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“In the hospitality industry, Valentine’s Day and New Year’s Eve are the two biggest nights,” says Nicholas Stefanelli, owner/chef of Masseria near Union Market. “It’s a big night for us production-wise, making it special.”
Valentine’s Day represents an opportunity for restaurants of all types to pull out the stops — and set the right mood.
Some restaurants can inspire love through their attractive setting alone, from the longstanding Iron Gate near Dupont Circle to newcomer Pennsylvania 6 downtown. It’s also the case with Stefanelli’s Masseria, a rustic-chic refuge tastefully walled-off down an industrial street from Union Market.
Naturally, one key focus of the holiday is on serving up romance enhancers. That’s why you’ll find oysters and other seafood on most Valentine’s menus, often offered in multiple courses, as well as chocolate and even artichokes. (What you won’t find, by and large, are prix-fixe menus conducive to vegetarians.) And then there are the libations, often whiskey- or vodka-based — sometimes referred to as “him” and “her” cocktails, respectively, by the hidebound or merely unthinking. Among other Valentine’s drink offerings to come this weekend at Masseria, for example, is an after-dinner cocktail mixing Pig Nose’s Blended Scotch Whisky with a double espresso and vanilla syrup. “It’s a cocktail to keep you up, not put you to bed,” says bar manager Julien-Pierre Bourgon.
If you’ve yet to settle on a venue for your Valentine’s Day — or you’re looking for somewhere new to surprise that certain someone — we’ve culled twelve of the best places in D.C. to celebrate this weekend.
Maryland native Nicholas Stefanelli has worked for two of D.C.’s most famed Italian chefs, Roberto Donna and Fabio Trabocchi. He served as chef at downtown’s Bibiana before opening his dining destination last summer, in a former produce warehouse in the Union Market area. For Valentine’s Day, Masseria features a $78 four-course or $90 five-course tasting menu per person both Saturday, Feb. 13, and Sunday, Feb. 14. The centerpiece is a roasted veal tenderloin for two, accompanied by a celery root puree and a medley of roasted winter root vegetables. Also on the menu is Stefanelli’s exquisite take on Cacio e Pepe, a simple yet sophisticated pepper-flecked dish featuring hand-rolled tubular pasta and cheese, an off-menu dish that is more than worthy of the special occasion. 1340 4th St. NE. Call 202-608-1330 or visit masseria-dc.com.
All three locations of Jamie Leeds’ seafood-themed bistro empire will offer a-la-carte specials over Valentine’s Day as well as signature dishes — from namesake oysters to New England clam chowder to the lobster roll with Old Bay fries. But only the original Dupont Circle location offers a three-course special that’s one of the best deals in town at $40. Choices include a starter of oysters three ways (raw, grilled and fried), clams linguine, a broiled hake filet or a chocolate mole filet mignon as a main, and goat cheese panna cotta or chocolate trifle for dessert. 1624 Q St. NW. Call 202-462-4265 or visit hanksoysterbar.com.
One of the most romantic dining spots in the city — including a fire pit-warmed patio open in winter, weather-permitting — is also a food lover’s haven, courtesy of the small plates expertise of executive chef Anthony Chittum. Valentine’s Day brings a $135 five-course tasting menu in the dining room, but you can save money and still have the beet-cured swordfish ($16) or bison hanger steak ($22) in the carriageway and garden as part of a special a-la-carte menu that also includes four Sweet Jesus Oysters for $12. 1734 N St. NW. Call 202-524-5202 or visit irongaterestaurantdc.com.
One of the newest restaurants in town, Pennsylvania 6 is an open, sumptuously appointed space that is sure to inspire warm sentiments any day of the week, but especially on Valentine’s Day. A selection of three Kumamoto Oysters on the Half Shell, shucked at the contemporary American restaurant’s centrally located raw oyster bar, is the first of a special $85 four-course dinner that also includes wild striped bass, braised short rib and butter-poached lobster, and a trio of chocolate desserts, including the restaurant’s upscale version of a Kit Kat Bar. You’re all but assured you won’t leave hungry or unhappy. 1350 I St. NW. Call 202-796-1600 or visit pennsylvania6dc.com.
Saturday, Feb. 13, and Sunday, Feb. 14, Beacon offers a “Sparkling Celebration” Champagne Brunch and Champagne Dinner, both with “freely flowing champagne.” Brunch runs $28.95 to $37.95, while the four-course dinner is priced from $36.95 to $49.95 per person. The dinner menu includes choices such as lobster bisque and smoked salmon blini as an appetizer and grilled beef tenderloin, mushroom asiago chicken and roasted rockfish as an entree. Dessert is strawberry mousse served in a chocolate tulip. Beacon Hotel, 1615 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Call 202-872-1126 or visit bbgwdc.com.
