Top 10 romantic restaurants in the Twin Cities
The theater of dining is an excellent way to set the stage for an encore, maybe even a standing "O" that extends far into the following day. The only thing you need other than a willing partner is a restaurant up to the task. A perfect date-night dinner is a delicate balance of fine food, complimentary lighting, a skilled server attuned to a guest's needs, and a blooming connection between two people.
Here are our choices for 10 of the best local restaurants for romance.
A Thai romance
10. King & I Thai In some ways, our ideas about romantic dining are a little baffling. Sitting at a table with a starched white tablecloth, fearing the moment you might drop a fork, just isn't very libidinous. Feeling comfortable is romantic, and so is putting a flower from your drink in your hair. And what could be more sensual than the scent of lemongrass, Thai basil, and red coconut milk rising up from your food? How about shamelessly feeding your honey a steamy bite of pad Thai or an icy passion-fruit sorbet? At the King and I Thai you can savor the beautiful mix of sweet and spicy that is Thai cooking. You can also share a flaming Tikki Love Potion for two. Most important, you can partake in these erotic delights in a very private booth with your shoes off, dress slipping off shoulder, hair messy, and hands a-wandering--no one around you will be any the wiser. (1346 LaSalle, Minneapolis; 612.332.6928)
Romance comes from the most unexpected locations
9. Black Forest Inn When one thinks "romance," one does not usually think "beer garden," but if you can snag a spot on the Black Forest Inn's outdoor patio in the summer, you and your sun-dappled sweetie (or sweetie-to-be) will be basking in it. As shadows play fetchingly on your darling's face, try a beer sampler (a neat array of tiny beer shots), or share a plate of tangy paprika schnitzel. The fresh multigrain rolls, served with sweet butter, are also particularly good. Afterward, feed him or her warm apple strudel--or, if the heady combination of sunshine and sauerkraut gets the best of you, retreat to the dark, Germanic bar for a sweet dessert of kisses near the taps dispensing all that delicious imported German beer. Then again, if you happen to steal a kiss between courses, probably no one will notice--your cover will be the sweet sounds of the burbling fountain and the happy chatter of other sun-dappled, or later, streetlight-dappled, diners. (1 E. 26th St., Minneapolis; 612.872.0812)
Love's lost embrace
8. Forepaugh's Everyone knows how to set the mood for romance: a lit fireplace in a private nook, candlelight, fine wine, haute cuisine, and a ghost. St. Paul's Forepaugh's is right on point. Since its top-to-bottom renovation two years ago, the historic restaurant has tried to downplay the ghost (legend has it a former maid, Molly, in love with the original master of the house, Joseph Forepaugh, haunts the third floor where she hung herself in the late 1800s), but it sacrifices nothing of the other romantic elements. Each table in the three-story Victorian mansion is its own cozy nest, tucked into one of the many rooms and odd corners of the house. Lovebirds dine on beef Wellington, braised lamb steak, and slow-roasted salmon from an extensive menu of New American cuisine, while sipping on any number of fine wines or classic martinis. On Valentine's Day the place is packed. The maitre d' recommends putting your 2013 reservations in now. And while the bartender insists there's no ghost, should you feel a cold chill next to the warm fireplace, or a slight breeze on the staircase, it's okay to assume it's Molly and wrap your arms a little tighter around your sweetheart--just to add to the romance. (276 S. Exchange St., St. Paul; 651.224.5606)
Beautiful food, ambiance, and company
7. W. A. Frost W.A. Frost has a reputation for having more romance than the Love Boat, more charm than a whole factory run of that cereal the leprechaun shills for, a patio that's more beautiful than a pyramid stack of Miss Universe contestants, and more fireplaces than God in His Heaven. There is nary a spot inside this neighborhood institution that doesn't, by design, make a dinner guest look more appetizing. Even in the bar, where the small plates are so attractively priced, every dish is sure to impress every guest. In any season, WA Frost specializes in love, exciting and new. (374 Selby Ave., St. Paul; 651.967.7259)
