Forgetting something? Think. It falls after Martin Luther King Day and before Washington's Birthday. If Valentine's Day sneaked up on you, there's still time to nab the appropriate greeting card, Whitman's sampler, jewelry, lingerie or a bouquet of roses from one of those guys who set up stands by the road for just this emergency. But the ship has sailed on reservations at one of the Tampa Bay area's go-to romantic restaurants. When one of the busiest restaurant days of the year falls on one of the busiest restaurant nights of the week, it means sellout crowds. But all is not lost. Here are 10 ideas for Valentine's meals that might just get you extra style points for thinking outside the box of chocolates.
Opened at the start of 2013, Piquant had a wild moment in the limelight when it started selling its own version of the croissant-doughnut (known in New York as the frenzy-inducing cronut). In the gorgeous space previously occupied by Sophie's Bakery and Restaurant B.T., Piquant began by serving breakfast and lunch with a heavy emphasis on French pastries, but at the beginning of February added dinner Thursday to Saturday. For Valentine's Day they're bringing out the big guns, with chocolate-covered strawberry croissant-doughnuts and a new cake called a Maxine torte with caramel mousse on a chocolate hazelnut cookie crust all covered in chocolate ganache. The dessert cases will be kitted out in Cupidy splendor, the pink champagne will be flowing, and the short dinner menu will feature a holiday special of Serrano ham-wrapped monkfish with a Provencal sauce served over risotto.
• 1633 W Snow Ave., Tampa; (813) 251-1777
Cuvée 103 in Northwood Commons had its grand opening celebration Jan. 31, so it's a baby on the dining scene. But head chef James Fallon has been at the red-hot Grille 54 in Trinity for the past 3 ½ years, so he's not new to this rodeo. The concept is live music, wine bar, and large- and small-portion options on all entrees. For Valentine's Day the singer-songwriter duo Tony & Kim will entertain, with a special menu of a complimentary glass of rose champagne, lobster bisque, a surf and turf entree of 6-ounce filet mignon and 5-ounce cold-water lobster tail, followed by a choice of creme brulee or chocolate mousse for $48 (with an extra chocolate heart for the ladies).
• 2454 McMullen-Booth Road, Safety Harbor/Clearwater; (727) 726-0350
Ew, that didn't sound right. If you and your beloved are absurdly devoted to your pets, here's a Valentine's outing for you and your four-leggeds. The Humane Society of Tampa Bay is doing a Pup Crawl on Saturday evening in Tampa, starting at MacDinton's (4:30 to 6 p.m.), then on to Yard of Ale (6 to 7 p.m.), then World of Beer (7 to 8 p.m.) and finally to the Dubliner (8 to 9 p.m.) It's $20 at the door. Proceeds benefit Humane Society animals, and giveaways include a "Paw Star Getaway" courtesy of Seminole Hard Rock Tampa that includes a two-night stay and dinner for two at Council Oak. Speaking of, Council Oak usually fills up for Valentine's Day (this year with a sumptuous-sounding Wagyu tenderloin with Cabernet-foie gras reduction for $75), but Fresh Harvest does an extensive and affordable buffet for $27. Oh, and if you want to bring your pets for an overnight at the Hard Rock, it will set you back a $100 pet fee.
• 5223 N Orient Road, Tampa; 1-866-502-7529
Now here's a business model that says 2014 loud and clear. Last month the Getaway bar opened at the western landing of the Gandy Bridge next to I.C. Sharks at the site of the old Banana Boat bar overlooking Weedon Island Preserve. With 30 boat slips, paddleboarding, live entertainment, a couple of tiki bars, sand fire pits and heaters for chilly nights, tropical drinks and local craft beers, it's a Florida Keys-inspired hangout halfway between Tampa and St. Pete. Notice I didn't mention the food? That's because the Getaway hosts a "carousel" of food trucks (check thegetawaytampabay.com for the lineup of trucks) overseen by Tampa Bay Food Truck Rally. On Valentine's Day it's I Wanna Wok and Lizzy's Cakes with a champagne bar set up along with sunset specials that include $3 beers and craft cocktails (invented by local super-mixologist Ro Patel) for $7-$9. Because it falls on a Friday, V Day will also feature a sunset celebration that includes vendors, fire breathers and other oddballery.
