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Forget Valentine's Day? You can still wine, dine and treat your love

“Of course I remembered it was Valentine's Day. Sweetie, I was just waiting for the weekend because I didn't want to keep you out late on a school night."

That sounded plausible, right? Assuming you were believed, it's still Code Red. It's not enough to buy the next-day half-price Whitman's Sampler. Now you must find an exciting, romantic activity to cover for the gaffe. Pronto.

Like, say, CineBistro in Hyde Park is doing a special three-course menu through Sunday. See a first-run movie (all right, not Django Unchained or Zero Dark Thirty, but Silver Linings Playbook could work) while trying chef Jason McFarland's pan-seared diver scallops with red Himalayan rice, ginger sauteed spinach and blood orange beurre blanc, followed by beef Wellington with wild mushroom duxelle, grilled asparagus, roasted parsnips and bearnaise sauce, then red velvet mousse cake. (1609 W Swann Ave., Tampa; (813) 514-8300)

I suppose if you're really in the doghouse, you've got to go large. There are still spots left at the Eighth Annual Silver Oak Release Tasting and Dinner in a private room at Caretta on the Gulf Restaurant in the Sand Pearl Resort on Friday evening for $120 per person. Long one of the wine world's cult faves, the Silver Oak cab was No. 2 again in 2012 on Wine & Spirits Magazine's Restaurant Top 50 list of top-selling cabernets.

Sponsored by Bella Vino Wine & Cheese Market in Belleair Bluffs, the evening starts at 7 and features a four-course meal of diver sea scallops and Kurabuto pork belly; Moulard duck breast; Cervena venison; and artisan cheeses, each course paired with wines (including the just-released 2008 Napa Valley Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon). And if your sweetie is extra worthy, this event offers the opportunity for guests to purchase the new release. (Sandpearl Resort, 500 Mandalay Ave., Clearwater Beach; (727) 584-5552)

Feeling the love but not the green? Here's one that's pure whimsy. Michael Jones and his partner, Carlos Kanamori, got a wild hair last year. Jones has owned Pondscapes in South Tampa since 1993. They specialize in the construction and design of water gardens, with a showroom of cool fountains and garden doodads. What could be more natural than adding an on-site cheese shop called Cheese Please? (Says Jones: "There's no rhyme or reason for it. I'm old — now I just do what I want to do.")

A serious cheese hobby has blossomed into lively, slightly kooky Friday and Saturday night cheese tastings with wine. On Friday, the theme is soft and creamy cheeses; on Feb. 22, it's blue cheeses and desserts; and, on Feb. 23, the focus is goat and sheep's milk cheeses. Each tasting runs from 7 to 9 p.m. and features eight courses of cheese and three different wines. The cost is $25, and it's a fun spot to pick up a selection of international cheeses and condiments for an intimate cheese tasting a deux. (4213 S Manhattan Ave., Tampa; (813) 766-0060)

Bill Brown, founder of William Dean Chocolates, was just reminded to be careful what he wishes for. The New York Times dining section last Wednesday printed the results of a blind tasting of 27 candies to find the best American small-batch, handmade chocolate-covered salted caramel. The verdict: William Dean was "downright sexy." Ah, we always knew your sweets were tops.

The phone has been ringing off the hook since then. But if you take your beloved there over the weekend, the Valentine's frenzy will be subsiding and you can put your heads together and thoughtfully choose from about 40 varieties of small-batch chocolates. Or maybe just gelato. Or macarons. Or the jewel-colored pate de fruit jellies. And for those with DIY zeal, Brown also teaches chocolate- and gelato-making classes. Call for dates and details. (2790 West Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs; (727) 593-0656; williamdean chocolates.com)

Hear me out on this one. It sounds farfetched. Take your baby to the Florida State Fair. Sure, it's got all the stuff on a stick (this year's adds: chicken and cereal on a stick, the poultry crusted with, shudder, crushed Peanut Butter Cap'n Crunch) and the foods that make you sleep with the light on (this year: pizza cones and Krispy Kreme cheeseburgers with bologna, cheese, bacon and baked beans, called the Burger with Redneck Attitude).

Don't go for that stuff. Laugh about that stuff as you skip by holding hands. Head instead to Carley's Waterfront Grill, where the vendors eat, or to the renovated Waterside Café with its lakeside views. (4802 U.S. 301 N, Tampa)

Laura Reiley can be reached at lreiley@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2293. Follow @lreiley on Twitter.

Forget Valentine's Day? You can still wine, dine and treat your love 02/12/13 [Last modified: Thursday, February 14, 2013 12:39pm]
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