I suppose me telling you, from a former waiter's perspective, that Valentine's Day is the absolute worst day of the year to dine out is not going to stop you, is it? But seriously, the staff is rarely psyched to be there, you're guaranteed a wait for your table even if you show up on time, and the menu is generally a spendy prix fixe meal carefully designed to fleece those forced by circumstance to brave the Hallmark hordes.
However, I do understand there are lots of circumstances that might force you into a decent outfit and out of the comfort and safety of your home on a chilly Tuesday night. Whatever shameful addiction that's got you draining the joint bank account (pull tabs? Bikini coffee? Ubering everywhere?), or whoever it is that you were caught stepping out with, you're in for it now.
So here's my begrudgingly compiled list of Valentine's Day recommendations to help you make the most of this obligatory non-holiday. Approximately none of this food is likely to leave you in any condition for sexual activity, so please, take Dan Savage's time-honored advice and #FuckFirst.
RN74: You Really Fucked Up, Didn't You?
Perhaps you've done something so cosmically heinous that the only way to even get your partner on speaking terms with you again is to plan a once-in-a-lifetime type of Valentine's Day meal. We're talking Herbfarm, Canlis, Inn at Langley, etc. Judging from what my friends in the escort business tell me, Seattle's mega-rich will already have booked those places solid.
Don't despair, though. RN74, Michael Mina's house of haute Burgundian cuisine, is offering the type of opulent prix fixe meal that really says, "I am trying to buy back your love with champagne and rich foodstuffs." The $105 affair is offered with a $55 champagne pairing, a $75 wine pairing, and the option to add foie gras or shaved black truffle to several dishes for a not insignificant upcharge. It's perfectly customizable to the severity of your transgression.
Worst case, you shell out a month's rent and still end up on the couch. But at least you'll have dined on oysters, black-truffle-laden Maine lobster ravioli, confit arctic char, and double duck—a crown roast of duck topped with the optional foie gras. There are worse ways to induce a life-problem-effacing food coma.
Wait, What? You Actually Still Love Each Other?
If this is you, then lean all the way into it and go to Serafina, Seattle's most venerable romantic venue. Back when I was a concierge in fancy hotels, Ray J showed up at my little podium and asked me for a romantic place to take his two "friends." I sent him to Serafina. Afterward, he came and found me and gave me a $5 tip. You know if the man behind the Kim Kardashian sex tape and the track "Sexy Can I" was that moved by it, the place must be dope. Obviously he knows a thing or two about healthy relationships.
Serafina oozes a romantic Italian joint vibe, the service is consistently impeccable, and the menu this year looks great. And the dinner starts with Shigoku oysters or beef tartare—both said to be aphrodisiacs—so if you don't overdo it on the other three courses, you might actually be able to get it on afterward.
Nothing Says "I Love You" Like the Salty, Fatty Anonymity of a Cheap Chinese Joint
I'm particularly partial to Kau Kau in the International District. For one, the hot and sour soup is the best I've found in the city. For two, the barbecue—chopped with élan by an elderly gent who sports a single, curiously lengthy beard hair—is a sensual experience unto itself. For three, there's something about sharing cheap Chinese broccoli and Tsingtao beer under fluorescent lights that is reminiscent of a tragically romantic, Tropic of Capricorn–era Henry Miller scene.
Plus, if it doesn't go well, you're really only out $30 to $40, and the main dining room has the most amazingly intricate wall-mounted carving for you to get lost in. You'll be too enraptured by its details to notice your date droning on about their boring job or whatever else.
The Multi-Tool of Valentine's Day
Cafe Pettirosso is offering a prix fixe dinner for the rest of us at an affordable $45 before the wine/cocktail pairing. Their food is dependably good; they've got meat, seafood, and vegan options; and they offer an ample selection of froofily romantic pastry. If your date doesn't do foie gras, bring them here, get them some savory vegan beignets, and cap it off with a chocolate-crusted cookie that says "Eat me!" Maybe they will.
Sometimes—despite the magic cocktail of desperation, low standards, and sexual frustration that is Tinder—you find yourself without a date for Valentine's Day. If you want to find other sad single people with whom to exorcize your romantic demons, there are plenty of places to mingle. Go to Montana, sit around by yourself nursing a Moscow Mule for a while, find any pretext to strike up a conversation with someone else doing the same thing, and for the love of God make sure to use protection. You don't need to make a bad night any worse.
If, say, you're just an emotionally secure, happily single person who wants to have a good meal out without fighting crazy Valentine's Day crowds, the counter is your friend. I'm partial to the long bar and its accompanying window perch at Cafe Presse. The much smaller counter at Suika izakaya restaurant is also a recent favorite; you won't have anyone with you to judge you for getting four separate orders of their amazing wings.
You Could Also Just Stay In
As I said above, I understand there are many things you could have been caught doing that require you to make reparations on Valentine's Day. However, no matter how badly you fucked up, you could always just stay in. You could have makeup sex and binge on Pagliacci pizza and Netflix. Indeed, a 2012 study in the Journal of Neuroscience found that increased oxytocin levels—a thing that happens when people bone—could potentially promote fidelity in monogamous relationships, eliminating the need to spend hundreds of dollars repenting for your sins in the first place. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that sharing a pie has the same effect.
Anyway, with a bit of careful planning, you could even outdo the commercial dining experience. Nothing says you care like going out of your way to cook. However, whether or not you suck at cooking, I recommend doing something easy, like pasta. There are plenty of places that will hook you up with some fresh quality pasta (Agrodolce, La Pasta, DeLaurenti, etc.), and making pasta sauce from scratch is both simple and guaranteed to impress your date, especially if they don't know what "puttanesca" translates to. Grab a bottle of impressively labeled Italian red wine, make sure to give yourself at least a half hour to prep before your date shows up, and don't forget a good romantic comedy. I highly recommend Rambo: First Blood, Part II—it's got everything from kinky shock play to tragic jungle love. What's not to like?
Happy Valentine's Day! Good luck out there.