Food, it is often said, is an expression of love. Usually this means the actual act of cooking for someone else, but it’s also a treat to take the ones we love out for a fantastic meal. However, finding the perfect restaurant for Valentine’s Day – or for any romantic occasion, really – can be tricky. Sometimes the food just isn’t up to par, but what can really ruin date night is a restaurant’s atmosphere: Fluorescent lighting, loud music, dirty dishes and inattentive servers can really drag the experience down.
At Avenue, we want your date night to go smoothly, so we’ve done a little bit of advance scouting and found a few places around Edmonton with atmospheres that are perfect for romantic getaways – even if they’re only for a couple of hours and three courses.
You can learn a lot about people by their charcuterie selections. Are they adventurous, willing to try items like venison salami and wild boar kabanosy? Do they prefer to stick with the classics, like prosciutto and house-made ricotta? While Cured has several small plates on its menu, the charcuterie board is without question the most popular menu item. And, with 16 meats and 12 cheeses to choose from, not to mention countless condiments crafted in the kitchen, there’s truly something for every palate and personality.
The intimate spot, tucked away on the far south side of the city, has a rustic atmosphere with reclaimed wood features, a show-stopping antler chandelier, and a soft glow courtesy of the hanging Edison bulbs. A black-and-white gallery wall, featuring archival photographs of farms and businesses previously in the now-developed Ellerslie area, among others, is sure to be a conversation-starter as you debate which meats and cheeses to select, and which wine to pair with your expertly crafted board. –Adrianna MacPherson
2307 Ellwood Dr. S.W., 780-756-3722, curedwinebar.com
*Cured has since closed
Chef Andrew Fung’s Nineteen is tucked away in a cluster of shops in Terwillegar, blending in with the all-black exteriors of the neighbouring stores. The interior, however, is a pleasant departure, with partitions and wood accents creating a warm and intimate atmosphere.
The service is stellar – a crucial element for a great date night. The servers at Nineteen seem to have sixth senses, appearing exactly when you need them and otherwise leaving you to enjoy your meal in privacy.
Start with the double-smoked bacon-wrapped scallops – the dish has a wonderful combination of flavours and textures, from the crispy risotto croquettes to the salty and sweet tomato-bacon marmalade. The appetizer comes with two perfectly seared – yet tender and creamy – scallops, making it ideal for sharing. And, of course, you must finish your meal by lingering over something sweet. The frozen lemon souffl, recommended by the server, comes with a generous dollop of lemon curd that flawlessly complements the souffl and offers nuance to the tart citrus flavour. –A.S.
5940 Mullen Way, 780-395-1119, dinenineteen.com
The food arrives at the table as a musician tinkles a keyboard in the corner. My wife and I discuss why the heck we both recognize that it’s a Billy Joel song, given that neither of us own a Billy Joel album. The room is warm, thanks to the wood-slatted ceiling and thick wood beams that link the room to its industrial past.
Sabor’s seafood dishes are approved by the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program and they’re the highlights of the menu. We start with heavily smoked seared tuna, served over a bright cucumber salsa. The salsa is good enough to eat with a spoon, as hints of salt, vinegar and sweet come through and really balance out the smoke of the fish.
For entres, I go with the sturgeon; wrapped in bacon, this monster-like fish’s meat is dense, meaty and satisfying. It’s a perfect fish dish for people who think fish tastes too fishy (sorry for the Dr. Seuss sentence). My wife opts for the paella, and says the shellfish is perfectly cooked; she lets me have a mussel or two, and she’s spot on. But the buttery scallops are the highlight.
We finish with a Portuguese milk custard, sprinkled with cinnamon. The candied shell is not too thick or overpowering; it’s a wonderful end to a wonderful night. But why do I have Billy Joel songs in my head?-Steven Sandor
10220 103 St., 780-757-1114, sabordivino.com
Violino’s website touts being named one of OpenTable’s Top 100 Outdoor Dining Restaurants in Canada, but even indoors on a cold winter night, this Italian eatery in High Street, just off 124th Street, is pretty special. The atmosphere inside the converted 1913 mansion is warm and inviting, accented by dark wood ceiling beams, plush chairs and crisp white linens on tables big enough for a celebration or small enough for an intimate dinner tucked in next to the fireplace, where conversation can flow as easily as red wine over soft jazz music.
Go off the board a bit for the cape sant appetizer, with sweet sea scallops heightened by a mango vinaigrette and basil. If you really want to impress your date, order the fettucine tavolino entre, which is flambed tableside in a hollowed out wheel of asiago cheese. Cap off your meal with the classic tiramisu, which will have you coming back for bite after bite even though you’re already full. –Glenn Cook
10133 125 St., 780-757-8701, violino125.com
Culina Mill Creek
Just hidden from plain sight off 99th Street, nestled between Wild Earth Bakery and the Culina-owned Bibo wine bar, sits the crown jewel of the Culina family of restaurants: Culina Mill Creek.
The restaurant is perfect for romantic evenings with a loved one, or even first dates, if for no other reason than it is one of the most intimate spaces in the city. With only a few tables, sparse lighting and music volume set just a touch above the murmur of other diner’s voices, the space places its food and your date into your table’s candlelight.
When not watching the firelight sparkling off your date’s eyes, attention is best served on the plate. There, the light may – depending on the week – glisten off the juices of a succulent lamb dish, like the fall-off-the-bone roasted lamb leg served with a rosemary demi-glace. Or, if an evening shared with that someone special calls for an evening of shared plates, you can’t go wrong with the charcuterie, where candied nuts provide a sweet addition and pickled items expertly cut through the savoury flavours of peppercorn beef bresaola or lamb-beef kibe, best paired with a glass of red wine. –Cory Haller
9914 89 Ave., 780-437-5588, culinafamily.com
*Culina Mill Creek has since closed