6. Sapor Café What is love? Is it the ability to look past a surface and see the true wonder and beauty inside? Is it an appreciation of real thoughtfulness, serenity, and clarity of vision? Is it when you want to focus on your date, and not on the raucous razzmatazz and racket around you? If you have answered yes to these questions, report immediately to Sapor, the most under-appreciated restaurant in Minneapolis. Once there you will find the elegant, bold cooking of Tanya Siebenaler (her miso-glazed salmon with wasabi potato cake is legendary), a decor of peaceful earth tones rendered in modern angles, a charming and affordable beer and wine list, and--hallelujah!--a room that is always mysteriously half-empty, and gloriously still enough that you can hear what your date really has to say. Of course, you might ask, if the quietness of Sapor is such a selling point, why are we writing about it? Because we love them so much, and love is blind. Though it's not blind enough to notice that sometimes it's really only us and our dates enjoying this charming restaurant with its copious free Warehouse District parking. More than anything, we want the best quiet restaurant in the Twin Cities to remain a romantic ace in the hole, and so we have appealed to you: Buddy, won't you share some love? (428 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis; 612.375.1971)
A French Bohemian love affair
5. Café Barbette Charming Barbette has the market cornered when it comes to bohemian notions of romance. First, the food is French, the leading cuisine in sexy eating, and the kitchen stays open past midnight every night. Second, the quirky space is dimly lit after dusk, with twinkling strings of multicolored lights draped above its sidewalk seats. Third, the quirky, casual vibe encourages guests to relax and be themselves, making it fun to look around the restaurant and play Guess the Depth of the Couple's Relationship. The twosome on a first date orders beers and splits the check. The ones at the multi-month mark reserve the corner cuddle booths and share finger foods: raw oysters, cheese fondue, mussels in a buttery broth of white wine, lemon, and garlic--plus, of course, molten chocolate cake for dessert. Pairs who already live together aren't afraid to get their hands greasy with Brie-topped burgers and a big bowl of pommes frites. The only buzz-kill at Barbette is the occasional sight of a couple more engrossed in their portable electronics than each other. The glow of a smart phone screen is not mood lighting, people. (1600 W. Lake St., Minneapolis; 612.827.5710)
Suggestive foods might plant a certain seed
4. The Strip Club As the racy name of this restaurant suggests, it's likely you'll enjoy some bawdiness inside this St. Paul hot spot. The drinks are fabulously concocted by our perennial Best Bartender, Dan Oskey. Wicked tasty and serious when it comes to booze, they go down quite nicely. Follow that up with a bit of chef J.D. Fratzke's playful fare, such as the grilled New York strip, topped with a little "Love You Long Time," a ginger, scallions, red chili, sesame and soy sauce. Aw, yeah, baby. Tim Niver and the rest of the staff are quick to make every diner feel like the prettiest girl in the room. It's a neighborhood joint that is actually a raucous dinner party full of exquisitely fun flirts.(378 Maria Ave., St. Paul; 651.793.6247)
3. Restaurant Alma The soft, yellow light caresses the skin like a welcome touch. The scents from the kitchen induce a subtle swoon. The service is attentive but mindful of space, privacy. James Beard Award-winning chef Alex Roberts's intimate restaurant is an ideal setting for an evening with amorous intent. Each dish is elegantly created from local, seasonal ingredients. Each corner of the space is modestly decorated so as not to compete with your date's singular beauty. The wine list is stunningly stocked. With a setting like this, it's hard to imagine how this date can go anything but walk-of-shame well. (528 University Ave SE, Minneapolis; 612.379.4909)
2. La Belle Vie There's a pervading myth that a lobster dinner always ends with the desired result. Imagine, then, what an evening in this glitz-soaked mansion will bring. First, a valet opens each door for you, the click of heels echoes quietly in the marble entrance, the hostess greets you warmly. Jackets are removed, seats selected, the best cocktails in the city are ordered, and soon the theater of fine dining begins. Each dish from Tim McKee's kitchen arrives beautifully constructed by chef de cuisine Mike DeCamp and staff. Every orchestrated moment of a dinner in this James Beard Award-winning restaurant is perfectly timed and executed, dazzling any date. Soon the evening whirls down, the lights are dimmed just so, and a little bit of Prince comes cooing over the sound system, leaving you and your date dazzled, dizzy, and likely ready for bed. (510 Groveland, Minneapolis; 612.874.6440)
1. Meritage One word: oysters. Salty, briny oysters, quivering in anticipation as anxious lips part. They slide sweet and unassuming onto the tongue before exploding in fresh ocean flavors, exuding sweet juices that drip down the chin. Imbibe one of the exemplary cocktails, perhaps even just a bit of absinthe, something with an edge of danger, something once verboten. Or sample the bone marrow by gently sliding a finger down the soft center of the bone, coaxing out that trembling bit of unctuous concentrated flavor. Spread the marrow across a crusty piece of toast and tear into it. Leave nothing behind but the ravaged ruins of a sumptuous meal. (410 St. Peter St., St. Paul; 651,222,5670)
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