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Valentine's Day culinary advice

BY BEN VERHILLE | FEBRUARY 13, 2014 5:00 AM

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Did you forget to find someone to date again? Or are you here, desperately seeking advice on where to take that newfound girl because oops, reservations mean you have to plan in advance.

To clarify, by planning in advance, I mean doing more than just buying one or two scented candles, although this is a necessity to start off your romantic venture. Because it’s unlikely that Linn Street Café has any open reservations this week, I’m going to help you recent Casanovas in your quest for love.

FOR COUPLES ONLY:

Finding availability on Valentine’s Day is more difficult than finding a date for Valentine’s Day. So if you have the first hurdle completed, the rest should be a cakewalk.

Here’s the secret — there is no romantic culture like the Italian culture. The French come in a close second, but we have a stronger presence of Italian cuisine than we do of its French counterpart. If you can still call in, here’s a brief list of venues.          

For those serious lovebirds who want nothing more than a romantic, expensive, sweep-her-off-her-feet kind of holiday, you should check out Graze, Baroncini’s, Basta, the Brown Bottle, or Givanni’s — all excellent options for a date of sophistication.

Givanni’s has been a longtime favorite, and suggestion of my old suite mate, so I would suggest ordering the Pasta La Jolla — sautéed shrimp, scallops, clams, and mussels tossed with linguini, tomatoes, herbs, and garlic in a white-wine-butter sauce. Seafood may not be your fancy, but showing off your advanced palate is sure to score some extra points.

For those of you looking for a budget-friendly venue with the same cuisine, it might take a little more work. But there’s still an option for you.

I’m going to highlight Z’mariks, but Noodles & Company would be an equally effective option. It could be reheated and served with some fancy bread and wine, but something as simple as a basil pasta dish can impress your (soon to be) significant other.

I stopped by Z’mariks to check out what it could do to save your lack of chocolate and rose-buying self. It's an alternative to the fine dining of Iowa City, and it even has some natural aphrodisiacs in the food — asparagus, basil, chili pepper, and garlic are all known for their powerful effects on the human body, particularly the romantic parts.

I went ahead and ordered the Z’Pesto, served with a pesto sauce on bow-tie noodles. Tomatoes and romano cheese top it off, and if you get to bring this home, make sure to add some fresh cloves of garlic and a tall glass of Merlot.

ALL THE SINGLE LADIES (and single bros):

I’m sure you have at least one friend who would appreciate an invitation to a low-key dinner or at least drink away from the sadness of single-awareness day.

In this case, you have a significantly lower bar to set as far as your “friend’s” expectations go. Still clean your room and more importantly, yourself, but here is an hors d’oeuvre option that makes the alcohol and food run in the same location.

Hidden right next to the alcohol section at John’s Grocery is Cured — a deli serving thick and fresh cuts of meat that complement any conversation about how this holiday is meant for couples.

In my personal preference, its smoked turkey and smoked bacon are impeccable. If you’re going with the classic wine ideal, its Rex Goliath is the only thing better than wine-flavored juice in a box.

And it has the fresh bread you need to serve it on; all you have to do is trick someone to come join you for a casual night of food tasting and wine drinking.

If all goes well, make sure to stop by one of Iowa City’s best dessert locations, Molly’s Cupcakes. My favorite still stands as the Cookie Monster, but maybe try the romantically colored cupcake Red Velvet.

Hopefully, this is not the only dessert you will find on your adventures this 14th … Happy Valentine’s Day.


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