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Romance, restaurants and COVID restrictions coexist on Valentine’s Day 2021

By Valerie Phillips special To The Standard-Examiner - | Feb 10, 2021
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Cast iron-roasted octopus with citrus foam is one of the Valentine’s Day entrees served at Hearth on 25th. Owners say the pandemic prompted them to be even more adventurous with their cuisine, as they realized that’s what their clientele want.

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Hearth on 25th owners Shana Hubbard and chef A.J. Hubbard with the cast iron-roasted octopus they will serve during Valentine’s Day dinners.

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Chef A.J. Hubbard assembles amuse bouches (small bites) of elk heart mousse at Hearth on 25th.

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Amuse bouche of elk heart mousse at Hearth on 25th.

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Warren’s Craft Burger assistant manager Travis Flageolle is COVID-ready for Valentine’s Day weekend, with mask and gloves.

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From left, Rooster’s B Street Brewery employees Brandon Anguiano, Heather Savoy and Richelle May chill on the patio, with a large heater above them. Many people are currently seeking outdoor dining because COVID-19 is more likely to spread in confined spaces.

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Italian roast with mushroom sauce over fettuccine Alfredo is the Valentine’s Day special for Rovali’s Ristorante.

The pandemic has local restaurants adjusting their usual events for Valentine’s Day — the second busiest dining day of the year. The Beatles said all you need is love, but in 2021, romantic meals also call for masks, social distancing, sanitizing and curbside pickup.

Since restaurants have fewer available tables due to social distancing, a reservation is more important than ever to score a dinner with your sweetheart.

To accommodate more couples with fewer tables, some restaurants are spreading out their events to Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Also, Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) hits on a Sunday, when some restaurants are usually closed. A few, such as Prairie Schooner, will open specially for Valentine’s Day. But others, including Stella’s on 25th, Union Grill and Rovali’s Ristoriante, are closed Sunday. So it’s important to check restaurant websites and social media pages, or call ahead to make sure your favorite spot is open.

Hearth on 25th is known for its bold cuisine, and its 12-course, $80-per-person Valentine’s Day menu pushes the envelope with dishes like charred elk heart, rabbit liver mousse, oysters flamed with cherry wood and yak tallow, braised quail, and an entrée choice of roast octopus, prime-grade beef tenderloin, king salmon or braised lamb shank.

The menu is not offered as a takeout option, “because you can’t really box up a 12-course tasting menu and have it enjoyed the way it’s supposed to be enjoyed,” said co-owner Shana Hubbard.

When the pandemic closed down in-restaurant dining last spring, Shana and her husband, chef A.J. Hubbard, simplified their cuisine to make it make it more curbside-friendly. And, some ingredients weren’t always available due to supply chain interruptions.

But when the in-house dining re-opened, they became more adventurous, as they realized that’s what their returning clientele wanted.

“Our food is about the textures, the combination of flavors, the service and the overall dining experience,” Shana Hubbard said. “We realized there are a lot of places in town that do the simple stuff, and do it well. But there aren’t a lot of other places that do what we do well.”

“Upper-end dining got hit really hard, because there’s so much prep involved and so many different elements to each dish,” A.J. Hubbard said. “But the local community has been very supportive and looks forward to the kind of food we put out.”

He added that reservations help restaurants plan ahead. “For instance, right now we can get in fresh oysters every week. But if I don’t see reservations, I won’t order something that won’t be good in three days.”

Hearth’s Valentine’s Day tasting menu is offered Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, and guests should plan on a leisurely, two-hour meal. Reservations are a must.

Some places are gearing up their curbside takeout so you can celebrate at home. Rovali’s on 25th Street will add a candle to every takeout meal, for a private candlelight dinner, from Thursday through Saturday. (The restaurant is closed on Sundays.)

The Valentine’s special is Italian roast with mushroom sauce over fettuccine Alfredo. The slow-braised beef and mushroom sauce will be packaged separately from the Alfredo, so the two won’t get mixed together on the drive home, according to Alex Montanez, Rovali’s owner.

