If The Stomach Is The Way To The Heart…
Finding that just right Valentine’s Day restaurant calls for more than just a stellar kitchen; it begs the perfect ambiance, elevated air of intimacy and perhaps even something that strays from the usual routine. With that in mind, read on for 10 local, unique and romantic suggestions, where Cupid has exquisitely skewered everything from setting to menu to service – and in some cases, actual hearts.
46-35 Vernon Blvd, LIC
“Did you know that asparagus can significantly impact orgasm?” coyly smiles Gianna Cerbone of Manducatis Rustica in Long Island City. Part chef and owner, part unofficial social mayor of the neighborhood, part writer and part local celebrity, Cerbone plans to serve a “very special Valentine’s Day menu full of aphrodisiacs.” Cerbone is also known as “Mamma Gianna” for the way she deliciously delivers wit, wisdom and some of the best gelato in the city – unconventional flavors evoke “the last sip of a glass of chocolate milk” or a “citrus-kissed sea breeze.” Be prepared to blush while she boldly explains the menu and the benefits of certain ingredients to stamina and libido. The Valentine’s menu will not be officially revealed until just a few days prior (depending on what is crisp and fresh in the local market). Those with less lusty appetites will find equal pleasure in Cerbone’s pasta and pizza specials, which include monolithic meatballs in a sweet tomato sauce.
33-04 36th Ave, Astoria
There’s nothing quite like pancakes for dinner, especially when those pancakes are Café Triskell’s tissue-paper-thin buckwheat crepes, painstakingly prepared in the culinary tradition of Brittany in France. Triskell is one of those inconspicuous thin windows between more prominent buildings you stroll by a hundred times without taking notice. But once you pass through the tiny doorway, you’re transported to a secluded and rustic French café with one cook, one server and just a handful of tables – and your impression of 36th Ave. will never be the same. Daily specials are scribed on a chalkboard and the café’s Facebook page (Tip: The pot pie is unrivaled in comfort, and order anything with bay scallops). Chef Phillippe Fallait, a pastry chef by training, showcases both savory and sweet crepes on the permanent menu. Dessert here is a must, along with a giant mug of cider. The lemon and sugar crepe is sublime, or a plain crepe with a shot glass of Fallait’s signature banana fudge jam will leave your lips sweet for a French after-dinner kiss.
32-07 34th Ave, Astoria
A love affair with Astoria’s food scene would be incomplete without an appreciation of the neighborhood’s rich Greek tradition, an ethnic imprint visible in the names of the local parks and some of the longest-thriving restaurants. Bringing classic Greek tradition into a contemporary light comes Thymari, meaning “thyme,” which runs wild in the Greek countryside. Settle into a casual, pillow-backed seat in the front café, or at a table in the dramatically lit back dining room, where over 20 Greek wines are beautifully displayed climbing a staircase to the ceiling. Feta saganaki is elevated here, encrusted in sesame seeds with a ribbon of wild berry compote. Named after a goddess of the sea, the Thalassinon orzo is studded with thyme-kissed medallions of shrimp and mussels in a rich tomato reduction. Finish the evening with a sweet wine, a baklava martini or a stemless glass of amaretto and walnut sauce-capped panna cotta.
45-17 28th Ave, Astoria
One of Astoria’s best-kept secrets is Stove, where Irish-born Chef-Owner Declan Cass serves Great Britain-inspired dishes – the fish ‘n chips are a textbook rendition – alongside inventive New American cuisine, ultimately offering something for everyone. The narrow, flickering-sconce-lit restaurant is just enough off the beaten path to feel secluded and special, yet within walking distance of Steinway’s thoroughfare and just one block from the 46th St stop on the Q18. Thanks to a recent revamp of the menu, Stove classics like the grilled Angus shell steak with creamy peppercorn and honey-glazed five-spiced ribs are now joined by a mesquite BBQ butter pork loin haystacked with frizzled onions and a trout almondine with beurre noisette. The Downton Abbey set will want to stick around for proper English desserts like a sherry trifle or homemade apple pie blanketed with a sweet ribbon of crème anglaise.
Tufino Pizzeria Napoletana
36-08 Ditmars Blvd, Astoria
This is the pizzeria that love built, the wood-fired oven named for pizzaiolo Stephen Menna’s wife (and co-owner) Maria. Tufino turns out sensational Neapolitan pies in a variety of unique topping combinations – one has pistachios, another is sweetened with honey picante, for example – but be certain to share some of the dolcetti fritti (or “fried treats”) to start.
41-10 Main St, Flushing
Couples craving a little spice and adventure should take the 7 train to Flushing for a Western Chinese dinner at Biang! From their famous hand-stretched noodles (the restaurant’s name mimics the slap against the cutting board) to cumin-kissed skewers of chicken hearts and even a “spicy and tingly lamb face salad,” this place is the real deal – and super-affordable.
12-14 31st Ave, LIC
For that guaranteed wow factor, book a reservation for the Chef’s tasting menu at Bear. At Long Island City’s nouveau European restaurant, Chef Natasha Pogrebinsky has crafted a breathtaking menu, where each memorable bite is as beautiful as it is delicious. Less ambitious diners can build a meal of small bites that are equally spectacular.
41-15 31st Ave, Astoria
From drape-partitioned booths and pillow-harnessed banquettes to a wine guillotine, DiWine is always a sexy destination and offers a $55 3-course prix fixe for V-Day. Pair morsels from the brick oven – a new lobster pizza with sherry cream and asparagus steals the show – with a selection of over 20 wines ($8 for a glass; $32 per any bottle).
21-52 44th Dr, Long Island City
For those hearts seeking a market-driven, seasonal and locally sourced meal in a charmingly provincial dining room that unfolds just beyond a quaint mini-country store, there is no need to search further than LIC Market. The menu evolves daily and features everything from shredded brisket to spaghetti with rabbit ragout and dandelion greens, with truffles frequently headlining in various forms.
10-10 50th Ave, LIC
Seek solace from the town square where Vernon and Jackson merge just beyond the front doors of Café Henri, one of Long Island City’s sweet, window-lit French cafés. From herb-spruced croque madame to classic coq au vin to croissant pudding laced with ribbons of Callebaut chocolate, the service and food here is deliciously French, sans the pretense.