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Date Night

Posted On January 3, 2018

There's no better way to a person's heart than through their taste buds. So in a town where the romantic restaurants run wild, how do you narrow it down? Where do you go to find love at first bite? We've got your back. And your stomach. Here's your lineup of Wilmington’s top spots for a romantic Valentine’s Day meal.

By FANNY SLATER

1900 Restaurant and Lounge

1900’s posh, dimly-lit setting is the ideal place to impress your Valentine. From the stellar spirits to some of the most properly cooked calamari you’ll ever eat (served with a delightfully untraditional Spicy Citrus Mango Aioli), you can’t go wrong when it comes to sipping or sharing at this Lumina Station hot spot. Don’t miss the Tuna Tartar’s super sexy plating where a zesty, intricate sauce comes painted around a flawlessly rounded mountain of guacamole and fleshy pink tuna castle. Other esteemed, globally-inspired dishes include gooey chorizo mac-and-cheese and Eastern NC-style baby back ribs with crispy tobacco onions. 910-509-2026, 1900lounge.com

22 North

Nothing says date night like an expertly made martini—and 22 North will drop an olive in your glass just how you like it. Although it’s known for being one of the most popular nightlife spots on the Wrightsville Beach bar crawl, this restaurant and lounge has a lot more to promote than just signature drinks. Their rotating blackboard menu boasts an impressive lineup of southern food with a French and Creole twist. Smothered Lobster Etouffee, anyone? Ornate creations like the beautifully presented local scallops or grilled fresh fish are consistent crowd pleasers and desserts are decadent enough for two. 910-509-0177, 22north.net

Brasserie du Soleil

You and your dinner companion will marvel over the authentic French delights at Lumina Station’s Brasserie du Soleil. Offering upscale, outstanding fare, as well as a charming environment and sunlit patio, Brasserie is a no brainer for V-Day. Start off with some shareable bites like buttery escargot or country pâté with cornichons, mustard, and a crusty baguette. Do your best Julia Child impression while feasting on the French classic Boeuf Borguignon braised in red wine and bacon. For the best seafood stew you’ll ever taste, the Bouillabaisse (a saffron olive oil broth brimming with fish, mussels, clams, shrimp and octopus) is a Marseille masterpiece. 910-256-2226, brasseriedusoleil.com

Brent's Bistro

Celebrated for bringing new life to the average American land-and-sea grill, this “uptown casual” restaurant is a culinary chart-topper. Brent’s romantic décor says it all with white tablecloths and opulent art. The sophisticated, yet approachable coastal spread is bursting with seafood delicacies like Buttermilk Fried Oysters served over their signature Rockefeller sauce, hollandaise, luscious mashed potatoes, and crunchy haricot verts. For sharing, the Fried Green Tomato Stack has a creative spin of smoked Gouda and Vermont white cheddar pimento cheese, and a corn and cucumber relish. For some sweets with your sweet, crack into a crème brulee or get your hands on the zesty Key Lime Pie before the kitchen runs out. 910-839-3131, brentsbistro.com

Catch

For a fairytale evening of Asian-southern fusion cuisine, Catch is the go-to. This restaurant is widely renowned for its phenomenal menu created by the one-and-only celeb chef and James Beard nominee, Keith Rhodes. The flawless staff, coupled with Catch’s chic, laid back vibe, makes for a slam-dunk if your V-Day date is a foodie. Start with Bill Moller’s Steamed Littleneck Clams floating in an exotic blend of orange blossom beer, uni miso butter, scallion, and fresh ginger. Truffle toast? Yes, please. Split the BBQ Cheshire Pork Ribs and Honey Shrimp with sweet potato brulee and braised red cabbage leaves for the best of both worlds. 910-799-3847, catchwilmington.com

Circa 1922

This downtown dining landmark is consistently filled with craft cocktails and couples swapping bites of small plates. With its historic ambience featuring the building’s exposed original overhead beams, Circa’s atmosphere alone makes for lively talking points at dinner. Save a few bucks by swinging by the bar between 5 – 7 when the apps (like the killer Tuna Sashimi with cherry blossom white soy) are just five dollars. For a full meal, the Lamb Ragu with cavatelli, Swiss chard, and house-made ricotta is a comforting hug. On the lighter side, the Crispy-Skin Organic Salmon with beets, leeks, apples, horseradish, and matcha is a can’t-miss. 910-762-1922, circa1922.com

