Food that Inspires Love
Why is it that some foods - and some drinks - just have a knack for putting us in the mood for love? Chocolate, oysters and champagne, for example. What is it about these iconic edibles that give them a reputation for inspiring desire?
On the eve of Valentine's Day weekend, we took aim at answering that question (though our findings were dubiously inconclusive) and we put together a guide to locating these traditionally amorous eats (and drink) right here in Northeast Florida. We also took the liberty of adding "seasonal ingredients" to our lustful list of consumables because we believe they're hip to the provocation of romance and menus that feature them deserve consideration for the upcoming holiday. Read on to learn why.
Tradition has it that oysters are said to stir our wildest passions, and if the strength and longevity of history are any indicator of scientific reality, oysters might be the sea’s greatest gift to humankind, as tales of these lust-inducing mollusks date back to the time of Ancient Greeks. What causes it? Scientists still don’t know. Some think it's their zinc content. Others say it's an amino acid. Many speculate it's the texture or a basic placebo effect. All in all, we have no idea if oysters will actually make us more passionate people, but it begs the question: do we care? Who needs another excuse to eat oysters?
WHERE TO FIND THEM LOCALLY:
Indulge your sweetie with dinner and cocktail specials during Valentine's Day weekend, including our personal favorite, Oysters with Cucumber-mint mignonette. Make sure to save room for dessert - be right back, I heard a Chocolate Gateau beckoning! Make reservations or call (904) 398-1949.
The Fish Camps
The Fish Camps know seafood, and we’re consistently impressed with their commitment to buying wild-caught. If you’re looking for a romantic repast that’s a slight bit more casual but uncompromising quality — this is the place to go for raw oysters. (And, if you’re date isn’t that into oysters, make sure they try the turnip slaw! Turnips are also rumored to turn up desire, no pun intended.)
The raw bar at Il Desco and Valentine's Day are the perfect pair. A plate of oysters on the half-shell to start an afternoon or evening of urban romance? Yes, please! Open for lunch and dinner on Feb. 12, brunch and dinner Feb. 13-14. Call (904) 290-6711 or make reservations online.
Perched peacefully on a stunning stretch of the Intracoastal Waterway, the view alone at Marker 32 is worth a visit. And then, there’s the food! Raw oysters are just the beginning. We’d encourage you to keep going right on through to the (gluten-free) Chocolate Truffle Torte.
Champagne is both a drink and a region of France. It's not the same as prosecco (Italian sparkling wine) or cava (Spanish sparkling wine), but rather uniquely its own, with a reputation for being an internationally reknowned elixir for love. Why? It's anybody's guess. Some studies suggest bubbles have an effect on alcohol absorption in the blood stream, perhaps making us more amorous (or surly, consider yourself warned). Other advocates say it just "feels fancy" putting us in the mood to celebrate. Whatever the case, if bubbly is being served, there's a decent chance love might follow suit shortly.
LOCAL MENUS FEATURING CHAMPAGNE:
Did someone say Champagne? How about a post-Valentine's Day 7 course dinner with expertly paired champagne? If the crowds are too much to handle, check out Orsay's romantic offering on Monday, February 15th. Reception begins at 7pm. For more details, call (904) 381-0909 or contact Jason Eddy.
Charming and candlelit Le Clos is a shoe-in for romance. From their French-trained chef to their candlelit cottage ambience, this Fernandina Beach restaurant knows a thing or two about Champagne! Be sure to ask your server about their favorite. Call for reservations, (904) 261-8100
Kitchen on San Marco
For their first Valentine’s Day in Jacksonville Executive Chef Ryan Randolph is going all out with a spectacular Farm-to-Table Prix Fixe menu including that magic elixir, a complimentary Champagne Toast. Sunday night from 5-9pm, $100 per couple + tax & gratuity. Other Valentine’s Day specials will be available throughout the weekend. Call (904) 396-2344 to reserve or visit www.kitchenonsanmarco.com
Sbraga & Company
Purists might rebel -- but we are smitten by the sound of this made-from-scratch hibiscus syrup. If you're looking for a brunch special that features bottomless mimosas, this is it. Visit Sbraga at Unity Plazy on February 13 and 14 for some unique spins on the classic drink, including a choice of house-made cranberry juice, fresh-squeezed orange juice or made-from-scratch hibiscus syrup as a complement for the bubbly. They also offer a Valentine's Day weekend prix-fixe dinner ($65 per person), which is available in addition to the daily dinner menu February 12-14. Call (904) 746-0909 for reservations.
Chocolate is a complex thing, possessing numerous compounds that act upon the brain, producing a sense of of euphoria that no other substance can replicate. Chocolate gets to the heart of pleasure by causing a reaction in our brain, and we like this irony. Its naturally occurring make-up is said to stimulate the likes of seratonin, dopamine and endorphins in the human body — and while the science of that process is way above our pay grade, we like that it seems to be saying chocolate might be good for you. Or at least that’s how we’re reading it.
