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Laguna chefs share the love on Valentine’s Day

By Diane Armitage

No matter what may be going on all around us, and despite the fact that social distancing is in play, Valentine’s Day will always be our annual optimist.

It may look a little different at our restaurants this year – the two-by-two tables won’t be shoulder to shoulder, and a larger percentage of Valentine dinners may be found on tables in our homes. 

Regardless, Laguna Beach chefs are ready with special plans for outdoor dining and takeout. Many, in fact, are providing their Valentine prix fixe menus for takeout this year.

Many restaurants have sent me their news for my Restaurant Directory at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/, but some menus are still in the crafting phase, so be sure to check the Directory for updates over the next few days.

Here’s the love in the air for Valentine’s Day: 

Flights to send you in the right direction

Jason and Sofia McLain are celebrating the anniversary of their first date (February 13) and their second date (February 14) with a weekend of wine tastings at their Canyon-based McLain Cellars, February 12-15. Wines will be paired with cheese, charcuterie, and chocolate. 

Gifty Ideas

Kudos to Nirvana Grille and GG’s Bistro for coming up with Valentine boutiques that offer ready-made gifts right along with their Valentine food.

Laguna chefs Nirvana

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Courtesy of Nirvana Grille

Various-sized Valentine Gift Baskets at Nirvana Grille make love easy

Chef Lindsay at Nirvana has crafted a number of specialty baskets starting from $49. These gems are loaded with anything from crafted chocolates to spa gift cards, champagne, essential oils, and Valentine-themed serving platters.

She’s also teaching weekly cooking classes which, for me, would be my kind of Valentine gift.

GG’s Bistro has turned its small indoor restaurant space into a boutique of foods, chocolates, house-baked goods, wines and champagnes, and creative gifts for that browse-and-buy mode. Francesca has even brought in the Valentine’s Day decor for you.

Laguna chefs GG's

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Courtesy of GG’s Bistro

Shop for Valentine gifts, specialty foods, and champagnes at GG’s Bistro

Restaurants with specialty items

Because Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday with Presidents’ Day on Monday, many of our restaurants are celebrating all weekend long with Valentine specials from Friday through Sunday.

Several restaurants have created Valentine weekend specials that will be offered along with the regular menu. GG’s Bistro, Royal Hawaiian, Lumberyard, Ristorante Rumari, Reunion Kitchen, The Cliff, Skyloft and Brussels Bistro are adding delectable delight to their standard courses. The majority have confirmed that these same specials will be available for takeout.

Be sure to check these “specials” out as they are announced in the Directory because these aren’t everyday options. Consider, for instance, Skyloft’s Fried Brisket Mac with, you guessed it, beer-battered brisket topped in their famous mac-and-cheese and ladled with rosemary gravy). 

Restaurants with Prix Fixe Menus

In a normal year and a typical crowded Valentine’s Day, many chefs prefer to create prix fixe menus to keep the kitchen running smoothly. This year, with indoor dining still not available to the public, they’re not expecting the usual Valentine crowds (though cozying up in an outdoor dining setting can’t be all bad on Valentine’s Day). Despite what could be lesser numbers, a handful of chefs are making those prix fixe menus anyway.

In fact, The Drake created a Valentine’s prix fixe menu for “Dine In” and an entirely separate one for a “Couples Take-Away Meal” that includes a bottle of Prosecco Gancia Docg.

The Drake’s Dine-In menu lets you choose one salad from eight options, an entrée from nine options (including my favorite, the Chili Lime Crusted Steelhead Salmon), and one impossible option from four desserts.

Laguna chefs Drake

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Courtesy of The Drake

The Drake’s perennial favorite, Filet Mignon in Peppercorn Sauce

While the Drake’s “Take-Away” Valentine Menu might be a bit smaller in stature for easier packing, it’s a giant in taste, from the starter of Maine Lobster Louie to the significant Surf and Double Turn entrée. The Tomato Saffron Soup and Berry Tiramisu complete the menu.

Chef Amar Santana is offering yet another decadent menu at the Broadway for both outside diners and those who prefer eating at home. Takeout orders for this specific menu must be made by Friday, Feb 12.

Broadway’s menu starts with an amuse of smoked salmon mousse with quail egg and caviar because that’s just how Chef Amar flies. Then, wander through Albacore Tataki, Lobster and Scallop Raviolo, Butter Poached Maine Lobster, and Pink Pineapple Upside Down Cake (with Grapefruit Honey Sorbet, wow).

At Driftwood Kitchen, Chef Rainer Schwarz starts his Valentine prix fixe with a champagne toast and his crazy-good fresh-baked Parker House rolls. These two items basically corner the market on love.

He continues, though, with choices of salad or Hamachi Tartare and then White Asparagus Soup. A single entrée choice isn’t easy with Petite Filet & Braised Prime Beef Shortribs with truffled mashed potatoes or Chilean Seabass Filet with Maine lobster risotto. (Oh my.) The menu wraps up with a “Sweetheart Chocolate Dessert” for two.

Laguna chefs Driftwood

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Courtesy of Driftwood Kitchen

Chef Rainer’s Seabass with Maine Lobster Risotto at Driftwood Kitchen

Mozambique’s Valentine’s Day includes a free champagne split for every two entrées purchased. Chef Braulio’s prix fixe menu will be the only menu offered and live music will be supplied by our own Andrew Bloom. Watch the Directory for the menu’s details on what is usually quite an extensive menu from Chef Braulio.

At Nirvana Grille, nibble your way through a cheeseboard for two as you make choices from Chef Lindsay’s extensive 3-course menu. If you’re eating at the restaurant for Valentine’s Day, consider having a Nirvana gift basket waiting at the table.

Manned by Chef Erik, Oliver’s Osteria’s kitchen is nothing but love, love, love.

It only intensifies on Valentine’s weekend with a prix fixe 4-course dinner that starts with Capesante al Cognac (seared jumbo scallops) and wanders in a happy haze through Tartara Tarufata (ground aged filet) and Tris di Ravioli (3 raviolis – Lobster/Shrimp, Asparagus & Ricotta, and Pumpkin in butternut squash sauce).

Then, for your Oliver’s entrée, choose from Filleto in Fonduta (prime filet with taleggio cheese fondue) or Branzino (Chilean sea bass). Chef’s smug Semifreddo with a mocha fondue finishes the meal.

Make reservations

Even though you may think it will be a quieter Valentine weekend, I suggest you ignore that thought completely and make your reservations as soon as possible. If you’re planning takeout, most of the restaurants will be prepared for you throughout the weekend, though keep in mind that Broadway has a Friday evening (February 12) deadline. Just watch my Directory for changes and updates as new Valentine information and menus come in, or sign up for my email for alerts. 

P.S. About that Super Bowl this weekend

In Tuesday’s Stu News Laguna, I gave you several ideas for Super Bowl takeout ideas. If you missed it, you can find it in my blog on my website.

A much larger number of restaurants are open this Super Bowl Sunday than past years have proven. Some, however, will be closing at 3 p.m. or earlier to catch the game. Just check your favorite restaurant in the Directory to see their status. If I don’t have a status update, you might want to give them a call before heading in their direction.

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/ and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).