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Top Ten Romantic Dining 2007
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For those romantically and gastronomically inclined, here are just a few recommendations to make this Valentine's celebration a truly memorable dining experience...

27 Mine Brook Road (Route 202)
Bernardsville, Somerset County, New Jersey
(908) 766-0002


The Bernards Inn has remained a perennial favorite of those who enjoy indulging in a sedate and sophisticated touch of gastronomic romanticism. And Executive Chef Corey Heyer's superlative contemporary American cuisine is the perfect complement to the handsome lobby, comfortable piano bar, and cozy, candlelit tables. Begin with exquisite sweet potato ravioli kissed by a sage brown butter sauce or, perhaps, cinnamon-scented risotto companioned by black trumpet mushrooms. For your main course, choose from such provocative presentations as coriander-encrusted ahi tuna with an enticing mandarin wasabi vinaigrette, Alaskan black cod enlivened with a hint of Meyer lemon gastrique, or Colorado rack of lamb with Tarbais beans, spicy carrot purée, and fennel jus. Desserts are every bit the equal of their illustrious predecessors; and Wine Director Terri Baldwin's award-winning wine list is truly world-class. You may also elect to prolong this romantic interlude by spending the night in one of the lovely guestrooms. On Wednesday, February 14th, the Bernards Inn will be serving a three-course prix fixe from 5:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. priced at $90.00 per person (plus tax and gratuity), which will also include a box of chocolates for the ladies.

1449 Irving Street
Rahway, Union County, New Jersey
(732) 388-6677


When it comes to romantic dining, David Drake is hard to beat... In point of fact, it was my wife's first choice for the celebration of her birthday. The boutique 50-plus-seat establishment boasts gleaming hardwood floors and rustic beams & exposed bricks counterpoised by colorful modern paintings and soft, subdued lighting. The charming ambiance notwithstanding, it is Mr. Drake's extraordinarily innovative American fare with international flair that remains the main drawing card here. His creamy organic cauliflower soup is infused with tender leeks and sweet Maine crabmeat, and his cannelloni of smoked salmon is replete with remoulade and radish salads and American caviar. For your main course, be sure to try the deep sea diver scallops bathed in parsley sauce, braised short ribs with potato and onion dumplings, or loin of lamb "La Planche." You will find the tasting of artisanal cheeses utterly irresistible and the wine list exceptionally well focused. David Drake's Valentine's Day celebration will extend from Monday, February 12th through Wednesday, February 14th. A five-course tasting menu will be offered (with choices for each course) at $95.00 per person; $140.00 per person with optional wine pairings (plus tax and gratuity).

Virginia Hotel
25 Jackson Street
Cape May, NJ
(609) 884-5700

There are numerous cozy nooks for lovers in this beautiful Victorian community, but none as enchantingly romantic as the Ebbitt Room. Sequestered away in the Virginia Hotel, a charming boutique hostelry constructed in 1879 by Alfred and Ellen Ebbitt, freshly cut flowers and live piano music underscore the sophisticated elegance of the handsomely restored dining area. Executive Chef Andrew J. Carthy, a native of County Wexford, Ireland, known for his subtle integration of the freshest possible ingredients, will surely delight the palate without overwhelming it. You might begin with such intriguing appetizers as "Tasting of Scottish Salmon" - tartare, cured, smoked - rare seared beef with truffle-wild mushroom ragout, crisp polenta & aged balsamic, or artichokes, roasted tomato, and marinated olives aided and abetted by a fresh herb salad and oregano vinaigrette. For your main course, the day-boat cod is paired with spinach and potato gnocchi, the veal tenderloin is companioned by lobster and a chanterelle sauce, and the dry-aged sirloin of beef comes replete with pickled ramps, scallion barley, and dried tomato-onion relish. On February 14th, the Ebbitt Room will be serving a five-course prix fixe at $60.00 per person (plus tax and gratuity). The regular menu will also be available, as will romantic packages that include a cozy room in the hotel.

