A menu of Valentine’s possibilities. Most Decadent: La Crème

A menu of Valentine’s possibilities. Most Decadent: La Crème

By Mike Hale.

I’m a hopeless romantic … but I’m also no fool. To me, Valentine’s Day feels contrived, a carefully calculated cabal of greeting card companies, florists, jewelers and chocolatiers. This conglomerate capitalizes on the weakest of the male species, those with no imagination to be romantic the other 364 days of the year, and who pair with women who have a deep-seated need to be emotionally validated on Feb. 14.

The trouble is, Valentine’s Day comes on the heels of Super Bowl Sunday, the “holiday” adopted by many millions more men than women. It’s our day pass, a glorious 10 hours to meld our butt cheeks to the sofa, swill beer, belch, scratch inappropriately, scream at the TV and escape from life’s realities.

Now it’s payback time.

So, if we must have V-Day, at least allow the men to choose the itinerary. And for me that always starts with eating aphrodisiacal foods at a fine restaurant. This can be a dicey proposition, however, since restaurateurs privately despise this day. The issues? It’s impossible to fill all the tables when dealing with pairs, and couples love to linger all night waiting for a gratis dessert to hasten their departure.

Here are my suggestions in a number of categories:

Most romantic: One of my favorite perches is next to the window at Pacific’s Edge inside Hyatt Highlands Inn Carmel. Chef Matt Bolton and pastry chef Gina Hudson will create stellar food to equal the view.

The Valentine’s Day tasting menu includes oysters Rockefeller with osetra caviar, turbot with winter truffle, Masami Ranch Wagyu steak and chocolate marquise almond cake. Cost is $125, or $195 with wine pairings. Call 622-5445.

Consistently tasty food: Bistro Moulin (Monterey) chef Didier Dutertre could very well be the best cook on the Peninsula. How about crab bisque, Parisian-style spinach gnocchi, steak au poivre, cannelloni di mare (lobster, sea bass and prawns). Cost: $48. Call 333-1200. Also: Restaurant 1833 offers oysters, steak tartare, Parmesan gnocchi and mushroom ravioli with lobster. Cost: $85. Call 648-1833.

Most decadent: La Crème Monterey is hosting a romantic wine-pairing dinner with the tagline “Luscious, Romantic and Juicy.” Enough said.  First course is a shared antipasto platter, followed by a blood orange and almond salad. Third course is a seared day boat scallop with celery root carbonara. Fourth course is filet of beef with Yukon potato and mascarpone ravioli. Dessert is a decadent chocolate croissant bread pudding. Cost: $180 per couple. Call 375-1300.

Wacky fun:What’s sexier than sharing a pot of fondue with your sweetheart? Lugano Swiss Bistro in Carmel combines funky Alpine décor with Switzerland’s most notable contribution to world cuisine. There’s cheese fondue, of course, but also chicken, seafood, beef and lamb. And the chocolate fondue is a must on Feb. 14. Call 626-3779.

Best value (and best hugs): Linda Cantrell at Monterey Cookhouse offers a Valentine’s Day menu, including lobster ($28.95), truffle-mushroom risotto ($17.95), smoked prime rib, baby back ribs and decadent desserts such as double chocolate torte. Imbibe with a chocolate berry martini ($7) or a bottle of J “Cuvee 20” bubbly for $30. Hugs from Linda no charge. Call 642-9900.