Houston’s Best Chefs Dish Up Romance
Food For Lovers
Saint Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th in the Americas and Europe. Traditionally, lovers express their admiration by sending flowers, confectionary, or Valentine’s cards. The holiday is associated with two early Christian martyrs named Valentine, and its connection with romance developed in the High Middle Ages when practices of courtly love flourished.
Sending Valentines in the form of handwritten cards was popular in nineteenth-century Great Britain. In 1847, a woman in Massachusetts named Esther Howland started an explosive business fashioning Valentine’s cards from the British model. She is responsible for popularizing Valentine’s greeting cards in America.
Today, one billion Valentine’s cards are sent each year worldwide, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas. (Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all Valentine’s cards.) Modern Valentine’s symbols include the heart, a pair of doves, and the winged Cupid.
Valentine’s Day in America represents one of the largest dining-out celebrations in the country. We interviewed some of Houston’s most popular restaurants on the art of preparing romantic dinners.
1. FLEMING’S PRIME STEAKHOUSE
With its soft amber lighting, cozy booth seating, and warm wood accents, Fleming’s lends itself to a romantic meal for two. The restaurant prides itself on their extensive wine list, which includes over 100 wines by the glass.
Unlike other restaurants which force Valentine’s diners into an early or late seating, usually 6:30 and 8:30, Fleming’s allows couples to choose their own time, but highly encourages advanced reservations. The menu includes hand-cut prime beef, bone-in rib eye, and tender filet, and other traditional favorites along with a sharing menu, meant for two.
“Our staff is purely hospitality driven,” says Operating Partner, Maeve Pasquera. “Most of them have been here since we opened. They think long term. It’s not about this Valentine’s Day; it’s about every Valentine’s Day for the next ten years.”
For the most traditional Valentines Day treat, Chef James Cole fashions handmade chocolate covered strawberries for guests celebrating special occasions. And, according to Pesquera, “There’s no beating our molten chocolate lava cake for the most romantic dessert ever.”
2. MAX’S WINE DIVE
Although it may seem like an unconventional choice, Max’s is a great spot for new couples or singles looking to mix and mingle. Reasonably priced wines and upscale “down-home” food complement the restaurant’s hip atmosphere. From deftly crafted Kobe beef burgers and Cabernet, to Haut dogs and Shiraz, Max’s offers something for everyone.
Chef and Manager Michael Dei Maggi says, “We’ll open any bottle of wine from our extensive wine list for only a two glass commitment, and I don’t know any other restaurants in town who offers this.”
Instead of violin music and a staid atmosphere with white tablecloths and candlelight, Max’s provides an upbeat Valentine’s ambience. Couples who enjoy Jukebox music, Honky Tonk, and classic Texas rock will feel right at home.
Max’s offers the regular menu for Valentines Day, along with a special prix fixe meal. At press time, the chef was still working on a signature dessert using molecular gastronomy.
With local modern art adorning jet-back walls and sexy bar seating, Max’s is not a typical dive. The restaurant lacks the pretense of others in town and offers nearly 200 bottles of wine at considerably lower price points.
3. MARK’S AMERICAN CUISINE
Houston’s most romantic restaurant needs no introduction. Located in a 1920’s renovated church, Mark’s is a temple of top-notch cuisine. The restaurant features golden vaulted ceilings, hand painted deco walls, and candlelit tables. Chef Mark Cox specializes in sourcing ingredients from around the world: “We use the best purveyors in the industry, from our big-eye tuna and Escolar brought in from Hawaii, to our Mero fish which comes straight from Japan.”
For Valentine’s Day, Chef Cox prepares a special three-course menu with different varieties of seafood, meat, or game. Advanced reservations are recommended, but Mark’s doesn’t overbook, ensuring each guest feels special. “We actually start Valentine’s a week early for couples who want to celebrate but can’t make it on February 14th,” Chef Cox explains
Sample items from the special combination menu include lobster and short ribs, or specialty Akaushi beef. Chocolate remains a popular choice for desert, but this year, Chef Cox reveals that he’s working with a sticky date pudding. “It’s a play on the word ‘date.’ And of course, bread pudding is always good in February,” he explains.
On February 14th, roses are delivered to each lady, and the restaurant sees wedding proposals each year. “The restaurant setting is a church, and it’s exciting whenever it happens,” Chef Cox says, adding, “I’m more than happy to do a special ring presentation on one of my plates.”
4. RAINBOW LODGE
Imagine a log cabin built in the late 1890’s, overlooking a creek that runs into White Oak Bayou. The Rainbow Lodge features a quaint hunting and fishing atmosphere, cozy, candlelit tables, blazing fireplaces and small, intimate rooms. For Valentine’s Day, the restaurant offers open seating and wild game specialties. Expect rustic, cabin-style, cold weather food like elk and pheasant. Venison, buffalo, and seafood are also top stars at this thirty-year Houston favorite.
Rainbow Lodge Chef Randy Rucker offers special chef’s tables for Valentine’s diners who prefer not to look at a menu. Instead, Chef Rucker whirls around the dining room, and asks diners what they want that evening, for a more personalized dining experience.
5. BISTRO DON CAMILLO
Perfect for older married couples or Valentine’s Day diners who enjoy rustic Provencal cuisine, Bistro Don Camillo offers a quaint setting convenient to Tanglewood, Memorial, Piney Point, and the Galleria.
The restaurant specializes in Cote d’Azur classics like duck confit, pizza from a woodburning oven, and rabbit or beef stew. Fresh profiteroles, crème brulee, and homemade sorbet are on the menu for dessert.
Valentine’s Day is one of Bistro Don Camillo’s biggest holidays. The restaurant offers a five-course prix fixe menu, with several evening seatings, including an early-bird seating for a lesser price.