America's Best New Romantic Restaurants 2014
From Portland, OR, to Portland, ME, perfect meals seal the deal at the country’s most romantic restaurants.
What makes a restaurant truly romantic? Softly lit nooks and pages of Barolo may be catnip to Cupid, but if the food is forgettable, his aim isn’t the only thing that’s going to be off.
In expanding our list of America’s most romantic restaurants—from mountaintop huts to metropolitan marvels—we doubled down on the best new restaurants that not only offer seductive settings and intimate service, but also feature inventive, mouthwatering cuisine presided over by a host of renowned chefs.
Take rock-star restaurateur José Andrés’s latest endeavor, the glass-and-wood-enshrouded Mi Casa, set against the turquoise waters of Puerto Rico’s Dorado Beach. While the swaying-palm sound track and sand-between-your-toes vibe may draw you in, it’s the spicy lobster asopao and rum-soaked coquito (served in a coconut shell from the beach mere steps from your table) that make for an unforgettable date.
For those whose palates run a tad more trad, Jeffrey’s, in Austin, TX, may be just the ticket. Brass martini carts roll by velvet-upholstered booths, and melt-in-your-mouth osso buco is served alongside lipstick-red currants. Similarly retro but no less exciting, Miami newcomer The Cypress Room (the crown in the city’s brilliant Michael Schwartz’s triumvirate) serves frog legs and lamb tartare at white cloth–draped tables flanked by aquamarine tufted banquettes.
With our list of America’s best new restaurants for romance, even on the off chance your date is a dud, you can be sure your taste buds are hitting a homer.
Mi Casa by José Andrés, Dorado, Puerto Rico
Set to a sound track of swaying palms and tumbling waves, Puerto Rican comfort-food classics get Andrés’s experimental touch in a glass-and-wood Caribbean perch at the ultra-luxe Ritz-Carlton Dorado Beach. Lobster is the star in the updated asopao, a hearty stew flavored with red peppers and cilantro; the lechón asado (suckling pig) brightens with the addition of caramelized mango. But it’s the rum-soaked coquito that really seals the deal with tiny spherified balls of fruit and juice presented in a coconut shell that was picked earlier that morning from the shore just beyond your window. ritzcarlton.com
Jeffrey’s, Austin, TX
With its four separate dining spaces, the revamped and reopened Jeffrey’s offers the perfect backdrop for all manner of dates. Prefer to keep it classic? Steer your beloved to the art-filled Chamberlain Room, dotted with sterling-silver champagne buckets and voluminous floral arrangements. In search of liquid courage? Sidle up to the sycamore-paneled bar, where tuxedo-donning bartenders will mix you a handcrafted cocktail to wash down your lobster and caviar blinis. Better yet, slide into a green velvet banquette and wait for the gilded martini cart to pass you by, or snuggle up by the crackling fireplace.
Pêche, New Orleans
Veterans of Herbsaint and Cochon procure some of the tastiest oysters in the country—the humble bivalve a known aphrodisiac—and serve them up raw or fried with a classic mignonette, a fitting prelude to an assortment of piscine delicacies (Gulf Coast shrimp, locally caught catfish) grilled over a custom-built hearth. But what really sets Pêche apart from other seafood joints: farm-fresh sides that accompany each dish, including citrus–and–butter bean purée and pickled mushrooms with chiles—another stimulating ingredient. pecherestaurant.com
Bar Sajor, Seattle
Located in a historic brick building in Pioneer Square, James Beard Award–winning chef Matt Dillon’s Bar Sajor radiates the kind of pitch-perfect nonchalance—floor-to-ceiling windows, wood-burning fireplace—you might expect from a neighborhood bistro in Barcelona or Marseilles. On any given day in the soaring whitewashed space, seemingly happenstance details might include a crisp bottle of rosé peeking out of a farmhouse sink or a sprig of herbs hung to dry on brass hooks against the kitchen’s beadboard walls. A masterful Basque-inspired chuletón de buey rib eye is served à deux, perfect for sharing with a Spanish cider from the predominantly European wine list. barsajor.com
Acabar, Los Angeles
In the soaring former Dar Maghreb space, Acabar oozes a lush, otherworldly exoticism belying its West Hollywood address. Interiors laden with intricate carved-wood friezes and traditional Moroccan Zellige tile work are lit by twinkling Moorish lanterns. A glowing fire pit strewn with rose petals sits at the center of an atrium open to the sky—ideal for moon-gazing over chef Octavio Becerra’s decadent Vadouvan-spiced scallops and a rosewater-infused Juliet & Romeo cocktail. acabar-la.com
Piccolo, Portland, ME
Husband-and-wife team—and Daniel Boulud alumni—Damian Sansonetti and Ilma Lopez uprooted their illustrious Manhattan careers to move to Maine, bringing their love of central Italian fare to a 20-seat sprite of a spot nestled in the city’s charming Old Port neighborhood. Known for its narrow cobblestoned streets and waterfront locale, the enchanting ’hood is a fittingly Euro-evocative backdrop for Piccolo’s masterfully pared-down country menu (think house-made ricotta and pork sausage with creamy polenta reminiscent of Abruzzi) and an exclusively Italian wine list boasting hard-to-find indigenous varietals like Refosco and Erbaluce. piccolomaine.com
The Cypress Room, Miami