WHERE TO END YOUR MEAL WITH CHOCOLATE:
It's hard to beat the tantalizing chocolate desserts plated nightly at Matthew's by their talented Pastry Chef Rebecca Reed -- and just imagine what she'll have in store for Valentine's Day! Matthew's full Valentine's Day menu will be available Friday-Sunday, February 12-14, featuring Salmon en Papillote and Australian Rack of Lamb. Need we say more? Reservations only: call (904) 396-9922.
Located at the Ritz on Amelia Island, Salt is truly a night on the town. Dress up and prepare for an experience. The food is fit for royalty, but be sure to leave room for dessert. A sumptuous Dark Chocolate Soufflé with Rosemary Ice Cream and Grand Marnier Anglaise and Chocolate Mousse with Passion Fruit Sorbet, Mango Gelee and Hazelnut Crunch top our list. Call for reservations, (904) 277-1100.
A romantic 3-course dinner awaits you and your honey, with specials including Seared Scallops and Shrimp, Wild Mushroom Risotto with GYO Greens Pea Shoots, and a decadent grand finale: Chocolate Torte with Blueberry Chantilly. For reservations call (904) 543-3797.
The Candy Apple Cafe
This place will be hopping Valentine's Day weekend, with a Candy Maker's Dinner, featuring a five-course dinner by Executive Chef Jamey Evoniuk and chocolate cordials by candy maker extraordinaire Pete Behringer. On the 13th there's a Prix-fixe dinner with optional wine pairing, available starting at 6 p.m. in the restaurant.
While admittedly we're biased in our assessment, it is our supposition that eating fresh, seasonal products from local farms and purveyors inspires feelings of love for a few very simple reasons. First, it makes you feel good about your choices, knowing you're supporting your community with purchases that make a difference in the lives of those around you. Second, the food is fresh and packed full of nutrients that haven't travelled too far to reach you. And finally, seasonal menu planning requires creativity and experimentation with taste and presentation, which ultimately leads to adventurous results. When you put these things together, it makes for an exceptional dining experience, and the love-logic goes like this: If you feel good about yourself and what you're eating --- you will, in turn, look more favorably and lovingly on someone else. (These results, of course, have not actually been tested. But this is our story, and we're sticking to it.)
BEST SEASONAL MENU PICKS:
Moxie Kitchen + Cocktails
Moxie is a ringer for fresh, seasonal ingredients, and Chef Tom Gray and his team are leaders in finding ways to serve innovative cuisine in sustainable ways. (And if that matters to you as a diner — you’ll find Moxie very sexy). Check out the special a la carte menu on Friday and Saturday nights or a Sunday Valentine's Day Brunch Buffet. Reservations strongly encouraged. Call (904) 998-9744 or visit Moxie's website.
Trek into downtown St. Augustine for a slightly more casual romantic evening with a farm-fresh special menu, including Strawberry Champagne Salad and a sweet selection of delicious chocolate desserts. The Floridian's new space has plenty of cozy spots for you and your date. They'll be serving up a special 3-course menu for the big day. Call for reservations, (904) 829-0655.
Azurea puts an inspiring blend of the season’s best ingredients on a plate — sourcing locally when possible and thinking creatively, always. If the view of the ocean doesn’t cause your sweetie to swoon, their Valentine’s Day menu surely will. Call for reservations, 904-249-7402.
Hand-crafted, Italian-inspired specials with honest ingredients, and undeniable modern Italian flair await you and your amore on Valentine's Day, starting with brunch. Dinner promises to be an exciting array of made-from-scratch deliciousness, accompanied by award-winning craft cocktails and a wine list that will make you giddy. (Prosecco, it is!) Call (904) 398 3005 for more details or to make reservations.
The Ice Plant
The Ice Plant’s industrial feel will remind you of a Speakeasy from days gone by — and while they are best known for their cocktail concoctions — their menu is deliciously inspired by simple, creative twists on local, seasonal food. They don’t take reservations, so do anticipate a wait if you head there for Valentine’s Day weekend. The good news is there’ll be plenty to swill while you chill.
BB's has a reputation for desserts, but their menu is equally impressive with ingredients sourced locally when possible and a kitchen that does everything from scratch. Their upscale contemporary interior is also perfectly conducive to cozy conversation. Call to make reservations, (904) 306-0100.
Local ingredients are a given with Chef Waylon at the helm of Black Sheep's kitchen, but not every restaurant can boast the vantage point offered from their rooftop bar, right in the heart of walkable Five Points. If you and your Valentine are all about food with a view, and you're looking for seasonal ingredients and a vista to boot, this is the place for you. Call for reservations, (904) 380-3091.