Valentine's Day began as a celebration of romantic love, but the rituals differ the world over. In Catalonia, lovers exchange books and roses. In Norfolk, England, Jack Valentine knocks on the back door and leaves gifts for children. In Japan, women give chocolates to men.
My favorite way to celebrate is the patriotic way -- by eating. A lot. Preferably with wine.
Every year, local restaurants compete to create the most decadent displays of culinary prowess. Whether you're observing the day of affection or exchanging marshmallows, the age-old tradition of feasting should never be overlooked.
Haute Quarter Grill (622-4745, 1121 Old Glenn Highway) plans to showcase extravagant seafood specials as well as an abbreviated regular menu. Chef Alex Perez will prepare butter-poached lobster tails (market price), mahi mahi with citrus miso beurre blanc ($27) and scallop, lobster and prawn ravioli with ginger cream ($24). The Eagle River restaurant is a perennial favorite, charming and consistently good.
I look forward to Chef Brett Knipmeyer's Valentine's Day menu every year. His playful approach to food makes dining at Kinley's (644-8953, 3230 Seward Highway) an escapist, imaginative adventure. This year's prix fixe menu ($65/person) is an international love affair: frog legs with kofta and wakame, sweet potato terrine with cilantro crème fraiche and cotija cheese, asparagus bisque with a roasted "beeting" heart or shrimp and avocado salad. The entrées, not your typical chicken and fish proposition, are a complex combination of flavors, including, but not limited to, New York strip steaks with strawberry-balsamic demi glace, green chili croquettes, cashew-crusted halibut cheeks and star anise-dusted parsnips.
Muse (929-9210, 625 C St.) is showing its wild side for discerning diners. Venison medallions, seared steelhead and broiled elk rib all make an appearance on this year's menu, gussied up respectively with wild berry gastrique, quail eggs and crushed pistachios. Chef Jonah Cotter's prix fixe menu ($80 per person, $120 with wine pairings) also features ahi tuna, lobster and chocolate raspberry torte. The accompanying libations are a refined counterpoint to the unexpected game offerings.
Romance is literally in the air at Crow's Nest (343-2217, 939 W. Fifth Ave.) in the Hotel Captain Cook. Chef Reuben Gerber's elegantly subdued offerings highlight classic aphrodisiacs with a sexy spin: oysters with melon and coriander sorbet, chocolate with extra virgin olive oil and fleur de sel. The prix fixe menu ($115 per person, $175 with wine pairings) delivers simple sophistication from its crab apple salad with candied fennel to black cod and white asparagus, culminating in a Hudson Valley Farms duck duo with cacao gnocchi and Oaxaca mole pepe verde sauce. The food, the view, the wine -- everything is elevated at the Crow's Nest.
Sometimes, it can be a little difficult to procure reservations for the big day. In this case, a round of restaurant hopping can keep the night fresh, inventive and fun. Swing by SubZero Microlounge (276-2337, 612 F St.) for sparkling shiraz and a scallop appetizer, then hop over to Ginger (929-3680, 425 W. Fifth Ave.) for a peachy Bellini and a big bowl of spicy mee krob to share.
End the evening with champagne at the Bubbly Mermaid (619-665-2852, 417 D St.) or a double chocolate "whoopie" pie at Crush (865-9198, 343 W. Sixth Ave.), both cozy and conducive to cuddling. Now is the perfect time to soft-shoe across Town Square's ice rink and declare a new Valentine's Day tradition.
By Riza Brown
Daily News correspondent