Romantic dining for Valentine's Day

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    Photo by Christopher Bunn

    Romantic Restaurants

    Let’s just get this out of the way: Valentine’s Day is not a great night to go out for dinner. It’s one of the busiest nights of the year for dining out, which can make some restaurants go to extreme lengths to maximize the potential profit. But you can But that’s not to say that you can’t have a wonderful, romantic meal on February 14 if you’re careful.

    Romance means different things to different couples, but there a few constants: beautiful, intimate surroundings; lighting that sets a mood; service that caters to your every whim; and enough room between tables to allow for some whispered sweet nothings. And let’s not forget exquisite food that will make it a meal to remember.

    Here are our picks for restaurants that combine romance and beautiful cuisine.

  • beach bistro

    6600 Gulf Dr., Holmes Beach, 778-6444, beachbistro.com

    Beach Bistro

    This Anna Maria restaurant has earned more awards — everything from James Beard recognition to the highest Zagat rating available — over the last 25 years than any other in the area. Long-stemmed roses, impeccable service, an exquisite wine list and extravagant food are all part of the charm, but the floor-to-ceiling windows that look out across the beach to the Gulf of Mexico could be the biggest draw. Pricey, but worth it.

  • gabbiano

    5104 Ocean Blvd., Siesta Key, 349-1423, cafegabbiano.com

    Cafe Gabbiano

    This Siesta Village mainstay has new owners behind its blend of New York and classic Italian cuisine, but the beauty of the place lies in its extensive outdoor wooden deck that juts into the parking lot. Throw in mood lighting, sweeping canopies and plenty of foliage and the setting is lost amidst twilight grandeur.

  • Darwin's on 4th chef Darwin Santa Maria. (Photo provided by El Pasaporte Gastronomico)

    1525 4th St., Sarasota, 343-2165, darwinson4th.com

    Darwin's On 4th

    A series of three restaurants have had their home in this location and – until now – the building has been the star of the show. Old-Sarasota architecture, soaring ceilings and plenty of wood and tile make it a destination. And now that chef Darwin Santa Maria is in the kitchen, there’s food to match the atmosphere. Try to sit in the upstairs lounge to maximize the potential romance of the setting.

  • ny euphemia haye

    5540 Gulf Of Mexico Dr., Longboat Key, 383-3633, euphemiahaye.com

    Euphemia Haye

    Tucked into a converted former home on Longboat Key, Euphemia Haye is made up of a handful of extremely intimate and cozy dining areas that are made for gazing into eyes and clasping hands across tables. The price is high, but you’ll enjoy classically prepared food and an extensive wine list. If you want to extend your night out, head upstairs to the Haye Loft for dessert.

  • Indigenous' interior dining room. (Aug. 29, 2011) (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

    239 S. Links Ave., Sarasota, 706-4740, indigenoussarasota.com

    Indigenous

    Chef Steve Phelps’ restaurant fits the old Florida feel of its Towles Court setting, thanks to recycled and reclaimed design elements and the extensive outdoor dining area. The menu relies on locally sourced ingredients utilized in creative ways that give a sense of place to the cuisine.

  • lavanda

    1938 Adams Lane, Sarasota, 366-0070, lavandarestaurant.com

    Lavanda

    Hidden in downtown Sarasota’s Towles Court arts district, in a converted wooden building with an expansive covered veranda, is Lavanda. The food leans heavily on Continental cuisine, delicate and elegant and constructed with precision by chef/owner Dino Moon.

  • An almond nougatine with lemon curd mousse and a raspberry coulis is a specialty of the day at Maison Blanche.  (2.2.10; STAFF PHOTO / E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

    2605 Gulf of Mexico Dr., Longboat Key, 383-8088, maisonblancherestaurants.com

    Maison Blanche

    Maison Blanche is not only one of our area’s best restaurants, it could easily qualify as one of Florida’s best dining destinations, largely thanks to the culinary talents of owner/chef Jose Martinez. His modern French cuisine is precise in a way that few chefs can manage, each dish aimed at perfection every time he puts it in the hands of a waiter, from soup to dessert. Add in a flowing interior design that’s dominated by the restaurant’s namesake color and you’ll feel transported far away from the outside world.

  • melange

    1568 Main St., Sarasota, 953-7111, lanrestaurant.com

    Melange

    Chef Lan Bradeen’s downtown Sarasota restaurant is a beacon in the night – mainly because it serves the best food in town between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. six days a week. Expect small plates that blend world-spanning ingredients and techniques, served in a modern setting, with innovative cocktails created by Bradeen’s partner (and serious mixologist) Brad Coburn.

  • ophelia's

    9105 Midnight Pass Road, Siesta Key, 349-2212, opheliasonthebay.net

    Ophelia's On The Bay

    Through the decades, Ophelia’s has been a standard bearer for intimate and isolated fine-dining thanks to its location on the Intracoastal Waterway on the extreme southern end of Siesta Key. The food is elegant and the desserts are divine, but the restaurant’s biggest selling point is some of the best outdoor dining in the area. An expansive patio out the back of the converted house overlooks a placid section of waterway, replete with tangles of mangroves and a bounty of bird life, with some romantic tables hidden from view on a dock mere feet from swimming fish.

  • ortygia 2

    1418 13th St. W., Bradenton, 741-8646, ortygiarestaurant.com

    Ortygia

    Ortygia’s quaint converted house fits the restaurant’s homey Sicilian cuisine and casual service perfectly, creating the aura that you’re eating in chef/owner Gaetano Cannata’s own dining room. His rustic aesthetic infuses the food, from wedges of giant timballo cut straight from a dome of pasta sitting on the foyer counter to big red peppers stuffed with cheese and pine nuts. The big courtyard – strung with lanterns – looks out onto Bradenton’s Village of the Arts.

  • fwout05

    5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, 360-7390, trevisorestaurant.com

    Treviso

    Stroll through the John and Mable Ringling Museum Grounds before heading into Treviso after suncet for some modern American takes on Italian classics. You’ll have a view of those grounds from your table and – if that’s your plan – the museum and Historic Asolo Museum are close at hand for your extended date night.

  • Vizen

    6559 Gateway Ave., Sarasota, 926-0830, vizen-sarasota.com

    Vizen

    Few local sushi spots stretch their culinary muscles, but Vizen chef/owner “Matsu” Matsunae fills a chalkboard with daily creations made from some of the best seafood around, from tender, barely smoked scallops to hand rolls tinged with international ingredients rarely seen paired with sushi. The restaurant is laid out with the tables spread farther apart than the norm, each a pocket of light in relative darkness, while the servers always seem happy to help.