There are so many decadent restaurants in New York City that it can be overwhelming to make a reservation on any old evening. Valentine’s Day means even more pressure to find the right spot for a romantic, delicious, and memorable meal. These excellent choices will impress your date…and if that date is a friend, just as well. We think the holiday is a great occasion to try somewhere new and open a bottle of something special. (We love these restaurants on any other day of the year, too.)
Looking for that essential cute and cozy wine bar with good music, a funky wine list, and crave-able food? Look no further than Kilo, a small spot on a nondescript stretch of 9th Ave in Hell’s Kitchen. Sit at the distressed wooden bar and order the duck fat fingerlings, served on a bed of tangy labne and the mushroom tacos, made hot and fresh with chili oil and plenty of cilantro. The mustardy Bella Farms duck breast pairs beautifully with Horror Show, a blend of Sousao, Tannat, and Merlot from Napa. The wine is silky smooth with notes of licorice, red plum, and tart cranberry.
If you plan to pull out all the stops with a tasting menu that delights and wows, Atera in Tribeca is truly special without feeling fussy. 13 soft leather countertop seats – stools, really – center around the small open kitchen, where diners can watch cooks prepare the flurry of small, intricate dishes that await. Highlights include a buttery waffle straight from the waffle iron, topped with a pile of bluefin tuna and a mountain of truffles, and a bowl of Kaluga caviar with a scoop of pistachio gelato and a dollop of IPA cream. Sweet lobster is served in a crimson curry, with a poached quail egg on top. Atera boasts an extensive wine list for such an intimate restaurant. Billecart-Salmon Rosé Brut is a perfect Valentine’s Day pick. It’s a radiant pink color, with aromas of raspberries and lemon zest, and fine and festive bubbles.
This lovely but unpretentious restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn Heights has everything you want in a solid neighborhood spot: serious cocktails, delicious food, and a great happy hour that includes $1 oysters and big ol’ peel-and-eat shrimp. Exposed brick walls, wooden ceilings, and plenty of greenery make Colonie a pleasant choice for sipping a glass of bubbly Cremant from the Jura or a vivid green Cool Hand Cuke cocktail, shaken with organic cucumber vodka, elderflower, mint and lime. Chicken liver pate with fennel marmalade is a little addictive, and the grass-fed Colonie burger, topped with bacon and a fried egg on a potato milk sesame roll is even more so. For dessert, keep it local with American artisan cheeses from Saxelby Cheesemongers or sweet with sticky date cake, served with salted crème fraîche gelato.
Gramercy Tavern is a no-brainer special occasion restaurant. Its old-school New York in the best possible way, with elegant but unpretentious service and a grand dining room decked out in fresh flowers. My husband ordered the vegetable tasting menu and I ordered the seasonal menu; of course, we both dug into every dish. We pitted the two menus against each other to determine a winner, and after six courses the contest ended in a tie. We were both wowed by roasted sea scallops with nutty barley and almonds, light-as-clouds ricotta cavatelli with sweet butternut squash, and vanilla yogurt mousse with crunchy toffee popped amaranth. Gramercy Tavern’s wine list features an ever-evolving mix of the classic and the esoteric, from surprisingly affordable to incredibly splurge-y. Try a bottle of biodynamic Oriol Artigas La Besavia from Catalonia, crafted with a blend of native Spanish grapes including Sumoll, Beier, Picpoul, Negre, and Garnatxa.
It’s all about beef at Cote, the Michelin-starred Korean steakhouse in Chelsea. Watch it dry age behind glass, bathed in red light, then listen to it sizzle on the yakiniku grill inset in your table. Servers, runners, and even the sommelier will come by and expertly flip it until it reaches perfection (resist the urge to fiddle with it, they know what they’re doing!)—seared on the outside, tender inside. The Butcher’s Feast lets you savor the complex flavor of that beef, served in four cuts. Plus, it comes with banchan, a selection of salads, fluffy egg souffle, kimchi stew and fermented bean-paste stew, and vanilla soft serve drizzled in caramel for dessert. Add on a reserve cut just for kicks, like a 150-day aged ribeye, which is so funky and wild it tasted as if someone had melted a slab of blue cheese on top. There’s a 1200+ label wine list—and sometimes they’ll pour a magnum by the glass at cost. When we were there, we sipped a Right Bank Bordeaux that tasted of tobacco and blackberry. It made all that meat sing.
An elegant getaway on the border of Prospect Heights and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, Oxalis’s tasting menu features five or six gorgeous courses for $70—a relative bargain. Danish chef Bo Bech has a way of making veggies feel unexpected, like in a first course of fermented pepper barbajuan (sort of fritter), and squash with roasted garlic and chickpeas. Oysters with cultured cream were both sweet and savory. Flaky pollock with caramelized whey, crispy potato, and pistachios was followed by a juicy grilled beef shoulder with mushroom and bone marrow ragout, plus ponzu, which cut through all that richness. The wine pairings from Oxalis’s concise list are thoughtful, as are the brilliant nonalcoholic beverage pairings, which include unique and not-too-sweet drinks like crabapple kombucha, shiso cider, and house-made spruce soda.
Wherever you end up, we hope you treat yourself to something extra delicious this Valentine’s Day, paired with a fantastic glass (or bottle!) of wine.
Hannah Howard is a writer and food expert who spent her formative years eating, drinking, serving, bartending, cooking on a hot line, flipping giant wheels of cheese, and managing restaurants. She is the author of the memoir Feast: True Love in and Out of the Kitchen. Hannah is a graduate of Columbia University and the Bennington Writing Seminars. She writes for SELF, New York Magazine, and Salon.com, and lives in New York City.