Friday, February 11, 2011

Alternative Valentine's Day Dining

Valentine’s day can be fraught with pressure for even the most low-key couples. You can stress over gifts, agonize over what kind of flowers and candy to send, and make a dinner reservation weeks in advance just to join the thousands of other couples being herded in and out of glitzy restaurants – leaving you with an empty wallet and a secret sense of relief that it’s over for another year.

Or, you could give yourself and your partner a break and do something different, at least for the dinner portion of the Hallmark holiday. Here’s a list of casual V-Day date spots that don’t require reservations or expensive prix-fixe menus, but will satisfy your dining needs with soul and charm.

1709 Walnut St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
215.751.0201 ‎
Alfa is like that ridiculously attractive, well-bred, perfectly-dressed girl in your Econ class – you kind of want to hate her, but when you get to know her, she’s just too darn friendly. The long bar is mirrored by small high-top tables and backed by a room that’s more lounge than dining. Cushy banquettes and low lighting provide an appropriately swanky atmosphere for Alfa’s fantastic cocktail list (try the Juicy Couture or the Snapple). While it may not be the best place for a formal dinner, most of Alfa’s food is solid – stick with the small stuff, like tater tots, mahi-mahi tacos or a veggie BLT.

Mama Palma’s
2229 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
Got a picky partner? Mama’s got you covered. This little shop boasts an extensive list of appetizers, salads and pasta, but stick with the pizzas: the light, crispy crust will make you want to order an extra pie to take home. The sheer number of options is staggering – choose from nearly 30 specialty combinations, or create your own from a long list of exciting ingredients. There are even five low-fat pizza combos, and whole wheat crust is available for an extra charge. The staff is sweet-tempered and happy to guide you through an experience you’re sure to enjoy. After all, what’s more romantic than eating with your hands? The only drawback is the beer prices – enjoy your dinner and save the imbibing for another location.

801 N. 3rd St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123
215.413.3666 ‎
I love this place so much that I almost hate to share! The menu is full of comfort food favorites, from fried calamari to wings and pierogies, pork and chicken sandwiches, mac and cheese and fish and chips. The prices range from around $10 for a big, delicious sandwich to $20 for the creative, good-sized, totally-worth-it entrees (try the crispy Atlantic salmon). The cocktail list is small but smart – from blood orange margaritas to warm mulled wine – as are the beer and wine lists. The walls are covered in wacky gothic tchotchkes and the lighting is nice and dim. Finally, the waitstaff is friendly, efficient and accommodating – some of the best servers in town.

123 S. 18th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103
1137 Spruce St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tria is a brilliant concept executed perfectly. Wine, beer, and cheese – what more could you want in life, especially on a special night? The lists for all three are categorized by levels of adventurousness from “Clean” to “Racy,” “Friendly” to “Extreme,” and so on. The food is simple but interesting; try a grilled artichoke panino if you need something substantial, or share a selection of bruschettas, snacks, and of course cheeses. The truffled egg toast with fontina will change your life. Both locations are sophisticated and intimate, and the staff is expertly trained. Don’t be afraid to ask questions; these guys know their stuff. On V-Day they’ll also offer a sparkling, chocolate-infused dessert wine, and optional champagne pairings with the menu. For a late-night rendezvous or after-dinner drink, check out Biba, Tria’s little cousin at 3131 Walnut: the entire wine list is $6 per glass from 10 p.m. to midnight.

221 N 11th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19107
This Chinatown restaurant serves elevated Vietnamese cuisine in a just-posh-enough, cozy setting. If the tiki bar is open, trot on upstairs, where it’s quieter. The soups are large enough for two to share, as are some of the exotic specialty cocktails. Try the seafood noodle soup and the Flaming Volcano (“the fantastic drink for passion lovers”). The vermicelli bowls are ample and delicious, with ten different choices of meats, seafood, veggies and crispy spring rolls. BBQ lovers and herbivores alike have plenty of choices at this intimate spot.

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