In case you hadn't heard, Valentine's Day falls on a Thursday this year. And in next week's print edition, our own Christina Uticone will have a round-up of all the Valentine's Day dinner deals and special menus you can shake a dozen roses at. This is not that round-up.
There are 10 types of people in this world: Those who understand binary and those who don't. No...wait. There are two types of people in this world: Those who take his or her partner out to eat on Valentine's Day and those who wait for the mad crush of romance to end before venturing back out to nice restaurants. This year, that means restaurant dining rooms both the weekend prior to and the weekend after Valentine's Day will likely be saturated with flower-bearing suitors. And cheers to them!
I, however, would rather have a special dinner with a special friend on a night when it's a bit calmer -- but that doesn't mean I don't want that special dinner to be romantic. Our guide to Houston's 10 most romantic restaurants lets you choose your own adventure, however. Most of the restaurants on this list are offering special Valentine's Day menus, but you can wine and dine a date here any night of the week and still give them a romantic evening.
Don't like the selections below? Check out last year's list of recommended spots; it's still as romantic as ever.
That view. This is the former site of The Rainbow Lodge and while I was sad to see that restaurant move (personal bias: my parents were married there 22 years ago tomorrow), I'm glad that Brenner's has kept up the beautiful landscaping and bayou vistas that define this location. The menu is a people-pleaser, too, in case your date is picky: great steaks mingle with comfort classics like Wiener schnitzel, giant pork chops and fried chicken with grits.
This is how you do romance on a budget. Vinoteca Poscol is, to me, the more romantic of Marco Wiles' three restaurants -- and not only because it's affordable (and not just during happy hour). The two-roomed space in a low-slung strip center looks a bit weary from the outside, but inside it's as if you've been transported to a dusky Italian cafe rich with ruggedly Continental charm. The tapas-sized portions of encourage sharing of dishes such as roasted beets or baby octopus, while the wine list features a selection for every palate and price point.
Before you scoff at a "rotating restaurant" making it onto this list, answer this question: Have you ever eaten at Spindletop? The food is legit. And so are the views onto the city 34 stories below, which you can take in slowly over the course of an evening as the floor of the restaurant pirouettes so subtly that you can barely detect any movement. Some people may find rotating restaurants out-of-date or cheesy; I'm not among them. I love gazing on this beautiful, maddening city of ours -- and I love doing it while the sun sets, over a bottle of wine and a seared red snapper topped with a crawfish spinach béchamel. Plus, if you get too full and/or intoxicated (BY THE VIEWS) to drive home, you can crash in a plush room at the Hyatt Regency below.
If dining under the Gothic arches of an old converted church that's rich with history (it used to be the Dream Merchant; remember that hot mess?) doesn't sound romantic to you, well, don't eat here, I guess. More room for the rest of us. The choir area has been converted into a second-story dining loft, which is my favorite spot for taking in the well-oiled machine that is Mark's floor and watching meticulously plated dishes parade out of the kitchen that's tucked behind the former altar. Mark's gets a small black mark (no pun intended), however, for an incident that occurred during my last birthday dinner there, in which the waiter rudely snatched and snapped my menu closed in my face after I told him I was too full for dessert. "Well, you're just missing out," he told me snidely before turning on his heel. I probably was, but...tone it down a bit, guys.
Can't afford a vacation to Provence? Jean-Philippe and Genevieve Guy's precious Memorial bistro is the next best thing. And I am not just saying this because I once picked up a smoking hot waiter here in my early 20s. There is something intensely European about this jewel of a spot: perhaps its small kitchen with a roaring, wood-fired oven or its rustic seating with cozy tables or the sensation of being pleasantly removed from the hectic, traffic-filled urban streets for an evening. Or perhaps it's all of these, with an added dose of plush foies de canard or delicate poussin rôti to really drive the point home.
5. Bistro Alex
Some people may put Brennan's on this list, but I tend to think of the grande dame as more of a special occasion spot to celebrate birthdays, intimate bridal showers, promotions or the like. It's gorgeous and refined, but has never smacked of romance to me. Instead, I prefer Brennan's little sister -- Bistro Alex -- on the second floor of the Hotel Sorella in CityCentre. It's intimate and sexy, while still offering the same dazzling Creole cuisine for which Brennan's is known. As an added bonus, you can shimmy over to Monnalisa afterwards for a drink or two by the open fire pit inside the stunning bar, or lounge pool-side and take in the view.
Let me be specific: The dining rooms at Vic & Anthony's are more apropos -- in my opinion -- for dinner with clients or a big, blow-out birthday celebration. Where the romance is at in this temple of steak is its dimly-lit bar, which is full of dark corners for (in the immortal words of that skank from Love Actually) "doing dark deeds." A pianist coaxes out old standards from the baby grand in one of those corners, and it's closest to him that I like to sit. You can order the full menu in the bar, but I prefer to keep it simple by sharing a dozen oysters, a split of champagne and a rosy porterhouse for two.
To me, there's something immensely sexy about going on an adventure together. Uchi offers culinary adventures in spades, as well as a just-dim-enough dining room that sets the right tone for a night of romance. It's no coincidence that half the people I've spotted each time I've been to Uchi have been on dates. The service helps a lot here, too; the terrific waitstaff is highly attuned to each table's needs, and is skilled at either helping you have a fun dining adventure or leaving you alone to take the plunge together.
The best part about Philippe's atmosphere is how effortlessly cool it is. And effortlessly cool always equals sexy. Although it's tempting to go overboard in the ritzy Galleria corridor here along Post Oak, Philippe never does -- in its food, its service or its ambiance. The French fare could be fussy, but chef Philippe Schmit's Texan touches -- as in the duck confit tamales or venison tenderloin with chili -- keep them elegant yet grounded.
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There's a reason Houstonians continue to host their weddings and celebrate their anniversaries at this beloved institution -- and it's not just the verdant views onto the gently rolling bayou or the romantic, lodge-like feel imparted by the wood-beamed, fireplace-warmed structure. The food is amazing, too, as is the warm, high-end service. Rainbow Lodge offers a meal well worth paying for in every single aspect. Nibble on rabbit boudin bites or smoked lamb belly between glasses of wine with your beloved, or treat your man to such exotic game as grilled elk chops, chile-rubbed antelope back strap or buffalo short ribs. Either way, everyone comes away happy.