‘I think almost anything can be made to be romantic if it can be shared.’
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, bringing with it a burst of heart-shaped confections and candlelit dinners. But how do L.A. chefs go all out for the people they love? We talked to seven local bartenders and chefs about what makes a dish romantic and asked them to reveal the most swoon-worthy dishes or drinks offered at their own establishments.
Executive Chef at District
What do you think makes a dish romantic? I think a dish is romantic if it is decadent and can be enjoyed by the couple together. I think almost anything can be made to be romantic if it can be shared. It doesn’t have to have butter poured onto it or a pound of sugar baked into a dessert. Decadence can mean having great flavors, textures and an overall balance. Ultimately, a romantic dish should instill a feeling that it just isn’t a “regular” food item that can be ordered at almost any restaurant or even enjoyed at home.
What’s the most romantic item on your menu? I am a huge fan of shared plates, which we have quite a few of on our menus. By sharing, you both are able to have the same experience, which can be an ice breaker and lead to conversation. My personal favorite at the moment is our Winter Tuscan Kale Salad. It has the right balance of sweet, sour, crunch and so much more! Pomegranate is one of the main ingredients and the star of the dish, and pomegranate is considered the original “forbidden fruit” dating back to the Adam and Eve creation story. If you ask me, you can’t get much more romantic than something that is linked to the Garden of Eden. The salad is light, so it works great as an appetizer without leaving guests too full to enjoy another romantic dish — dessert.
What do you like to cook for a date or significant other? Very simple: whatever they want me to cook, or in other words, whatever they want to eat. To me, cooking is something to do or give to others, sort of like the way gifts are exchanged. I love trying to cook different dishes and experiment with new ingredients, recipes or techniques. I always am motivated to have them say, “This is the best one I have had!” at the end of it. So for me, it’s about them, not me.
Bar Manager at Bar Henry
What do you think makes a drink romantic? A drink is romantic when it’s really delicious along with being beautiful. Craft cocktails naturally lend themselves to that idea of romance. Of course, the experience built around any cocktail is also incredibly key. To that end, a cozy, dark bar, awesome music and someone whose company you truly enjoy can’t be beat in rounding out that experience.
What’s the most romantic item on your menu? It’s hard to pick just one. Maybe the Flattened Priest but for an interesting reason. While the mezcal-based cocktail itself is awesome, I think what stands out about it as possibly romantic is its garnish. It comes with a tiny tamarind candy spoon. So often I have heard guests who order the drink find common ground with others over these spoons, sometimes in shared surprise if they’ve never seen them before, or over childhood memories of enjoying the candy as kids. The spoons start out as a conversation piece that effortlessly gets people talking to each other. It’s kind of funny to say, but it’s great to see a tiny spoon turn into a fun, shared experience ice breaker on a first date.
What do you like to make for a date or significant other? Boozy classics all the way! I will always appreciate the simplicity of a perfectly made gin martini or an old fashioned that really lets the spirit shine through. Solid classics are so good without being overly complicated, which frees me up to just enjoy the person I’m with.
Corporate Chef at Pitfire Pizza
What do you think makes a dish romantic? I think the effort that you put into a dish to bring joy to your loved ones is the most romantic part of any meal. As long as it comes from the heart, there isn’t a specific ingredient that makes a dish romantic, but you can’t go wrong with caviar, oysters or uni!
What’s the most romantic item on your menu? I’ve heard spaghetti and meatballs because it reminds everyone of “Lady and the Tramp,” but I think there is something romantic about sharing a pizza. You know that you love someone when you give them the last slice — even though deep down you wanted that slice more.
What do you like to cook for a date? Pasta. Always pasta. If you’re looking to really impress someone, put in the effort to make your own pasta, even better.
Executive Chef at The Tasting Kitchen
What do you think makes a dish romantic? The experience that provokes the guests, something that was shared to create interaction and intimacy. Either a dish that is light and alive — crudos, uni, oysters, citrus awaking the senses, or something sumptuous and luxurious, a food that draws the intense savoring of the moment — foie gras, caviar, long-cured hams, ripe-washed rind cheeses.
What’s the most romantic item on your menu? I would have to say the citrus-cured Quinault steelhead crudo. It is partnered with a charred Meyer lemon puree, house-preserved nasturtium caper salsa verde and wild arugula. Very complimentary on the palate, with soft citrus notes imbued into the fish itself and loud pops from the Meyer lemon, piquant hits from both the arugula and nasturtium — very alive, very provocative.
What do you like to cook for a date or significant other? Foods that I have a history with from growing up. Sharing food experiences [while] dining together is always a wonderful and personal way to connect with your partner or foster a new or growing relationship.
Pastry Chef at Santa Monica Proper Hotel
What do you think makes a dish romantic? I think almost any dish can be romantic as long as you are experiencing it with the person you love. Dishes that can be shared are romantic. I also think creating desserts that contain aphrodisiacs — such as dark chocolate, saffron, chilies, pomegranate — can really help evoke feelings of love during the dining experience.
What’s the most romantic item on your menu? I have a chocolate custard that is super creamy, rich and melts in your mouth. It is also shareable — even though you might not want to.
What do you like to cook for a date or significant other? I like it when my significant other and I cook something together. It does not matter what it is, rather it is all about the bonding experience.
DENNIS L. BERNARDO
Chef at Bourbon Steak L.A.
What do you think makes a dish romantic? I think cooking should always be attached to a special memory. Preparing a romantic dish for a special someone should be the same. It should remind couples about moments in their relationship [like the] first date, first kiss, first anniversary, et cetera. For those first-timers, pay close attention to the likes and dislikes of who you are cooking for and make it delicious.
What’s the most romantic item on your menu? Chef Michael Mina’s caviar parfait is a highlight on our menu. This dish was created by chef Mina during his honeymoon in Hawaii, when he wanted to make something special for his wife, Diane. The dish is chef Mina’s “love letter” to his wife. For Valentine’s Day, we decided to highlight this dish along with dishes that might light a spark between two people. Most of the items on the Valentine’s Day menu will feature a spice component. Consumption of chili peppers can increase the release of adrenaline and endorphins in our bodies, which are natural opiates. The endorphin high from the chili will likely get one going.
What do you like to cook for a date or significant other? I like to keep it simple, and the idea of making pasta from scratch with very minimal and simple ingredients is quite nice. Taking very simple ingredients like flour, eggs and water, then manipulating them to create whatever pasta shape you desire. Paired with a simple tomato or butter sauce with lots of freshly shaved parmesan cheese.
Chef at Ronan
What do you think makes a dish romantic? Definitely caviar! We add it to our Neapolitan pizza and runny burrata for any special occasion. Nothing says romance like caviar.
What’s the most romantic item on your menu? Our Sweet Cheeks pizza. We cure our own guanciale and top the pizza with ricotta and a cacio e pepe honey which gives the pizza both a sweet and spicy kick!
What do you like to cook for a date or significant other? My wife’s favorite comfort food is quesadillas. The trick is to get them crispy. None of those floppy, lifeless quesadillas. Comfort food done perfectly can’t be beat.