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Food & Drink

DIY Valentine's Day: Because nothing's sweeter than home-cooked romance

Photo: Josh Huskin, License: N/A

Josh Huskin

Love is in the air: Pork tenderloin, roasted asparagus, gulf oysters and Gruet Brut Rosé from Central Market.

"Valentine's Day? It's for amateurs!"

This, at least, is the opinion of a veteran waiter at an upscale, downtown restaurant. What he means is that, sweet as it may be that so many folks seem to feel obliged to take the S.O. out to a romantic dinner, they end up acting like fish out of water — not knowing what to order, how to tip, how to behave in general. Next to Mother's Day (sentiment apart, of course), it's the most reviled holiday on the calendar of many on the service end. Feel free to brave the crowds if you must, but we have a suggestion for those who'd rather spend their time less stressfully and in more intimate surroundings. What follows is a suggested menu, drinks included, for a DIY Valentine's celebration at home — some (but really very little) assembly required.

The Cocktail
Keeping it simple, and also tied to the appetizers to follow, here are two suggestions; do one or do both — presumably you share.

The Bee's Knees
This is a classic from the '20s, and it involves only three ingredients — gin, lemon juice, and a sweetener; it works with the oysters and/or salmon to follow. If you don't already have a cocktail shaker and strainer, now's a good time to get one.

3 oz gin (Plymouth, Beefeater — as long as it's good stuff)
½ oz fresh lemon juice (squeeze it on the spot — cutting nice swath of peel off first)
½ oz honey or agave nectar (the agave is potentially a little more assertive)

Put all ingredients into a shaker half filled with ice, shake vigorously to incorporate the sweetener, strain into a chilled, stemmed cocktail glass, twist the lemon peel over and drop into the glass.

The Manhattan
Cocktail royalty and also very simple, it goes with the cheese-stuffed dates.

2 ½ oz bourbon (rye is classic, but bourbon's softer profile is what we want here)
½ oz sweet, red vermouth (the purists like Carpano Antica)
2 dashes Angostura bitters
Maraschino cherry (look for Luxardo; you won't be sorry)

Some shake, but I prefer to stir all ingredients actively in a mixing glass filled with ice. Strain into a well-chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the cherry.

The Appetizers
Oysters, of course — plus something more quietly sensual than stimulating.
Fresh oysters in the shell can be found at Central Market and Groomer Seafood — but you'll have to shuck them yourself. Consider it a labor of love and make sure to use a towel. (According to a guy behind CM's fish counter, the best place to find a good shucking knife is at Academy in the fishing section.) Gulf oysters are cheaper than the big-name ones from either of the other coasts, but all will respond to this simple mignonette sauce — just drizzle the opened oysters with it. Feeding the oysters to each other is a serving option.

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