Not all date nights are created equal. On Valentine’s Day, staying home and watching Netflix is not the only way to go. What follows is a Cupid’s quiver of hot spots. No cheap dates, but they’re all unforgettable.
Not in the mood for pricey and pretentious? Looking for an open, welcoming, egalitarian love feast?
A place where everybody knows your name and nobody puts on airs? Lucky Pelican Bistro is just what you’re looking for. This relaxed, family-friendly, all-American alternative offers the usual fresh-caught seafood suspects (and some landlubber fare as well). No Valentine’s Day specials, per se. But that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own VD menu. Start with a bottle of bubbles (the crisp Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut is an outstanding way to start a seafood feast) with some roasted oysters on the half shell. Where to go from there? We suggest the sake-glazed sea bass, but take your time — like love, a great meal can’t be hurried. 8131 Lakewood Main St., Lakewood Ranch; (941) 907-0589; luckypelicanbistro.com
Looking for somewhere sublime to pop the big question … or a flirty small one? Beach Bistro is the swoon-inducing setting to do it — smack dab on the sugary white beach alongside the glorious gulf. The inventive proprietors, Sean Murphy and Susan Timmins, are constantly experimenting with bold cuisine and a creative wine and spirits selection. Start your love scene outside on the sand with aperitifs and then head inside and prepare to be wowed. Signature dishes on its Zagat award-winning menu include the Hudson Valley foie gras and the blissfully bewitching bouillabaisse. Exquisite memories are also on the menu, so take your time. 6600 Gulf Dr., Holmes Beach; (941) 778-6444; beachbistro.com.
For a night to remember, here’s our sage advice: Tell Cupid to aim his arrow at Sage in the historic Sarasota Times building in downtown Sarasota. Chef Christopher Covelli is cooking up a wicked, four-course Valentine’s Day feast that begins with a bespoke liquid masterpiece conjured up by Sage bar mixologist Connor Bert. His VD special, the “Rose Gold” stars rose-infused Wheatley vodka and sparkling cava.
The special menu also includes that aphrodisiac of the sea — lobster — along with more tempting tastes ($110 per person). Take your date to the next level for a nightcap on Sage’s open-air rooftop lounge. Beneath the sparkling stars and twinkling cityscape lights, you can point out the faraway constellations and heavenly bodies. Or, say nothing and gaze into the stars of your sweetheart’s eyes. 1216 First St., Sarasota; (941) 445-5660; sagesrq.com.
Upstairs, downstairs romance
Want more than a one-note romantic evening? Euphemia Haye strikes all the right chords. Downstairs is a rustic ‘n romantic hideaway replete with art, antiques and intimate, candlelit tables overlooking gardens.
Ascend to the Haye Loft, and the joint is jumping with live jazz and a sophisticated urban bar vibe. Upstairs or down, it’s all top-flight. Chef/owner Raymond Arpke’s seasonally influenced menu and artfully selected wines, beers and spirits never let you down. Start upstairs with a swanky libation (a Chambord Royale, with raspberry liqueur and champagne, is a sexy thing to sip) and the anthems of local jazz heroes. Then head downstairs for a long and leisurely meal. Their Valentine’s Day special? Pre-paid $150 per-person reservations. (Items beyond the prix-fixe menu go on your card.) For more sweet nothings, don’t forget the dazzling dessert bar. A few steps away, Durant Park’s rambling shell paths await for a postprandial lovers’ stroll (and an après-dinner smooch) beneath the stars. 5540 Gulf of Mexico Drive, Longboat Key; (941) 383-3633; euphemiahaye.com.
Ah, to be sitting with your sweetheart at a sidewalk café in Paris watching the world go by. If time or money makes that impossible this Valentine’s Day, a ticket to Paris Bistrot in Lakewood Ranch may be the next best thing. Owner Jean Christopher ran five bistros in France, so you’re in good hands. L’amour is definitely on the menu here. Christopher’s authentic Gallic delights include French onion soup, moules à la Provençale (mussels with fresh tomato sauce), escargot, beef bourguignon, canard a l’orange and St. Jacques Beurre-Blanc (seared scallops in butter). Their dessert menu offers a heavenly assortment of crêpes and crème glace — to be shared with one fork, bien sur. Salut! 8131 Lakewood Main St., Lakewood Ranch; (941) 388-0564; parisbistrotlwr.com.
Sounds of love
Café in the Park is literally in a park — the idyllic Payne Park in downtown Sarasota. Chef/owner Simone Steiff’s menu is a smorgasbord of reimagined comfort food. (At press time, she was still cooking up her Valentine’s Day menu. Rumor has it pink champagne will flow.) Along with the edible artistry, you can feast your ears on live music. The Valentine’s Day concert, starting at 7:30 p.m., features the smoking hot band Hymn for Her, with the husband-and-wife duo of Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing. Their one-of-a-kind fusion of roots rock, bluegrass, alternative and folk will put smiles on your sweetheart’s face. We guarantee they’ll be playing your song. 2010 Adams Lane, Sarasota; (941) 361-3032; cafeinthepark.org.