East Restaurant

Every plate is a work of art at this Wrightsville Beach staple. Housed in the Blockade Runner resort, East’s exquisite flavors are a direct result of Executive Chef Jessica Cabo’s magic. Her seafood and veg-friendly fare is hinted with notes of the west coast, Asia, and the Mediterranean. The canopied oceanfront garden deck coupled with the locally harvested ingredients makes for an out-of-this-world culinary experience. The Green Curry Clams with coconut, limes, and winter squash will warm you from the inside out. Not in a seafood mood? Stare out onto the beach with East’s superb Short Rib Ragu featuring fresh pappardelle pasta, roasted mushrooms, white wine, cream and herbs. 910-344-2513, blockade-runner.com

Grand Cru Food & Wine

Grand, indeed, is the agreed upon opinion of regular patrons who dine at this Eastwood eatery. Bearing a 300-bottle wine list, a broad collection of Champagne, and a 20-bottle, wine-by-the glass system—Grand Cru makes Valentine’s Day dinner plans a breeze. Outrageous small plates include the Brisket Sliders with pungent Korean-based BBQ sauce and a vinegary slaw of julienned veggies. Unapologetically order (and keep for yourself) the Truffled Deviled Eggs: a glorious lineup of three hollowed out hard-boiled eggs stuffed with a decadent, earthy piping of truffle-scented filling, topped with inky caviar, and laced with herb oil. 910-679-4013, grandcruwb.com

Henry's Restaurant

Five-star fare can often mean a stuffy environment, but not at Henry’s. This “crate to plate” restaurant strives to excite diners with countless locally sourced ingredients thoughtfully prepared and served to you in an inviting ambience. You couldn’t ask for a better setting when it comes to Valentine’s Day. Henry’s even hand-juices and squeezes fruits and citrus behind the bar for fresh mixtures to blend with their infused liquor. Dip into the Southern Spring Rolls with your significant other—a delectable marriage of crispy pork, cheddar, barbeque sauce, and slaw. For a taste of Wilmington’s most beloved coastal ingredient, check out their acclaimed Shrimp & Gilford Country Grits with prosciutto cream sauce. 910-793-2929, henrysrestaurant.com

Indochine

When opting for a meal out with your Valentine, the aura is equally as important as the food. Enter: Indochine. Famed for their baroque outdoor Asian-inspired garden, locals and tourists alike can’t get enough of this Pad Thai palace. It’s nearly impossible to find a dish you won’t like at Indochine—as their elaborate menu stretches from traditional favorites to in-house specialty creations (like the Thundering Dragon in a Cloud where shrimp meets fiery tamarind sauce meets pineapple meets crispy rice noodles) that will knock your socks off. Portions are copious and made for sharing. 910-251-9229, indochinewilmington.com

Italian Bistro

Get your Lady and the Tramp on by sharing a spaghetti kiss at one of Wilmington’s choice checkered tablecloth-clad eateries. Italian Bistro—formerly Antonio’s—has nailed that immaculately thin, crispy New York style crust (and loyal customers aren’t shy about expressing their love for it). If splitting a pie just won’t cut it with your partner, skim through the outpouring of Italian offerings from sensational vegetable lasagna to familiar flavors like Chicken Francaise with a succulent lemon-butter and white wine sauce. Even big entrees are reasonably priced, so don’t miss out on a bottle or two of vino at this garlic-scented gem. 910-686-7774, italianbistronc.com

Kornerstone Bistro

For a Mediterranean meal you’ll be dreaming about for days, pop into Kornerstone for all your Valentine’s Day drinking and eating needs. Pair one of their smoky, wood-fired pizzas with a Pinot from their boundless wine list. This cozy, yet classy, bistro is all about presenting organic, superior ingredients in a mellow environment. With a killer five-dollar bar menu (served every day from 4 – 7 PM), you can easily get away with sampling a handful of items at a sensible cost. Go for the Mozzarella en Carozza: house-made mozz enveloped in crispy bread crumbs and fresh herbs, then fried to perfection and served with marinara. 910-686-2296, kornerstonebistro.com

