The French novelist Colette documented her thoughts and feelings on, among other things, the sensual pleasures of love and food. And she made an undeniable observation: “If one wished to be perfectly sincere, one would have to admit there are two kinds of love- well-fed and ill-fed. The rest is pure fiction.”
Love and food go hand in hand, and love, when celebrated, awakens many an appetite. Perhaps, that’s why we honour love in a month known for its cold days and stillness. Just ask those who celebrate Valentine’s Day by dining out. Many of us agree that sharing the pleasure of dinner together publically is a romantic expression of our affections.
Several years ago, at a restaurant in Bertinoro, Italy, I was given a card that stated, roughly translated, “Two are the pleasures in life, the table linen and the bed linen.” Perhaps this is what the Italians mean when they speak of la dolce vita!
Valentine’s Day is recognized as a day for romance and devotion. Call it romantic, (or call it foolish), but gifts from the passionate kitchen are most certainly gifts of love. Cupid’s arrows have ritually targeted the most cynical among us. What better night to go out and dine, and combine the pleasures of love of food and wine? Publicly sharing the pleasures of a meal is a romantic expression of our affections.
But diners beware. Valentine’s is a night of crazily high expectations, and is among the busiest days for dining out. This is the night on which restaurateurs and chefs know that they have a captive audience. It is also a night that patrons assume is so busy that no one will notice if reservations are not honoured. You might be quite surprised to learn how often that happens.
Celebratory evenings can be very frustrating for chefs and restaurateurs. It is not uncommon for a restaurant to be booked in advance for days, or even weeks — and on the last days to be flooded with cancellations, due to the caprices of babysitters, or unexplained illnesses. Some establishments attempt to compensate by overbooking tables. This inevitably results in disagreeable experiences and disappointments. Routinely, diners do not call on busy nights when they know members of their party are unable to keep their reservations. Meanwhile, hopeful diners are being turned away at the door and the phone is ringing off the hook. In smaller restaurants, which don’t have the luxury of extra tables, it is difficult to improvise at the last minute.
In some restaurants it is a common practice to book tables at least twice on a celebratory night. The accepted standard seems to be to allow two hours before rebooking. Remember: it is much better to dine at the later seating if you are planning a leisurely evening.
On these special nights, it is always advisable to call and reconfirm your reservations. When making a reservation, it is the obligation of the restaurant to inform you of their rebooking and reservation policy. Be sure to inquire whether the restaurant is offering a special or prix fixe menu. Make sure to confirm that your choice of restaurant meets all your romantic dining expectations. And if you need to cancel your reservation, advise the establishment well in advance.
Valentine’s Day falls on Sunday this year, and some restaurants are serving Valentine-themed menus on Friday and Saturday night as well. It’s never too early to make a reservation if you’re planning on taking your partner, sweetheart or best friend out to dinner to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Remember, love can be a many splendoured thing — given the right surroundings!
BRYAN LAVERY is eatdrink’s Food Editor and Food Writer at Large.