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Table for Two

Posted On December 30, 2018

Celebrate the Valentine’s Day of your dreams without lifting a frying pan

By FANNY SLATER

We get it. You’re not a total noob in the kitchen. That being said—stop studying Instagram videos schooling you on the perfect Velouté for Valentine’s Day. Put down the whisk, and walk away. Leave it to the pros to produce the romantic meal, and leave it to us for the date night details. 

Light the candles—here we go.

Brent’s Bistro

A new-ish, yet nonetheless excellent, Wrightsville Beach seafood haven—Brent’s has breathed new life into the mundane land-and-sea grill. The intimate eatery, with its elegant art and white tablecloths, offers an upscale yet charming vibe. Nothing sparks passion like starters meant for sharing, and Brent’s Fried Green Tomato Stack is exactly that. Topped with a sharp, smoky combo of Gouda-and-white cheddar pimento cheese and trickled with a crunchy corn, tomato, and cucumber relish—this southern staple will make your Valentine smile. Go for the sexiest mouthful on the menu: the Prosciutto & Blue (a magnificent marriage of Danish blue cheese, thinly sliced Italian ham, white truffle honey, lavender, and grilled baguette rounds—oh behave!). Top entrees include impeccably seared scallops and pork chops, but don’t nail down all your dishes ahead of time. Brent’s whips up February 14th festivities like escargot and tempura lobster tail. Chocolate mousse or crème brulee are must-splits for dessert. 910-839-3131, brentsbistro.com

Circa 1922

Plenty of novel restaurants have come and left Wilmington while longtime staples like Circa have held strong and steady. This historic downtown dining establishment is known for its stellar wine list, globally-inspired small plates, and remarkably reasonable happy hour. Situated inside of a refurbished bank, Circa is a consistent go-to for lovebirds of all ages. When it comes to Valentine’s Day, reservations book up fast as their prix fixe four-course meals rotate each year and never fail to impress. Expect to find exceptionally lavish mains like lush Filet Mignon, confit duck, and sweets that come straight from the chef’s heart. Not feeling a full meal? The abundant tapas on the regular kitchen lineup— like the steamed mussels in saffron cream–are suited for sharing. 910-762-1922, circa1922.com

Dram + Morsel

If swanky small plates and refined cocktails at a speakeasy-style bar doesn’t appeal to your date, you probably don’t want to hang out with them anyway. Saunter up the steep Front Street stairs (just above Husk and Yosake) and make yourself at home at Dram + Morsel. The elegantly informal setting provides a comfortable, yet classy, urban backdrop; while the hand-crafted bites and sips have a vivacious voice of their own. D+M’s kitchen prides themselves on assorted communal bites encouraged by worldwide flavors. From the fine oriental rugs to naturally-aged wood floors and massive warehouse vents (doubling as chandeliers)—the atmosphere is intimacy at its finest. Whether you go for the prix-fixe Valentine’s Day spread or choose from the regular array of snacks, greens, bites, or sliders—fork swapping is totally acceptable. Pour your heart out over oven-roasted Pretzel Bites with Sherry malt vinegar reduction, smoked Gouda sauce, and whole grain mustard, and spice things up with the Tequila Katie with jalapeno and mango cubes. 910-833-5999, dramandmorsel.com

Pinpoint

Pinpoint is prepared to excite your appetite no matter the day, so you can imagine the tasty tricks Dean Neff pulls from his chef coat when special events come around. Though there will be a prix fixe plan—feel free to order from familiar favorites like Butterbean Hummus with toasted benne focaccia and Mill’s Family Farm Beef Tartare (drizzled with tangy caper aioli and soy-pickled beech mushrooms). Are oysters really an aphrodisiac? You won’t even care once you slurp down Pinpoint’s handpicked east coast half shells with yuzu-cucumber granita. Crisp smoked cornmeal-crusted NC catfish with dreamy grits, green tomato slaw, and lemon brown butter were featured on Food Network and worth every bit of the hype. Pastry chef Lydia is a sweet genius, and her zippy key lime pie is as life-changing as the menu’s savory side. 910-769-2972, pinpointrestaurant.com

Grand Cru 

Popping a bottle of bubbly or two is a Valentine’s Day must, and Grand Cru’s sizable 300-bottle wine list, epic collection of Champagne, and 20-bottle, wine-by-the glass system make it easy to take on that chug-worthy challenge. This Lumina Station house of indulgence puts out solid small plates on a daily basis and steps up their game even more for big occasions. For this upcoming V-day, expect a wicked assortment of handcrafted culinary delights at a per person price worth every penny. If you’re sticking to the standards, the long line of cured meats and international cheeses will surely please your date’s palate. Don’t fill up on Spanish Manchego though, because you’ll go gaga for ambrosial tapas like Truffled Deviled Eggs and Pork Belly Sliders with apricot jalapeno chutney. 910-679-4013, grandcruwb.com

