Ray Isle (@islewine on Twitter) is Food & Wine's executive wine editor. We trust his every cork pop and decant – and the man can sniff out a bargain to boot. Take it away, Ray.
Ah, Valentine’s Day. If everything goes right, then you have a happy romantic night out with your loved one, and wake the following morning to songbirds chirping, the sun caressing you with buttery light, a suffusion of love in your heart, and no hangover at all. If things go wrong, then you get a night full of misery, anger, disappointment, shame, betrayal, and tears, but what did you expect? That's what dating is all about.
Here’s the deal, though: It didn’t have to be this way. I blame Pope Gelasius I. Back in 496, in a frenzy of popely goody-two-shoes-ness, Gelasius banned the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, when noble youths would run through the city naked, striking people they met with shaggy thongs made of goat-hide, and substituted Valentine’s Day in its place.
Go figure, right? I mean, come on. Which would you rather have, a city full of crazy naked youths running around smacking people with thongs, or a dopey card with a heart on it? Uh-huh. You got that right.
Be that as it may, Lupercalia is gone, Valentine’s Day is here, and no matter what your romantic situation is, you’re undoubtedly going to need a drink. Here are five suggestions to match some possible Valentine’s Day activities.
If you must waffle on Valentine's Day, don't make it about who you're taking to dinner. The "where" is a lock: Waffle House.
WALB reports that some Waffle Houses across the chain's 15-state span are tossing tablecloths over the formica and chrome, dimming the lights, pouring alcohol-free sparkling drinks and emphasizing menu items like ribeye and eggs, porkchops or T-bones in addition to their perhaps better-known breakfast fare.
What you should order: food you like, that will not make you sick or smelly
What you should not order: food you don't like or food that will make you sick or smelly
See how easy that was? You're a person of dating age and you've likely been eating food in the company of other human beings for a least a couple of years now, right? Ideally without causing the people in your immediate vicinity to vomit, faint, weep or cringe?
Good. You are ready to order food on a date. Go get 'em, tiger!
Gentlemen - dare I say your special lady friend looks just smashing tonight? She went out and got her hair and nails done, tweezed various things, squeezed herself into magical, shape-carving, circulation-repressing undergarments (that she'll discreetly remove before you ever see them), and painted on her date face. She's pretty hot.
But you, sir. Would it truly unman you to put on a tie? Maybe one without a passive-aggressive Looney Toons character or sports logo stitched uponst it? Okay, okay - that was overreaching. Might you consider dress shoes? Perhaps something with a non-rubber sole or without a visible logo? Maybe something that covers the toe area? No?
It's bad enough to be all dressed up with nowhere to go, let alone be all dressed up for a date who’s a no-show.
It could be the woman in the corner booth whose Lemon Drop tastes more bitter with every glance at her watch. Or perhaps it's the man at the bar who loosens his tie with every check of his iPhone. Either way, not only is this a sticky situation for the person on the receiving end, it’s a potentially stickier situation for the restaurant staff witnessing it firsthand.
One afternoon a few months ago, my husband walked into the house carrying a cookbook and then stood in the kitchen for a long time, turning the pages, reading it. This was interesting. He looked deeply absorbed.
When his cell phone rang, he went out onto the porch for a minute, the cookbook still opened on the counter, and I came over to inspect. He had been interrupted in the midst of "How to Choose a Pork Roast." There was a silhouette of a pig, connected by arrows to detailed line drawings of 13 hefty-looking cuts of raw meat.
Four and a half years ago, my husband Douglas and I plighted our troth with infinitely less fanfare, but arguably as much ardor as the couple slated to take the royal plunge on Friday.
Little of our ceremony was traditional. I wore 64 yards of red tulle with black flames climbing up it and our Irish Wolfhound escorted me down the aisle. My groom had drawn heavily upon his theater tech and direction background to light, score and choreograph the proceedings - not to mention spending well over a decade converting the deconsecrated Episcopal church itself into our home.
The ceremony was highly reflective of who we are as individuals and as a united force - all the way down to the readings. One dear friend selected a Frank O'Hara poem, my father gave a speech on the importance of ethics in a marriage, a friend and sister shared passages from Jane Eyre and then one of the finest food writers in the country instructed us eat cheese together.
Spring is the season for new beginnings and budding romances. There are couples canoodling as they dine alfresco outside restaurants everywhere. You can practically smell the sizzling steaks as you stroll down the street. And you can't walk in the park without stumbling on a romantic picnic.
Spring is all about dining in the great outdoors. It's about love and it's about barbecue sauce.
As someone who has dated any number of men who make Al Bundy look like Mario Batali, I should know. My dyspeptic dating disasters inspired me to conduct a study of the male species via their stomachs. I interviewed more than 200 men and women about the connection between a man's wining and dining style and his mating style. I discovered you can divine a man's essence from his culinary style.
Read the rest of "Pick a man by his winning culinary style" on CNN Living.
In response to our lunchtime poll about restaurant breakups: