By Doc Lawrence –
Love should never become dormant. Old love is mature love, but sometimes creeping benign neglect takes a toll. The good news that rekindling the coals isn’t rocket science. Dining adventures during this special month when we honor love as an essential institution is tailor-made for rejuvenation through celebration. It’s a journey filled with roses, Gypsy music, Flamenco dancing, white linen tablecloths and miracles from kitchens and cellars.
Come along for the ride and feel those heartstrings vibrate.
A decade ago, the regal Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gable, Florida, offered a Flamenco brunch featuring Gypsy musicians and dancers, with fine Champagne poured as part of the prix fixe experience. One occasion was on Valentine’s Day and the priceless memories remain.
The day we celebrate love has over time evolved into almost a month long observance of love. February is almost perfect when you think about it. It is a time of closer quarters and this ceremony makes the monotony of winter bearable.
There are many romantic places along the Gourmet Highway. The Homestead in Virginia with a well house designed and constructed by Thomas Jefferson, has a wine cellar requiring a ladder to reach rare vintage bottles. The dining menu is equal to the wine program and when the band plays, the dance floor gets crowded.
Nashville’s renowned Hermitage Hotel is a Deep South version of the Palace at Versailles. The lobby, a showcase of advanced architecture and stunning design, is the pathway to the heralded Capitol Grille, a spectacular restaurant under the helmsmanship of executive chef Tyler Brown.
If you’re fortunate enough to be in Louisville, the Seelbach Hotel’s Oak Room combines elegant ambience with literary and gourmet traditions that embrace F. Scott Fitzgerald with a bit of The Great Gatsby. George Remus, a Cincinnati mobster, known as “King of the Bootleggers,” got rich running whiskey northward during Prohibition. Remus, a high-rolling dandy, frequented The Seelbach for business and pleasure and became the inspiration for Fitzgerald’s title character Jay Gatsby.
Canoe, Atlanta’s renowned restaurant on the banks of the Chattahoochee River has survived massive upheavals in the dining business by holding on to an acclaimed chef and maintaining an advanced wine program. Decades ago Little Richard and Ray Charles performed for college fraternity parties in the historic building. The riverside gardens mark the place where General Sherman’s invading army entered Atlanta in 1864, beginning months of Civil War destruction. An after dinner walk in the enchanting garden works magic for lovers.
Located in the heart of the world renowned Calle Ocho in Coral Gables, Florida, Cava Tablao Flamenco Restaurant is one of the jewels of Florida’s Spanish culinary heritage. The restaurant employs the traditions of a Tablao, the “cafés cantantes” (cabarets) where Flamenco shows are performed and food and wines are served with a genuine connection to Spain.
Enjoy tapas like Garbanzo fritos con Jamon Serrano y Chorizo (chickpeas sautéed with Serrano ham, chorizo and white wine) and Tortilla Española (Spanish potato omellette) or Pincho de Morcilla de Burgos con Piquillos Salteados y Pinones al Jerez (Burgos black sausage sautéed with Piquillo peppers, pine nuts and Sherry on toast bread). The wines are Spanish and Chilean with a few from Uruguay. The high-energy band and the Flamenco dancers will rekindle waning love into a torrent of flames.
The list of renowned romantic places to dine seems endless, but it’s not necessary to book a trip to celebrate love. The criteria for me is the menu, the wine offering, the reputation of the kitchen and special touches like fresh flowers, live music, décor and the quality of service. When added together, these almost assure that your choice for a romantic evening will be money well-spent.
Wines for Valentine’s? One of the most overlooked enjoys the most appropriate name. Saint-Amour was not created in a boardroom brainstorming session. The highly regarded red has its origin in the village of the same name in the Beaujolais region of Burgundy. Although it is widely available in Florida and other states, you will be hard pressed to see it on a restaurant wine list. Restaurants that have invested in a Master Sommelier like the esteemed Virginia Philip of the regal Breakers Palm Beach are exceptions. Ms. Philip, a wine superstar, oversees the hotel’s grand collection of 32,000 bottles with over 1,800 selections from 18 countries, dating back to 1907. You’ll have whatever you order uncorked tableside.
Dining at home on Valentine’s Day, a bottle of Saint-Amour would make a delicious and highly relevant accompaniment with an elegant meal, designating the Champagne as the aperitif. Let’s face it: There is some gypsy spirit resting in the heart and soul just waiting to be released this time of year.