Kornerstone Bistro

Kornerstone pulls out all the stops for sweet celebrations on (and around) Valentine’s Day. Though the holiday may not fall on Sunday this year, you can still make it a memorable morning with Kornerstone’s satisfying brunch. No matter what you’re in the mood for or what time you crave it—this Italian upscale casual eatery puts out Mediterranean masterpieces seven days a week. Keep an eye out for their dinner menu on February 14th or order from their regular list of delicious dishes. As for daily features, Kornerstone flexes their $5 mussels—served in house marinara, white wine, or Sambuca cream sauce—every Tuesday. Gorgeously charred pizza crusts are a Kornerstone staple, and the Diavolo (a red sauce base with fiery shrimcop, tomato, roasted red peppers, and goat cheese) is a sweet, spicy, tangy treat made for two. Channel your inner Julia Child by diving headfirst into the Beef Bourguignon: slow-braised beef in a rich red wine jus loaded with herbs, pearl onions, and parsnips. 910-686-2296, kornerstonebistro.com

Tarantelli’s

Nothing says love day like slurping spaghetti from end-to-end and meeting in the middle for a garlicky kiss. Whether you get down with Lady and the Tramp or prefer some privacy, Tarantelli’s is your ticket for an outrageous Italian meal and a bottle of red. This family restaurant is regularly recognized for their romance, and Valentine’s Day will be no exception. That night’s menu will offer even more traditional Tuscan cuisine than usual—and reservations are strongly encouraged. Hop over to Second Street and loosen your belt buckle for an extensive assortment of Italian comfort flavor bombs like Capesante Oltre Risotto Aglio Rosso (pan-seared sea scallops over roasted garlic risotto). Cap of your chilly-weather dinner with something that will warm you from the inside out. Leave the gelato, take the homemade cannoli. 910-763-3806, tarantellis.com

Surf House in CB

Online ratings (and hips) don’t lie. Give Surf House a quick Google and you’ll see why their fan base is so big and their name is synonymous with “sustainable seafood.” This Carolina Beach café is centered around craft cooking, small batch spirits and beer, and a ranging cocktail program and wine list. Oh, and BTW—they’re also a surf camp. With a last name that says it all, chef/owner Craig Love is all about making Surf House an inviting, hospitality-driven restaurant that sets the standard for regional dining. You’ll find a unique gathering of grub for Valentine’s Day, but every experience here feels extraordinary. Superior snacks include the Redneck Picnic—a goody basket of drop biscuits, deviled eggs, salumi, cheeses, house jam and pickles. For the main course, pecan-encrusted local catfish over soft with pickled pepper chutney and hot sauce is North Carolina on a plate. 910-707-0422, surfhousenc.com

Sweet n Savory

Though this WB lunchtime spot is known for their bodacious Bloody Mary’s, old fashioned soup-and-sandwich combos, and comfort food classics like braised chicken pot pie—they kick it up a notch when Valentine’s Day comes around. Regular dinner items will be on deck, so SnS requires a call-ahead once specialty menus are released. Keep an eye out for this year’s culinary creations—but still expect to fall in love if you stick to the usual scratchmade lineup. Not starting with the famous tomato basil soup would be a shame. Have your date go for the New England clam chowder so you get the best of both worlds. Four hour slow-roasted prime rib with a veal demi fortified from reducing for two days? Yes, please. Save room for something from the in-house bakery (like an NY style cheesecake slice you definitely won’t want to split). 910-256-0115, sweetnsavory.cafe

Rx Restaurant

Celebrated as one of Wilmington’s original farm-to-table restaurants, Rx continues to rock our socks with their signature southern fare and hospitality. At the helm of their seasonal spreads? Whatever’s fresh. In addition to regionally-sourced plates, Rx is all about elegant elixirs. On Valentine’s Day you can be sure to find an exclusive cocktail (and dinner menu) for the evening. Their “In the Orchard” is a novel nod to winter with cinnamon simple syrup, cranberry juice, and local apples. Supper snacks like Topsail oysters with Herbie’s Scuppernong mignonette and house hot sauce will surely set the mood. If your V-day date is vegetarian, Rx has you covered with gloriously gourmet plant-based plates like acorn squash with farro, goat cheese, local mushrooms, radishes and a farm fresh egg.  910-399-3080, rxwilmington.com

