well as warm drinks such as mulled wine, you can easily cuddle in a corner to enjoy the evening. And of course there is food: On Valentine's Day, it'll have a large, family-style cheese, fruit and chocolate spread to nibble on. No valentine? It's hosting a speed-dating event so you can meet someone new!
4. Sushi Cincinnati: Shared activities are always a fun date. Why not learn to eat and make sushi on the Saturday before Valentine's Day – and maybe make dinner for yourself and your sweetie on the actual day? Sushi Cincinnati has openings for its Walk in and Roll class at 7 p.m. Feb. 13. It's $39.99 with a Groupon, BYOB and no gratuities are accepted. You'll walk away with a bamboo mat and the formula to make delicious sushi rolls.
5. Cincinnati Dinner Train: A romantic dinner on a train? For $85 per person (gratuity not included), you'll dine on a four-course meal (including choices like prime rib, hoisin salmon and New York-style cheesecake) all on a three-hour train ride around Cincinnati. Dress in your vintage best for this one: It's like a step back in time. Call for availability: 513-791-7245.
6. Sur La Table: Learn some cooking techniques to try on your own at Sur La Table. If you like an earlier meal (or simply want to try what you learn later that evening), Sur La Table has Romance in Italy cooking classes at its Rookwood location on Feb. 12 and 14 with availability. Go on Feb. 13 to learn how to make French macarons or other Valentine's Day treats. Classes range from $49-$85. Check the calendar to grab your spot: http://www.surlatable.com/browse/storeCalendar.jsp?storeId=019.
7. Findlay Market: Sundays at Findlay Market are a little more laid-back than Saturdays and the perfect day to do a progressive food tour around the market. Split an order of slaw-covered hot dogs at Eli's (with crispies, please) and an order of spring rolls at Pho Lang Thang, share a waffle from Taste of Belgium, wash it down with hot chocolate from Dojo Gelato and get some artisan chocolate at Maverick to take home. It's fun to browse, stroll and enjoy each other's company in one of Cincinnati's best places for food.
8. Unwind Wine Bar: With an extensive wine list, cocktails, fireplaces and a great tapas-style menu, you can easily have a conversational, cozy Valentine's Day at Unwind in Hyde Park. Try wines by the glass or a flight, nibble on white truffle flatbread or an artisan cheese board, and finish with chocolate truffles and a choice of whiskey. Unwind has live music from 7-10 p.m. Feb. 13, and you can make reservations for Feb. 13 or 14 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. White Castle: I don't generally write about chains, but no offbeat Valentine's Day list is complete without a romantic dinner at White Castle. This is the 25th year for the crave-able tradition, which features a table-side prix fixe menu for $9.95, including items such as Sriracha sliders and shrimp nibblers with strawberry and cream waffles (with heart-shaped sprinkles) for dessert. Reservations go fast for table service, so make yours today: 513-559-0575, ext. 21.
What is your favorite, non-traditional Valentine's Day dinner? Tweet me at @winemedineme!