EatWell DC’s Commissary offers a Valentine’s Day three-course package running $38 per person, or $54 with a bottle of wine. Charbroiled oysters and a radicchio and kale salad are the starter options, while the entree is a grilled ribeye for two or red snapper and vegetable papillote. Finish it off with a “Chocolate Surprise for 2”: Flourless chocolate cake, vanilla ice cream, raspberries and salted caramel. 1443 P St. NW. Call 202-299-0018 or visit commissarydc.com.
A $65 Valentine’s Day tasting menu offering eight courses, including a glass of cava, is available at all three area Jaleos, including the downtown Penn Quarter location that sparked the whole small plates trend in D.C. 23 years ago. But if ever you needed a reason to eat in the suburbs, Jose Andres’ team offers it this Sunday, when, for $36, the large Crystal City location will also hand-carve tableside a side of the prized 48-month cured ham Iberico de bellota — made from free-range Spanish pigs fed only acorns. The fact that you can also stop at the area’s only all-Spanish wine shop on the way out is gravy. 2250 Crystal Dr. Arlington. Call 703-413-8181 or visit jaleo.com.
Speaking of Crystal City, Freddie’s will offer a Wine & Dine special before 9 p.m. on Valentine’s Day, offering a half-priced bottle of wine with purchase of an entree special, including the Surf & Turf of lobster tail and two beef medallions — a steal at only $21. A la carte desserts are priced at $5 and include Decadent Chocolate Cake and Chocolate Dipped Strawberries. 555 South 23rd St., Arlington. Call 703-685-0555 or visit freddiesbeachbar.com.
For Valentine’s Day, the lively, intimate French bistro in Adams Morgan offers a three-course dinner for $75 per couple — which includes a complimentary glass of champagne with dessert. The menu includes a choice of lobster bisque or a L’Enfant maison salad to start, and braised short rib, rack of lamb or wild mushroom ravioli as a main course. The shared dessert, over bubbly, is warm apple tart and chocolate-covered strawberries. 2000 18th St. NW. Call 202-319-1800 or lenfantcafe.com.
Both locations of James Beard Award-winning chef Vikram Sunderam’s Indian food showplace will be serving a four-course Valentine’s Day menu for $85 per person, or $125 with wine pairings. And both will also be serving a cocktail all weekend inspired by romance novels — Indigo, a blend of lemon juice, hibiscus liqueur and Botanist gin garnished with an orchid leaf. Among the standouts of the prix-fixe menus, which are slightly different at each location: Karwari Oysters, or bay oysters with tamarind and chutney, Truffle Samosas with cumin, filo and date tamarind chutney, Lobster Caldine with cilantro, green chilies and coriander seeds and Duck Moilee with ginger, green chilies and coconut milk. A dessert sampler includes Chocolate Bread Pudding, Saffron Rasmalai and Strawberry Kulfi. Penn Quarter, 633 D St. NW and West End, 1190 New Hampshire Ave. NW. Call 202-466-2500 or visit rasikarestaurant.com.
Another restaurant in the West End is celebrating Valentine’s Day every day until Thursday, Feb. 18. In addition to happy hour all night long, lunch specials under $10 and live local musicians for Sunday brunch, M Street offers a two-course dinner including a complimentary glass of champagne for $36.95 per person. The entree is a Surf & Turf featuring a petite filet mignon with jumbo lump crab cake, mashed potatoes, asparagus and Bearnaise sauce, while dessert is a raspberry truffle chocolate cake, a decadent heart-shaped chocolate layer cake with chocolate ganache. St. Gregory Hotel, 2033 M St. NW. Call 202-530-3621 or visit mstreetdc.com.
Former Top Chef contestant Bart Vandaele’s attractive and playful ode to Belgian cuisine on 14th Street is a reliable source for mussels and frites year-round. But, on Valentine’s Day, the restaurant’s focus is on other sea creatures. A special a la carte menu includes options such as yellowfin tuna terrine ($17) or Maine lobster risotto ($23) to start, pan fried dorade royale filet ($30) or a smoked sturgeon linguine ($35) as a “Maine,” and either a rose cake heart for two ($18) or chocolate tart ($10) for dessert. 1324 14th St. NW. Call 202-627-2800 or visit btoo.com.