Oh, man. Damn! Once again, Valentine's Day is three days off and you forgot to make a restaurant reservation. Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but you're too late -- most places were booked weeks ago, and a five o'clock table will not impress. You probably don't have time to create a wall portrait of your beloved in Now and Laters or make enough fruit leather to stitch into bondage pants. But here are a few last-minute Valentine ideas that don't involve $90 prix-fixe meals and 30 percent tips.
Progressive eats. Can't get a table? Pretend you never meant to. Plan a trip to three restaurants with bars, and stop at each for one course. Granted, this could be a little infuriating on a busy night like V-Day, especially if all your mate wants is a movie and a dark room, so have a decent backup destination ready if everything's too crowded.
Surprise picnic. Here's your excuse, gratis: "I thought a restaurant wasn't intimate enough for us, darling." Drive now to your favorite deli and have the staff help you put together a picnic with some flair -- drop some bucks, you're still saving money -- then spend an afternoon preparing picnic-friendly dishes such as poached chicken or roasted vegetable kabobs. Dress up and make it an indoor thing, take your date someplace wildly improbable (bowling alley? shooting range?), or strap on your rubber boots and spend the day mushroom hunting. My favorite: Pack a bottle of wine and some blankets and go park somewhere. After all these years, it's still retro-romantic and smutty.
Basket of sin. Put together a basket of highly personalized delicacies -- no roses or boxes of chocolates. Fill it with her favorite secret sins, say, Mars bars, cherry Pop Tarts, and pork rinds. Or overwhelm your true love with one hundred of his favorite cookies.
Kiss the chef. Pick out a menu, buy all the ingredients beforehand to make the dishes, and invite your date over to spend the evening cooking together. Choose dishes that are a little messy but not stressfully difficult, and have snacks and wine on hand while you cook. There are lots of ways to go nauseatingly over the top -- eating naked, feeding each other, dipping body parts in chocolate fondue -- but I have no idea how much you or your date can stomach. Definitely keep the video to yourselves.
To hell with love. Years ago, my friend Caresa used to organize a Black Saturday party (or whatever day VD took place) and invite only single people. We'd all dress like Manhattan architects, watch something gory or bitter, then go to a bar to get stumblingly drunk. Worked every year.
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