When it comes to Valentine’s Day, there are two types of revelers: those who embrace the idea of a full 24 hours of over-the-top romantic gestures, and those who would prefer a quiet evening at home. “The perfect evening of romance means something different to every diner,” concurs Caroline Potter. She should know. As chief dining officer of restaurant reservation hub OpenTable, it’s Potter’s job to size up both the food and ambiance of a place and report back to her readers (who annually compile their own list of the 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America).
At Relish, a romantic meal consists of three key ingredients: great food, gorgeous surroundings, and a fantastic dining partner. Whether you wait until February 14th to pay a visit or make a reservation for tonight, here are our picks for The 15 Most Romantic Restaurants in America.
Location: Little Torch Key, FL
Located less than 30 miles from Key West, it’s easy to see why Little Palm Island Resort & Spa is consistently ranked among the world’s best hotels. In a word? Seclusion. The resort—which can only be reached via seaplane or boat—has no televisions or telephones to speak of, and doesn’t allow guests under the age of 16. Which means that disconnecting from the outside world is a required activity. And if and when you do decide to amble out of the quiet sanctuary of your bungalow, The Dining Room offers you the choice of a candlelit dinner with a water view inside or an al fresco meal of “Modern Tropical” cuisine (think French meets Latin America) on the terrace, all courtesy of executive chef Rolando “Roly” Cruz-Tara.
Location: Yountville, CA
If you’ve ever watched one of celebrity chef Michael Chiarello’s Food Network shows and been left longing to be a guest at his NapaStyle table, Bottega Ristorante is your chance. “Bottega brings the bold flavors of Southern Italy to the heart of the Napa Valley,” says Chiarello of the warm and welcoming atmosphere. “As part of the historic Vintage Estates, one of the oldest wineries in the region, the restaurant’s warm, rustic setting reflects its soulful style of Italian cooking, which celebrates the bounty of artisanal and house-made ingredients.” The restaurant’s outdoor Terrazzo, with two wood-burning stone fireplaces, is our pick for the most romantic seat in the house, where food tastes even better when shared.
Location: Kennebunkport, ME
A romantic winter weekend in Maine might be the only time where snowflakes are a welcome sight. And there’s no better place to take in a wintry scene than looking out of the floor-to-ceiling windows in the restaurant of Kennebunkport’s White Barn Inn, which is comprised of two restored barns that date back to the 1820s. “The White Barn Inn Restaurant offers a truly romantic setting for guests to enjoy,” says chef Jonathan Cartwright. “The old barn features the perfect combination of rustic New England charm with its beautiful and natural décor, exquisite table tops and its stunning floor to ceiling picture window. Couples can come and enjoy an intimate Valentine’s dinner consisting of the freshest ingredients and an ambience set by our candlelit room, melodious piano tunes, and a fragrant choice of fine foods and wines.”
Location: Kauai, HI
For those who prefer the sound of crashing waves to the tiny tapping of falling snow, you can’t get much closer to the ocean than at Hawaii’s classic Beach House Restaurant, which offers up a menu of innovative Pacific Rim cuisine and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean (schedule a reservation that coincides with the sunset for some truly amazing photo ops). “Take a slice of paradise, mix will with a generous helping of island hospitality and a bounty of Hawaiian flavors, and you’ll discover what nourishes the soul and brings you back for seconds,” says director of sales and special events Nicole Freeland of the property.
Location: Fullerton, CA
Their marriage(s) may not have ended in fairytale fashion, but it’s at one of The Cellar’s intimate grotto booths (pictured) that Richard Burton proposed to Elizabeth Taylor. Yes, it’s that romantic. Opened in 1969, this Orange County institution offers impeccable European-style fine dining, but with a quirky California twist: the space was conceived, designed and built by the same guys who created Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. True to its name, the restaurant also boasts one of the country’s largest and most impressive wine lists.
Location: Seattle, WA
“From the sweeping views of Lake Union and the Cascade Mountains to the impeccable cuisine and service, Canlis is unparalleled in Seattle for romantic dining,” says PR coordinator Ellen Kutscher. For more than six decades, Canlis has served as one of Seattle’s most popular special occasion destinations. It’s also one of the city’s most striking pieces of architecture; built in 1950, the waterfront restaurant’s exterior takes a page from Frank Lloyd Wright’s book of timeless design. And the food—which chef Jason Franey defines as “comfort geek”—only adds to the warm and homey atmosphere.