A cake-for-two ($14.99), in either strawberry champagne or chocolate ricotta marble, offers a sweet finale. The restaurant’s regular menu will also be offered.

Rovali’s doesn’t work with delivery companies, “because we want to have control over the quality of the food,” Montanez said.

When in-restaurant dining was shut down during the first part of the pandemic, Montanez personally delivered takeout meals to customers all over town.

“One of our priorities was to keep our food top-notch, and I didn’t want to put it in someone else’s hands,” he said. “You do what you have to do to survive.”

After restaurants reopened, Rovali’s stopped doing deliveries.

Although the number of Rovali’s takeout meals is up 25%-30% this year, Montanez feels that people are still hungry for the dining-out experience.

“I’ve noticed that when people come in and see that we are taking COVID precautions, they relax and enjoy themselves. Knock on wood, but we haven’t had a single incident of COVID, because we’ve been super-strict.”

Union Grill offers a “Valentine’s At Home” three-course takeout dinner from Thursday-Saturday and also Monday, Feb. 15, as the restaurant is closed Sundays. It includes a Caesar salad for two, two entrees (choice of lemon butter chicken, baked Atlantic salmon, crab carbonara and or tenderloin beef medallions) and two desserts. Orders must be received 24 hours in advance and prepaid, and can be picked up from noon to 8:30 p.m.

If you prefer to dine inside the restaurant, the same Valentine’s deal is offered Thursday-Saturday.

Warren’s Craft Burger is spreading out its Valentine’s weekend from Thursday-Saturday, 4:30 p.m. to closing, with specials of lobster macaroni and cheese, caprese stuffed chicken or prime rib. On Sunday, a Valentine’s Day brunch takes place 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., with banana nut pancakes and red velvet cinnamon rolls.

According to assistant manager Travis Flageolle, reservations are coming in. “Everybody’s tired of being stuck at home,” he said. “During the weekdays, our family-size to-go dinners are a large part of our business. But weekends are the busiest time for us.”

Since the coronavirus spreads more easily in confined spaces, the outdoor heated patio at Rooster’s B Street Brewery has been a draw this winter. Couples concerned about eating indoors can cozy up under the stars and a heavy-duty heater. The four tables are seated on a first-come, first-served basis, according to server Heather Savoy. She said the staff can set out portable heaters for more warmth, upon request. However, the patio isn’t covered, so rain or snow could dampen the experience.

Stella’s on 25th will host a four-course menu Friday and Saturday night, for $55 per person, plus an optional $15 wine pairing. The regular menu is not served those nights, nor will takeout or delivery be offered. Diners can opt for the VIP experience in the downstairs “speakeasy” area for $80 per person both nights by reservation only. Stella’s is closed on Sundays.

Prairie Schooner’s Valentine’s dinner-for-two is Friday-Sunday. It includes an appetizer and dessert to share, two entrees (choice of an 8-ounce sirloin, grilled chicken, salmon, shrimp, ribs and chicken, or prime rib). Although it’s normally closed Sundays, the Prairie Schooner will open Feb. 14 from 3-8 p.m. Reservations are highly recommended.

The Garden Grille at the Hilton Garden Inn is running a three-course Valentine’s dinner for $65 per person on Saturday and Sunday night. Called Surf & Overturf — (a play on chef Josh Overturf’s name) the entrée is birria-style short ribs and butter-poached crab claws. Reservations are required.

Two Bit Street Café hosts a five-course Sweetheart Supper on Friday and Saturday nights, with seatings at 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. (The restaurant closes at 3 p.m. on Sundays.) Entrée choices are beef bourguignon, seafood bouillabaisse or vegetable ratatouille, and either New York cheesecake or flourless chocolate torte for dessert.

These are just a sampling of restaurants offering Valentine’s Day events. Check your favorite restaurant’s website and social media pages, or call ahead, to learn about their specials.


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