• 13090 Gandy Blvd. N, St. Petersburg; (813) 267-1602
Anthony Tomassi has been presiding over Nina's Cucina for three years, building a loyal clientele in Spring Hill on the strength of his three-course dinner for two people for $24. That's two appetizers, two entrees and two desserts for $24 total. Add to that nine house wines with deals like two glasses for $6, and you're keeping some green in your pocket. The little (only 14 tables) dinner-only spot has become known for its brick-oven, thin-crust pizzas (with carefully sourced ingredients like mushrooms from Pennsylvania's Kennett Square), but classic Italian dishes like chicken Marsala or spaghetti carbonara have big fans. In addition to housemade tiramisu and chocolate mousse, for V Day Tomassi is planning pink cannoli.
• 1427 Kass Circle, Spring Hill; (352) 556-5286
James Keene and his wife, Elizabeth, opened Pisces Sushi & Global Bistro in September. Formerly with Island Way Grill and Kona's, James has been in the biz for more than 25 years, this time turning his sights on sushi that often gets unexpected East-West fusion fillips (e.g., the Aztec roll, which showcases shrimp tempura with cream cheese and avo, topped with poppy-seared tuna, black bean and corn salsa, chimichurri sauce and crisp plantain chips). In an appropriate Valentine's color palette, he will be rolling spicy tuna with avocado in pink soy paper, served with white and red tuna sashimi, rolling sushi in hearts and sashimi rosettes, capping it all off with a special flourless chocolate torte with a mixed berry compote.
• 2340 State Road 580, Columbia Plaza, Clearwater; (727) 216-6764
Black Palm has been a fixture in St. Pete Beach for eight years, building a reputation as a great place for Latin-inspired tapas and an even better place for wedding receptions and other nuptial-related gatherings. At the end of this month it will close, only to reopen immediately in the former Saffron's Jungle Prada space on Park Street. They've done a major overhaul on the much bigger building, exposing original terrazzo floors and intricate plasterwork from the 1924 nightclub. But before relocating, owners Kathy and Lui Arango will throw a last-hurrah Valentine's bash with Latin jazz keyboardist Eddie G. and a four-course menu for $55, which includes a choice of tapas, soup or salad, entrees from coconut-crusted snapper to lobster ravioli, and choice of dessert.
• 109 Eighth Ave., St. Pete Beach; (727) 360-5000
You know those massage parlors all over Tampa that you drive by with one eyebrow raised? Well, Shangri-La Bath and Sauna on Hillsborough is nothing like that, more like a traditional jjimjilbang Korean public bathhouse with hot tubs, sauna, showers, massage tables and — here's the kicker — food. I can't speak to the merits of the body scrubs or other treatments, but a Moroccan chef turns out classic Korean dishes (something we don't have much of in these parts) from bulgogi to bibimbap in a small restaurant at the back of the facility. Regular admittance to the sauna and baths is $25, with food priced affordably and a la carte, but a Valentine's package for $85 includes all day entrance for two into the bathhouse spa facility, a choice of two meals from the restaurant, two glasses of wine and dessert.
• 5636 E Hillsborough Ave., Tampa; (813) 626-9911
Casa Ludovico will facilitate one of those Lady and the Tramp spaghetti moments if you're so inclined. Set in a charming 1902 two-story house in Palm Harbor, this long-timer has been a go-to for romance for years. It covers all the bases, from paper-thin carpaccio topped with a flurry of Parmesan and arugula to light-as-air tiramisu. For Valentine's Day the kitchen adds to the regular menu, with specials of housemade burrata, heart-shaped red ravioli with alfredo, a braise of boneless short rib, and veal chops with brandy cream sauce. Prices are reasonable enough that you can splurge a little on a bottle of the good stuff.
• 1710 Alt. 19, Palm Harbor; (727) 784-7779
Jimbo's Joint opened in the hopping Grand Central District at the end of 2013 with a unique business idea: chicken sausage. They do chicken meatballs, too, but the basic idea is artisanal hot dogs made of chicken and topped with a range of snazzy toppings from kimchee to spicy salted caramel sauce. Hot dogs for Valentine's Day, you're scoffing? Here's the romance razzle-dazzle: Jimbo's has just gone 24 hours Thursday to Saturday. So picture yourself and your sweetie snuggled up with a couple of 3 a.m. dogs. Whatever else you do with your wee hours is up to you.
• 3063 Central Ave., St. Petersburg; (727) 329-8669
Laura Reiley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.