5 Surprisingly Sexy Dinners for Valentine's Day

So you've decided to buck the traditions this year and take your sweetheart somewhere for dinner that won't be an overpriced, overcrowded mess of boring pasta dishes and flourless chocolate cakes. Good on you!

Valentine's Day -- or any good date night -- can be much more romantic when you mix it up and head somewhere exotic. The sense of shared adventure or simply the open flames from a hot pot can heat up the evening like no fancy white tablecloths could ever do. Here are a few suggestions for the more spontaneous and intrepid diners this Valentine's Day, and remember: Nothing's sexier than having an open mind.

5. Shisha and skewers at Cafe Mawal

Weather permitting, sit outside at Cafe Mawal where the huge patio sprawls out underneath a canopy of oak trees and fairy lights. After a dinner of freshly grilled meats, spend the evening talking and blissing out with some Arabic coffee and apple shisha in a shared hookah, passing the tip of the hose back and forth between your lips. If you'd rather pass the evening with a few glasses of vino in a similar manner, you can also get excellent kebab and shisha along with Lebanese wine at Skewers.

4. Hot pot at Thai Spice

It's like camping for grown-ups...who hate the outdoors. At places like Thai Spice (which has a very good Thai-style hot pot at its location on 8282 Bellaire), the waitresses crank up the hot pot burners for you and leave you and your date to cook a meal of your own in the bubbling broth.

3. Doro wat at Blue Nile

The dining room at Blue Nile has grown more and more elegant over the years, making it a surprisingly ideal location for a date night. Order a bowl of spicy doro wat (chicken stew) to get warmed up, and cool it off with glass bereles of tej, Ethiopian honey wine that packs a strong, sweet kick.

2. Egusi at Finger Licking Bukateria

As with the Ethiopian cuisine at Blue Nile, egusi and most other Nigerian foods are also eaten with your hands, hence the name of Finger Licking Bukateria. And what's not sexy about sharing a bowl of fufu with your partner, sucking stray bites off your fingers as you lounge in FLB's comfortable chairs? By night, the place becomes a local hot spot complete with DJ, dim lights and drink specials.

1. Chargrilled oysters at Wild Cajun

If oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac, you can stock up on sex appeal for the night at Wild Cajun. This season, Gulf Coast oysters are best eaten cooked over an open flame due to their assertive taste (not as much delicate brine this year, thanks to the drought). And Wild Cajun has our favorite grilled oyster treatment in town: chargrilled and topped with a bit of sweet, hot ginger and wilted scallions. Suck them down and then suck some heads on a few pounds of crawfish when you're done; just remember to wash your hands very thoroughly before touching any *ahem* delicate parts later on Valentine's night.

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Katharine Shilcutt