James Beard Award–winning chef Michael Schwartz’s new Design District haunt nods to the classic club feel of 1920s Old Florida dining: pecky cypress-wood interiors, crystal chandeliers, white cloth–draped tables set with bone china, and aqua-hued banquettes presided over by handsome mounted deer heads. That retro classicism extends to the menu as well, comprising familiar indulgences like rich duck roulade and frog’s legs with brioche croutons. The most romantic table in the house? No. 18, a tucked-away two top where you can glimpse the gleaming kitchen, with its shimmering bronze hearth and fragrant wood-burning grill. thecypressroom.com
The Boarding House, Chicago
There’s no such thing as a bad bottle at River North’s sprawling new four-story hot spot, where master sommelier/proprietor Alpana Singh, a local television personality, has stocked her list with 500 well-known and obscure varieties that are as easy on the palate as they are on the wallet. Pair that bottle with New American specialties like buttery squid-ink tagliolini or grilled venison loin with bacon and rutabaga purée—and then get another to keep the flirtations flowing. boardinghousechicago.com
Tosca Café, San Francisco
A 25-cent jukebox, a cigarette-stained ceiling—at this storied 94-year-old dive bar in North Beach, there’s nothing more romantic than nostalgia. Thankfully, chef April Bloomfield and restaurateur Ken Friedman kept plenty intact during their painstaking renovation of the space. As in the past, when everyone from Hunter S. Thompson and Lauren Hutton to Rudolf Nureyev and the mayor of San Francisco rubbed elbows, you can settle into a vampy red banquette for a House Cappuccino (not coffee at all, but a hot chocolate spiked with brandy). But now, thanks to a sparkling open kitchen that turns out Italian-focused dishes, you can pair it with Bloomfield’s sublime roasted chicken for two.
Honey Salt, Las Vegas
A world away from the Strip’s neon-and-mirror behemoths, Honey Salt feels like a home straight out of a Nancy Meyers film. Husband-and-wife owners Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla have curated an atmosphere of dressed-down intimacy with rustic farm tables and butcher-block surfaces, distressed bistro chairs, personal artwork, and even a chandelier sourced from the couple’s own dining room. But if the style seems homey, the kitchen strikes a more rarefied note. Ask for the “love seat” in a quiet corner, and savor the grilled kurobuta pork chop with potato-and-sunchoke ragù before a Nutella cake finish, served warm with salted-caramel ice cream. honeysalt.com
In a gracious 1882 brick mansion that was once home to the mayor of Nashville, James Beard Award–winning chef Sean Brock’s newest location of his Charleston, SC, standby turns out daily-changing dishes that are the perfect marriage of southern tradition and forward-thinking technique. Catfish is served roasted, not fried, with farro and kale; shrimp and grits get a kick from farm-sourced ingredients, including preserved tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. And while the purple-hued dining room takes on a modern aesthetic, classical flourishes (streamlined white mantels, a colonnaded veranda) keep the vibe warm and romantic. husknashville.com
Ava Gene’s, Portland, OR
A star-like twinkling of overhead lights in Ava Gene’s hazy, wood-clad dining room glows just bright enough for you to admire the parade of Italian dishes that make their way from chef Joshua McFadden’s kitchen: earthy beet arancini served with Humboldt Fog cheese; a tangy brussels sprouts salad with farro, pumpkin seeds, and anchovies; a lamb ragù that's better than Nonna’s. At the end of the night, dive deep into a glass of a little-known grappa or perk up with an expertly poured Stumptown espresso—founder Duane Sorenson is the restaurant’s owner. avagenes.com
El Comedor at El Quinto Pino, New York City
From Basque bites at Txikito to the Muslim-inspired menu at La Vara, chef Alex Raij’s scene-setting take on Spanish cuisine is alive and well at the expanded dining room of Chelsea’s pint-size tapas standby El Quinto Pino. In a tall-ceilinged, wood-paneled room, cove lighting dimly illuminates the artfully mismatched Midcentury furnishings, and rhythmic Spanish classics stream softly overhead. When you’ve tasted your way through the famous uni panini, creamy croquetas, and pine nut–blended gazpacho, walk a block toward the Hudson River for a starry stroll on the city’s elevated park, The High Line.
The Prairie Whale, Great Barrington, MA
Housed in a warm 19th-century building with deep blue clapboard siding and a wraparound porch, The Prairie Whale exudes the pubby all-American charm that’s become the trademark of owner and Marlow & Sons cofounder Mark Firth—and ups the already outstanding offerings of the Berkshires as a romantic weekend getaway. Though you might come for the buzzed-about menu (including standouts like rabbit and foie gras ravioli cut with apricot purée), you’ll stay for the neighborly scene at the zinc-topped bar, the intimacy of a candlelit cherrywood table for two (ask for Nos. 23 or 24), and a dreamy live jazz nightcap. facebook.com/PrairieWhale
The Kenwood, Minneapolis
Royal couple (and Balmoral regulars) Will and Kate would feel right at home at the Kenwood. First there’s the décor, a Great Lakes take on the traditional English hunting lodge complete with plaid-lined walls, tufted-leather banquettes, and thick-framed portraits of horses and hounds—all faintly lit for romance. Then there’s the menu: in addition to such dishes as wild boar pappardelle and brown butter–slathered trout, an indulgent cassoulet features silky pork belly, duck confit, and bacon-infused Toulouse sausage. Designed to be shared, it’s a hunt-worthy feast that’s remembered all the more sweetly the next morning, over scones sourced from local favorite Patisserie 46. thekenwoodrestaurant.com