Caprice Bistro

Named by OpenTable as one of the top 100 most romantic restaurants in the country, Caprice Bistro takes the cake when it comes to dim-light dining with a dinner companion. Between the original hardwood floors, antique pressed-tin ceiling, and eclectic upstairs bar—Caprice offers an exclusive adventure everywhere you sit. Snuggle up on a couch on the second-floor lounge and enjoy the best Manhattan on Market Street paired with decadent French country style paté and tart cornichons. I’m a sucker for their oversized portion of juicy mussels (bathed in buttery white wine sauce) and crispy frites, but the Waterzooi—a Belgian fish and seafood stew in an herbaceously creamy broth—is a bountiful bowl you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere. 910-815-0810, capricebistro.com

True Blue Butcher

Impress your date by reserving a table for two at Wilmington’s only full-service butcher counter and restaurant. True Blue serves up refined eats that echo global, rustic flavors with a New American twist. Stroll over to the butcher’s display case and peek at premium cuts of Certified Angus Beef and USDA Prime, American and Japanese Wagyu, artisan cheeses, charcuterie, and more. Once you’ve gotten your fill of specialty goods, sit down and enjoy the show. On the chilled side, swipe crusty grilled bread through exceptional beef tartare with Dijon, shallot, and egg yolk sauce. If you laid eyes on the housemade pasta by the butcher counter—you’re in on the secret that the shrimp tagliatelle with aged provolone, sausage, cherry tomatoes, and Calabrian peppers is off the charts. 910-679-4473, wearetrueblue.com

Ruth’s Chris Steak House

Revered for their immaculately prepared USDA Prime Beef, signature sides, and a boundless wine list—Ruth’s Chris is an obvious choice for chowing down on Valentine’s Day. This reputable steak house (parked right inside our Hotel Ballast) knows how to raise a glass for a night out. From the thoughtfully set tables to chef-designed cuisine made specifically to capture your date night needs, RC has got you covered. They’ve got romance tucked in every corner of the menu, and the Porterhouse for Two is a gorgeously presented, super shareable steak that offers the richness of strip and the tenderness of a filet. Superb seafood is characteristic of our coastal town and Ruth’s Chris’s kitchen—so don’t feel the need to always opt for meat. The jumbo lump blue crab cakes swimming in sizzling lemon butter are a trademark item. 910-343-1818, ruthschris.com

Port City Chop House

Chophouse is acclaimed for their sensational steaks and pork, but the high-quality standards are reflected all throughout the expansive list of provisions. Date night doesn’t always have to mean white tablecloths, and PC Chop House is all about quality fare in a laidback environment. They stick to the values of a traditional American grill, while going above and beyond (like inspecting every plate twice) to make dining an extraordinary encounter you’ll come back for. The Dry Aged Pork Loin Chop—bone-in and smothered in spiced apple chutney—is a meal made for royalty. Queen (or king) not a carnivore? No worries. Bite into the best the ocean has to offer with the Seafood Sampler. This share-friendly platter showcases colossal shrimp, oysters Rockefeller, oysters on the half shell, and jumbo lump crab meat with cocktail sauce, honey aioli, and drawn butter. 910-256-4955, chophouseofnc.com 

Indochine

Thai food is certainly the way to my heart, and I guarantee your date won’t be disappointed either. Indochine is Wilmington’s premier Far East eatery that’s rarely without an empty house. If it’s too chilly for the outdoor garden, cozy up in an ornate booth and warm up with a sake bomb or four. Indochine’s comprehensive, exotic menu makes it difficult to find something you won’t enjoy—making for an especially enchanting evening (holiday or not). Though the Appetizer Sampler offers a plentiful variety of crunchy treats, I personally vote for an entire order of the Crab Angels (heavenly pockets of cream cheese and sirimi crab) with sweet and sour dipping sauce. There are plenty of familiar favorites to choose from—tangy Pad Thai, Imperial Pineapple Rice, and fragrant Thai curries—but don’t overlook Indochine’s signature creations like aromatic Ginger Scallops wok-tossed with veggies and a variety of ‘shrooms. 910-251-9229, indochinewilmington.com

Jerry’s Food Wine & Spirits

This Wrightsville Avenue hidden gem offers the epitome of classy dining without any of the pretention. Located in an unobtrusive strip mall just before the Wrightsville Beach bridge—Jerry’s is an exquisite local’s secret that they hope never gets out. Whoops. From cloth tablecloths to a five-star staff to fresh flowers on every table, each part of your experience makes for a night to remember. Let’s talk food, glorious food. For starters, I have two words for you. Quail Breasts. Wait, eleven more words. Quail Breasts with poached pear and apples, maple glazed bacon, and champagne syrup. Need I say more? If that’s a touch too rich, swap bites of the Baked Brie with fruit compote, honey drizzle, and toasted granola. Stretch your taste buds with seasonal entrees, or rely on a classic like Roasted Chateaubriand (a form of filet) in Port-shiitake demi-glace. 910-256-8847, jerrysfoodandwine.com

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