Italian on Valentine’s Day? Before you cry “quelle sacrilege,” remember that the original Valentine was likely for marrying Christian couples in third-century Rome. Then cease all talk of saints and turn your attention to lighter-than-an-angel’s-wings gnocchi topped with sweet tomato sauce and homemade mozzarella. Max Soha, a straightforward trattoria near Columbia, serves comforting standards along with daily specials, in a rustic setting full of mismatched chairs and ochre-colored walls.
This unmarked Chelsea restaurant, half-hidden by bamboo fronds on Ninth Avenue, serves delightful Vietnamese in a minimalist space. Even crowded, the exposed brick and low light exude calm, as do the friendly servers—one of several rewards for having found the place. The delicacy extends to the food: carefully spiced, thoughtfully cooked. No gobs of sauce sticky with corn starch; no banh mi, either. Some swear by the pho, others the spring rolls. As for us, we’re still thinking about the delicate shrimp and scallops sauteed with string beans.
Omai: 158 Ninth Avenue, New York NY 10013 (map); 212-633-0550
This Ditmas Park restaurant does few things, but, boy, does it do them well: various types of hummus (meat, mushroom, fava bean), salads, soups, and other Middle Eastern specialties. What makes this a good option for V-day is its utter lack of pretension. Here’s where to go with someone you just met (and don’t want to freak out) or with someone who shares your belief that, with the right person, every day can be February 14th. Finish up with some chocolate by the Mast Brothers or halvah from Sahadi’s, available at the affiliated market nearby.
If it’s romance you’re after, please click onto the next slide. At this Caribbean restaurant in Prospect Heights, dingy plastic covers the handful of tables, around which a few paint-by-numbers scenes have been crookedly hung. And did we mention that the dining area, reachable only via a precipitous set of stairs, used to be a crawl space? But if you want to surprise your sweetie with an off-the-beaten-path option, check out the Islands. Order the Jamaican jerk chicken with oxtail broth or curry of the day, and let the aroma take you away.
The Islands: 803 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11238 (map); 718-398-3575; No website
El Quinto Pino
This tiny tapas bar has fewer than 20 seats along its bar and a narrow counter that outlines the room. Expect knees to knock, fleetingly; expect elbows to brush against backs, gently. Everybody looks good in candlelight. When the owners of nearby Tia Pol opened this Chelsea restaurant a few years ago, everyone went mad for the uni panini. Instead, we fell, hard, for the pulpo a feira con cachelos: fat coins of roasted potatoes topped with slices of octopus, covered in olive oil and liberally sprinkled with spicy paprika. Passion on a plate.
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles
Rather than crystal goblets, you’ll have water in plastic cups. Rather than softly flickering candles, you’ll have the neon of lights of Chinatown. And, lastly, rather than violins, you’ll be serenaded by the whap-whap-whap of the cook making up a fresh batch. Ask for a plate of the eponymous dish, along with your choice of meat and broth. Put one noodle in your mouth. Ask your significant other to do the same with the opposite end. Slurp until you meet, a la The Lady and the Tramp. Repeat as necessary.
Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles: 1 Doyers Street, New York NY 10013 (map); 212-791-1817; No website
We know, we know. Few tables and no rezzies almost always add up to a wait at this popular bistro decorated with stuff from the owner’s family. But no neighborhood is as romantically walkable as the West Village, so passing the time shouldn’t be a problem. You can hold hands as you stroll winding streets and fantasize about owning a brownstone of your own some day. Or you can duck into the Pleasure Chest, to indulge an entirely different type of fantasy. The restaurant will call when your table is ready. Once seated, nosh on comfort food like oysters, braised short ribs, or pan-roasted chicken. The quintessential New York Valentine’s Day date.