4 Main Street
Hamburg, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 209-0300


Restaurant Kaya charms patrons with pomegranate-colored walls, yellow wainscoting, and silver pressed-tin ceiling. The ambiance exudes a spiffy, casual island flair but is still decidedly intimate and romantic. And proprietors Christian Skillen and Phil Prapopulos are always on hand to make sure your dining experience is a pleasant one. The food, under the watchful eyes of Executive Chef Shawn Reid, Sous-Chef David Jenkins, and Pastry Chef Donald Shauger - all CIA grads - is an attractive amalgam of Caribbean, French, and Asian cookery. The seafood paella makes an irresistible starter, as do the Asian-braised shredded beef and the salad of candy swirl beets and Brie cheese. For your entrée, I would highly recommend the sage- and horseradish-encrusted swordfish... ditto the medallions of pork tenderloin wrapped in slices of shallot- and vanilla-infused bacon. House-made desserts add a decidedly homey conclusion to your evening at table; and the wine list is very impressive, indeed. On Valentine's day, Restaurant Kaya will be offering a selection of presentations from their new menu plus a number of evening specials.

RESTAURANT NOW Dennis Foy Restaurant
2691 Main Street (Route 206)
Lawrenceville, Mercer County, New Jersey
(609) 219-1900


The Lawrenceville Inn is a labor of love on the part of proprietors Jonathan and Elizabeth Hunt, who purchased the 1892 former farmhouse in August 2001 and spent the next two years carefully restoring the physical plant from attic to basement. But that is only part of the story, as you will find the superb contemporary American cuisine every bit the equal of the stylishly rustic ambiance. You may wish to begin your evening with the wild Burgundy escargot "scampi" or the roasted parsnips, baby carrots, and beets with white beans, rosemary, and olive oil. On the other hand, the Niçoise salad with big-eye tuna and roasted shallot-Dijon mustard vinaigrette is also an excellent choice. Entrées include seared pork loin with pearl onions and apple-potato gratin; striped bass with couscous, roasted salsify, leeks, and clementines; and Asian-style braised beef short ribs with mashed potatoes, fried leeks, and herb purée. Desserts, of course, are no less impressive. Gastronomically as well as decoratively, this wonderful restaurant is a romantic charmer. On Wednesday, February 14th, the Lawrenceville Inn will be serving their regular menu supplemented by a number of Valentine's Day specials.

168 Maplewood Avenue
, Essex County, New Jersey
(973) 763-4460


They say that good things come in small packages... and that is certainly true of Lorena's, an enchanting jewel-box located in the very heart of Maplewood Village. Utilizing only the freshest possible seasonally-inspired ingredients, chef/proprietor Humberto Campos, Jr., offers up an enticing array of upscale French fare with international flair. His presentations are artistic without being anachronistic, innovative but not ingenuous. Appetizers, for example, are as beautifully presented as they are delicious. Wedges of red and golden baby beets and chèvre fondant surround an epicenter of Graiff Farms frisée and mâche and are consummated with an enticing Valencia orange emulsion; fresh artichoke hearts luxuriate on a creamy pillow of eggplant purée and are beautifully counterpoised by a black olive tapenade; a risotto of exotic mushrooms is infused with freshly grated Regiano Parmigiano and white truffle oil. Entrées include a superlative lamb sirloin with caponata salad, venison sirloin au poivre, and Arctic char presented on a bed of melted Napa cabbage and finished with an irresistible chive beurre blanc. If certain financial restrictions prohibit your jetting off for a romantic weekend in Paris, you will find Lorena's a most enjoyable - an infinitely less expensive - gastronomic sojourn. On Valentine's Day this fine restaurant will be serving a four-course prix fixe from 5:00 p.m. priced at $75.00 per person (plus tax and gratuity).

1114 Route 173
Asbury, Hunterdon County, New Jersey
(908) 238-0018


Located just off Route 78 in Hunterdon County, Carmine and Jill Castaldo's RosaLuca's Italian Bistro is cozy, comfortable, and just the proper venue for those who prefer more sedate surroundings for their romantic gastronomic encounters. The interior is simple but homey, adorned with family photographs and crisp white napery. Mr. Castaldo's seasonally-inspired cuisine, however, is far from simplistic. The chef uses only the freshest possible ingredients - most of which are gleaned from the restaurant's 10-acre gardens and greenhouses - to prepare his extraordinarily creative Italian fare with new American flair. Antipasti include such delicacies as steamed Prince Edward Island mussels with Moretti Lager, chorizo sausage, and tomatoes; flash-fired cornmeal & Parmesan crusted calamari with a spicy tomato caper aïoli; and homemade mozzarella with grape tomatoes, roasted peppers, and basil. For you main course, consider the sautéed shrimp and sea scallops on a seabed of artichoke & sun-dried tomato risotto, veal scalloppine stuffed with sweet Italian sausage, or vegetable and wine braised lamb shank presented with barley and roasted butternut squash. The restaurant also boasts a very nice wine list, as well as a fabulous selection of martinis. On Valentine's Day, RosaLuca's will offer their regular menu accompanied by a select number of specials and live classical music.