Location: Charleston, SC
Classic Southern hospitality gets a healthful twist from chef Marc Collins, who infuses his menu of Southern staples—including house-made Plantation Rice Bread Rolls—with international cuisine influences. “The ambiance paired with the food and the service make Circa 1886 the ideal restaurant for a romantic dinner,” says vice president of public relations Linn Lesesne of the restaurant’s old world charm. “The staff is so professional [that] they anticipate your every need without you even noticing them. And Chef Collins’ creations are like their own romance story—all of the ingredients come together in perfect harmony.”
Location: Phoenix, AZ
You don’t have to be a guest of the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort to appreciate its signature restaurant. “Perched 1,800 feet above Phoenix, every table at Different Pointe of View has remarkable views of the city skyline and desert mountains,” says executive chef Anthony DeMuro. “Paired with our menu of fine dining, an extraordinary wine list and impeccable service, dining at Different Pointe of View delivers the ultimate romantic night out in Phoenix.”
Location: Newport, RI
Waterfront settings are a guaranteed recipe for romance. But add in the charm of an old New England lighthouse in a town that has long been a playground for America’s most well heeled diners and you’ve got Newport’s Castle Hill Inn. “Our elegant dining room at Castle Hill Inn offers stunning views of the ocean and a world-class culinary experience led by talented executive chef Karsten Hart,” says general manager Brian Young. “He showcases seasonal, local ingredients in a variety of thoughtful and unexpected dishes using cooking techniques from around the world. His creations, paired with our award-winning wine list and panoramic views of Narragansett Bay, make dining here an unforgettable event.”
Location: New York, NY
New York City is certainly not without its more than fair share of romantic restaurants. But we’re certainly not the only ones to think that this New American mainstay in the West Village is the most romantic of all. “What makes the restaurant so romantic to me is the rooms dimly lit with candlelight, the piano music, roses on the tables combined with wonderful food and wine and attentive service,” says owner Oscar Proust. “Each of the three dining rooms has its own unique ambience that makes it romantic: The Constitution Room is intimate and has two fireplaces, the mezzanine has cozy banquettes where couples can sit side-by-side and the main dining rooms have large windows that look out on to a beautiful garden.”
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Once comfily ensconced at your table at The Little Door, it’s easy to forget that you’re in the middle of Los Angeles. With a menu full of rustic Mediterranean classics, courtesy of executive chef T. Nicolas Peter, and a style that evokes the English countryside, it’s the kind of place where the hustle and bustle of the outside world magically disappears. Of the four seductive seating areas, The Patio is our favorite.
Location: Miami Beach, FL
Half a block away from one of South Beach’s busiest strips of restaurants and nightclubs, Villa Azur’s unassuming exterior belies the over-the-top elegance that awaits patrons inside. Though the name suggests France, the menu offers an elegant mix of French Mediterranean meets Italy eats. The romance factor is only improved by the décor, a fashionable mix of vintage chandeliers and antique woods with sleek, contemporary furnishings. Of course, this being South Beach, nightlife lovers will appreciate the fact that as the night progresses and the dessert plates are cleared, a rotating lineup of international DJs turn this stop into a private nightclub.
Location: New Orleans, LA
Since 1920, Broussard’s has stood as one of New Orleans’ first names in fine dining, with a thoughtfully prepared menu of local Creole and traditional French fusion food, served in an elegant 1834 mansion. Though the original husband-and-wife team who opened the restaurant have passed on, its tradition of romance—and culinary excellence—continue.
Location: Chicago, IL
There’s nothing wrong with looking at a menu and telling a waiter which dish you’d like to order. But there’s something kind of special about playing a part in the preparation of the meal—even if it’s something as simple as dipping a stick full of meat or fruit into a piping hot cauldron of cheese or chocolate. It should tell you something about the Windy City’s favorite fondue restaurant that their website has a special photo gallery dedicated to “Engagements.”
Location: Chatham, MA
Surf or turf? Why not opt for both at STARS, the flagship eatery at Cape Cod’s popular Chatham Bars Inn. You won’t need to wonder where one half of the restaurant’s signature dish—a tenderloin of beef topped with Chatham lobster—came from at this oceanfront eatery. “The elegantly romantic STARS dining room offers panoramic views of the Atlantic, all while serving the finest prime mid-western grain fed and dry-aged beef served with just-picked local ingredients from our own Chatham Bars Inn Farm,” says Michael Blaksteen, the resort’s director of food and beverage.