Valentine’s Day is the biggest date night of the year, and with the holiday falling on a Friday this year, dining out that night becomes almost imperative.
Ed Lump, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said he didn’t know whether V-Day is the biggest night in the restaurant industry, but said it is “certainly one of the biggest.”
Valentine’s Day translates into a big week for restaurants, he said. “People don’t just go out on Valentine’s Day. Actually, they go out throughout that week to celebrate Valentine’s Day.”
Having the holiday fall on a Friday makes it “less good” for restaurants because Friday — the night of the Wisconsin fish fry — is a big night anyway, Lump said.
Lunches are busier on Valentine’s Day and during Valentine’s week as well, he said.
And Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to translate only into a romantic dinner or lunch. It can also be a night out with the guys, or a night out with girlfriends, or a night out with the family.
True romantics have made reservations at their favorite restaurant weeks ago. But the rest of us — even we lonelyhearts — should still be able to snag a table at one of these romantic places and not have to settle for fast food.
Here are 10 ideas for Valentine’s Day procrastinators:
1. Tempest Oyster Bar, 120 E Wilson St.: Probably the most overlooked fine dining establishment in Madison. Those put off by the name, should know that the restaurant goes far beyond oysters. The bar is a conversation piece, made with wine bottles hand stacked by owner Henry Doane. Don’t miss the amazing sides, particularly the roasted brussels sprouts and the seaweed slaw.
2. Mason’s on Main, 113 S. Main St., Oregon: A short drive to Oregon can be a romantic start to a meal at this new restaurant, which has two personalities, casual or romantic, and can appeal to pocketbooks large or small. Don’t miss the extravagant pasta Calabrese or the fresh and tender fried calamari.
3. Restaurant Muramoto, 225 King St.: Sushi is a good way to splurge on Valentine’s Day and this standby has the most sophisticated dining room of any Japanese restaurant in the city. The restaurant, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary on Feb. 5, is doing a special three-course Valentine’s dinner for $30 per person on Friday and Saturday.
4. Lao Laan-Xang, 1146 Williamson St.: The original Lao Laan-Xang on Willy Street can feel a bit cramped, but it makes up for that in charm. And the way to the heart of your sweetheart may be paved with Lao Laan-Xang’s unequaled curry squash. Cap the night off with the sweet sticky rice topped with fresh mango. Beats a heart-shaped box of candy hands-down, any day.
5. Grampa’s Pizzeria, 1374 Williamson St.: Grampa’s can make pizza romantic with distinctive pies like the Barberini with ricotta cheese, garlic, calabrian chilies, watercress and honey; or the Finnochio with sausage, fennel and Anaheim chiles. The gorgeous setting is one of the most enchanting in Madison.
6. Bassett Street Brunch Club, 444 W. Johnson St.: This fun restaurant is more whimsy than romance, but you can impress your date by ordering the bacon-wrapped meatloaf with roasted crimini mushroom and spinach ragout. Talk about true love. BSBC is offering a three-course meal for $25 per person Thursday through Saturday nights.
7. Louisianne’s, 7464 Hubbard Ave, Middleton: Any excuse to go to this restaurant is a good one. The menu tantalizes as much as the French Quarter New Orleans atmosphere it succeeds in replicating. The pulled pork crepes are simply sublime, and on this decadent day, treat yourself to the tenderloin cordon bleu.
8. Kennedy Manor Dining Room & Bar, 1 Langdon St.: A continuously-operating restaurant for 80 years, Kennedy Manor likely holds a Madison record. Hidden in a historic apartment building of the same name, the sedate dining room is appointed in an Art Deco style with white linen tablecloths and lamps on each table. Everything on the seasonal menu is impeccable.
9. Porta Bella, 425 N. Frances St.: Porta Bella might seem to you like a romantic dining cliche, but no list of romantic restaurants can be complete without it. You can’t argue with the luxurious, dimly lit, lushly upholstered interior that has made the restaurant the scene of countless first dates, engagements and anniversaries.
10. Chocolaterian Cafe, 2004 Atwood Ave.: Maybe it’s a light meal you want so you can focus on wine and chocolate. This is the place to do that. Not to be missed is the chocolate raspberry cup made with gooey flourless chocolate cake remnants and raspberry puree; the one-of-a-kind, fudgy badger bait; or the “ugly” cookies.
Now that’s amore.