Le Catalan

If the sun sinking over the Cape Fear Riverwalk, a sublime charcuterie plate, and a bottle of France’s finest don’t put you in the mood—I don’t know what will. Le Catalan is Wilmington’s premier French café and doles out what is undoubtedly one of the dreamiest dining experiences in town. There’s something about the buttery, flaky crust of a Quiche Lorraine that just roars romance. Keep an eye out for chalkboard specials, as you never know when you just might happen upon Cassoulet. Valentine’s Day is centered around dessert, after all, so leave room for Le Catalan’s airy Chocolate Mousse. 910-815-0200, lecatalan.com

Manna

Pull up a high-ball or two at this eclectic, ritzy lounge where practically everything you’re consuming (liquid or not) is made from scratch. Manna’s philosophy is centered around American cuisine with a hint of French technique put out in a supremely innovative fashion. The meals are particularly artistic, like the Shell Station—impeccably pan-seared scallops with a root veg puree, walnut salsa verde, and vanilla and black pepper vinaigrette. As for the bar, it’s in its own galaxy. Manna takes their cocktails very seriously and only purchases the highest quality ingredients to ensure that what you’re drinking is the best around. 910-763-5252, mannaavenue.com

Niche Kitchen and Bar

Niche’s quaint, casual-chic environment makes for some idyllic dinner date surroundings—and don’t even get me started on that righteous cornbread. The restaurant’s intimate dining room is characterized by the gorgeous, elongated bar; but it’s hard to pass up a snuggly evening on the well-lit outdoor deck enjoying some fried green tomatoes by the fire-pit. Speaking of getting your grub on, what says love like Lobster Mac and Cheese? Niche’s version is loaded with sweet langostino meat, corkscrew cavatappi, red onion and pepper with velvety port salut cheese. For a lighter bite, go for the Grilled Crab Cakes served with a peppery arugula salad. 910-399-4701, nichewilmington-hub.com

Port City Chop House

For a classic Wilmington date night, PC Chop House is the place to be. There’s no better way to bond than filling your bellies with epic cuts of meat and generous portions of decadent creamed spinach. Well, center-cut, specially aged Angus beef to be exact. Chop House delivers a steakhouse-style menu in far more relaxed digs than a stuffy fine dining restaurant. To satisfy your seafood fix, top your Cowboy Ribeye with steamed crabmeat, asparagus, and béarnaise (a la Oscar) or order up the hearty grilled Chilean Seabass with pineapple salsa and tangy ponzu sauce. 910-256-4955, chophousesofnc.com

Port Land Grille

With a name that comically plays on the restaurant’s commitment to using ingredients from the land and sea, Port Land Grille is a dinner-for-two icon in this waterfront town. The progressive American grill’s walls are lined with historical black-and-white framed photos of Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach—inducing an old-school supper club vibe complete with wicker and wrought iron chairs and a staff rocking crisp white cotton jackets. Dine on Long Line Caught North Carolina Swordfish with truffle-spiked grits while overlooking a beautifully landscaped patio area adorned with live oak trees and a fountain. 910-256-6056, portlandgrille.com

Ruth's Chris Steak House

Signature 500° sizzling plates of brilliantly cooked USDA Prime Beef and an elite wine list are just two of the many reasons Ruth’s Chris always marks the spot for a special occasion. This infamous steak house—smack dab on the downtown Riverwalk inside the Riverside Hilton—is a consistent champion when it comes to superior food and service. Want a meal made to divide and conquer? The 40-ounce Porterhouse for Two eats like a rich strip steak and is so tender it cuts like butter. Wash it down with a vintage cocktail like the Blackberry Sidecar with Remy Martin, Cognac, orange liqueur, muddled blackberries, and plum bitters. 910-343-1818, ruthschris.com

Siena

Tuck a white linen napkin in your shirt, grab the crushed red pepper flakes, and brace your beau for some of the most mouthwatering Italian cuisine around. Just down Masonboro Loop Road sits neighborhood favorite Siena Trattoria. This trendy, yet homey bistro is known for authentic, high-quality eats at a price tag your pockets will dig. Practically everything is made in-house and the enormous brick oven turns out bubbly calzones and thin-crust specialty pies like the Funghi coated in nutty fontina cheese, sautéed mushrooms, savory caramelized onions, and fresh chopped oregano. Save room for thick, delicious cheesecake. 910-794-3002, sienawilmington.com