500 West White Horse Pike
Egg harbor City, NJ
(609) 965-3303

Sequestered along a quiet stretch of Route 30, just a few short miles from the hustle and bustle of Atlantic City's casinos, Jack & Toni Cordivari's Tre Figlio is a charming little gem that is superlatively suited for those who wish to add a touch of sophisticated serenity to their Valentine's Day celebration. The restaurant is a beautifully appointed, intimate space replete with a comfy bar, award-winning wine list, and first-class service. And the cuisine, like the ambiance is truly transporting; this is casually elegant dining at its finest. Appetizers include carpaccio with horseradish cream and roasted peppers, mushroom caps stuffed with ricotta cheese, bacon, and onions, and jumbo lump crabmeat and risotto perfectly complemented by a red pepper cream sauce. Entrée-wise, the potato & ricotta gnocchi adorned with marinara sauce and fresh basil is a classic... ditto the double-cut veal chop stuffed with prosciutto and mozzarella cheese. If the pleasures of the sea are more to your liking, be sure to try the "Flounder alla Nicholas" - tender filets stuffed with baby shrimp, spinach, mozzarella, and toasted pine nuts in basil cream sauce - or the always delectable "Swordfish alla Puttanesca." An assortment of homemade desserts, almond biscotti, and ricotta cheese pie are delicious denouements to a romantic evening at table. On February 14th, Tre Figlio will be serving their regular à la carte menu supplemented by daily specials.

103 Spring Valley Road
Park Ridge, Bergen County, New Jersey
(201) 391-2230


Named after the legendary Hollywood heartthrob, Valentino's pampers its patrons with a delightfully romantic Old World ambiance. If you are in search of an intimate tête-à-tête this February 14th, the cozy ambiance and tuxedoed waiters will charm you the moment you cross the threshold. The cuisine here isn't about innovation... it's about tradition. Classic Italian dishes are lovingly prepared and served up in generous portions at reasonable prices. Begin with such venerable offerings as clams oreganata, grilled prawns and calamari over mesclun salad, or orecchiette companioned by broccoli rabe, sausage, and oil & garlic. For your main course, you can't miss with the grilled rack of lamb with polenta, veal saltimbocca, or the moist and tender filet of red snapper served livornese-style. Whether a restaurant regular or a newcomer on the scene, you may rest assured that the welcome will be warm and your evening at table a most pleasant dining experience. On Valentine's Day, Valentino's will be serving their regular à la carte menu and a select number of dinner specials.

112 Tomahawk Trail
Sparta, Sussex County, New Jersey
(973) 726-7226


Set on beautiful Seneca Lake, Zoe's is the dream-come-true of Maria Saben and her husband, Jean-Charles, a native of Paris. In addition to the view, the restaurant's interior boasts a light and airy space replete with lively yellow walls, balcony, and diminutive bar. But as delightful as the establishment proper may be, it is Executive Chef Scott Jacobson's incomparable French cookery that keeps New Jersey's knowledgeable foodies coming back for more. Indeed, Mr. Jacobson's culinary combos strike all the right cords: ingredients are pristine of countenance and superbly prepared; and presentations are attractive amalgams of colors, tastes, and textures. And so you begin... perhaps with fried cornmeal-crusted oysters, pan-seared foie gras with toasted brioche and port wine reduction, or escargots en croute. Entrées, of course, exhibit the same impeccable standards: bacon-wrapped monkfish with lobster risotto and truffle sauce; ham-, apple-, and truffle-stuffed pork tenderloin in the company of smoked bleu cheese mashed potatoes; and duck breast and leg confit. Should you be feeling chipper and chocoholic, be sure to conclude the evening with the cast-your-caloric-fate-to-the-wind chocolate sampler. On the other hand, should your mood be more contemplative and classical, you would do well to avail yourself of the excellent cheese tasting. On Wednesday, February 14th, Zoe's will be serving a four-course prix-fixe priced at $75.00 per person.

The Artful Diner is an independent, freelance food writer.  His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.

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