Tarantelli's Ristorante

For a night that will leave your Valentine starry-eyed and sensationally full, you gotta hit Tarantelli’s. This humble downtown restaurant has mastered putting a refined spin on Italian classics—all while pumping out live arias (via authentic opera singers) in a dining room lined with reclaimed local wood and bricks. Tarantelli’s personality glows with family pride and one-of-a-kind recipes like Sicilian braciola where pine nuts, cheese, and prosciutto are swaddled into rolled beef tenderloin and braised in a heavenly red sauce. For a lighter alternative, The Gamberi Alla Scampi with juicy jumbo shrimp, lemony garlic sauce, and fresh-made pasta is a treat. 910-763-3806, tarantellis.com

The District Kitchen & Cocktails

Though the steaks are top notch at this North 4th Street tavern, don’t miss the fabulously Fried Baby Potatoes with crème fraise, chives, and bacon. But first, drinks. Tell the bartender your favored flavors for a scratchmade custom concoction, or pick a winner off their creative cocktail list. The Negroni—Conniption Navy Strength Gin, Campari, Sweet Vermouth, and Orange Bitters—is the ultimate aperitif. The mood undoubtedly suggests date night, so skip the entrees and go for shareables like the signature meatballs with beef, pork, chorizo, airy ricotta, red chili marinara, bread crumbs, and toasted Parmesan chips. 910-769-6565, districtnc.com

The Fortunate Glass

Fortunate Glass, Front Street’s swankiest vino haven bangs out cosmic small plates to pair with their expert array of extensive bottles. The surprisingly modest kitchen doesn’t take liberties of pre-made or frozen food. All sauces, dressings, desserts, and doughs are made from scratch, and the artistic menu is built around epicurean cheeses, seasonal produce, charcuterie, and fresh herbs and spices. Top items include Asian Duck Confit Sliders with Spicy Thousand Island and the Truffled Mushroom Flatbread with earthy Chianti onions and Havarti. For a deliciously educational experience, call on owner Celeste Glass to carefully handpick the perfect global grape to marry with your mouthwatering meal. 910-399-4292, fortunateglass.com

The George

It’s no secret that our Riverwalk’s restaurants offer the best dining atmosphere in all of downtown. Take a stroll down Water Street and pop onto The George’s patio for a classic martini and some quality land-and-sea fare served with a side of sunset. This eatery’s forte falls into the category of southern coastal with a hint of Cajun flair, but you’ll find everything from traditional American dishes to vegan to gluten-free selections as well. If your date gets chilly, suggest splitting one of The George’s phenomenal soups like the comforting, seasonal Butternut Squash Bisque with a dollop of house-made crème fraiche. 910-763-2052, thegeorgerestaurant.com

The Little Dipper

A fun, interactive Valentine’s Day dinner is a guaranteed way to manifest a meal to remember. Slide into a cozy booth in this romantic café and break out the skewers for some serious fun-due. For just a taste, Front Street’s Little Dipper provides tableside preparation of melted, gooey cheese with assorted artisanal breads for dunking. If you’re feeling famished, go for the assorted three course meal as the offerings include fresh seafood, thick steaks, and even fresh fruit for dessert. Speaking of the finale, the dark chocolate fondue will be a Valentine’s Day slam dunk. 910-251-0433, littledipperfondue.com

The Melting Pot

Craving a dippable date night? The Melting Pot is a gourmet fondue restaurant that will satisfy all of your melty desires. Refresh your palate in-between decadent dips with one of their farm fresh salads. To really do it right, select from the Big Night Out menu where couples can encounter all four courses with locally-selected fondue. Start with the Loaded Baked Potato Cheddar (a fan fav) where aged Emmenthaler is melted with vegetable broth, Green Goddess, garlic and wine seasoning, potatoes, bacon and scallions. Cross the culinary finish line with the Dark and Dulce—dark chocolate melted with dulce de leche and sea salt. 910-256-1187, meltingpot.com

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