Dear Jen

Sometimes, people send me letters. I love getting letters, especially funny letters and letters with money in them. Yesterday, I received this in my inbox.

Dear Jen,

I enjoy reading your website and feel that you might be able to help with a very difficult problem I have.   For many years now I have been dating a very special girl and she enjoys food.  My problem is that Valentine’s Day is approaching and I’m trying to decide where to take her.  She’s been to most of the restaurants in Portland, loves food, is romantic, fun, pretty, sexy…you get the idea.  I want to impress her but don’t have the money of the Kardashians or the Jersey Shore group.  I thought “Hey! Maybe Beast…but thought my chances were slim and not sure I would want to spend V-Day at a community table.  VooDoo doughuts would be fun…the Globetrotter’s apparently went there but not sure about the romance.   The Food Carts would be fun…but again…the romance.  There’s Paley’s, there’s the Ringside, there’s Higgins…what would you do to ensure a Happy Ending?  Thanks for your help Jen!



Dear Brian, I mean, “Anonymous,”

This is a conundrum indeed. Not to tsk-tsk, but you sort of blew V-Day when you got your girlfriend diamond earrings from Tiffany for Christmas, not thinking about the fact that the memory of that robin-egg blue moment would still be fresh six weeks later, and you’d have to top it. I suggest a trip to Paris. Any girlfriend LOVES trips to Paris.

Oh wait, you mentioned budgetary issues (I totally forgot the Tiffany bill for a second), so jet-setting to Paris is probably out. Here are a few alternatives.

If you save your shekels for the next couple of weeks to splash out on a night of traditionally opulent white-tablecloth romance, you’re right–Paley’s Place rarely disappoints. I’d also suggest Metrovino in the Pearl for a quiet, slow-paced romantic evening with LOTS of very good wine. BluehourTen 01 and Fenouil also come to mind for their sleek elegance and red-carpet treatment, although the last two have undergone some significant staffing changes in the kitchen recently so I can’t vouch for the food.

Two low-key but solid choices in the Northwest include darling sunburst-colored creperie Le Happy (twinkly disco balls and blazing Crepes Suzette get anybody in the mood) and dimly lit, sharing-plates-and-good-conversation-is-a-must izakaya joint Tanuki, which happens to be next to M Bar, one of my favorite places to get amorous, at around 1 am, after a bottle or two of cava.

I happen to know that your girlfriend is fond of romantic little downtown gem Ristorante Roma, and since the entrees land squarely in the low to mid-teen’s and the wine list is quite reasonable, you won’t pay a fortune for your slice of Italy, or your slice of tiramisu.

Concordia’s lovely DOC, which serves sophisticated Italian cuisine with a distinct Pacific Northwest touch, has one of my favorite wine guys, Austin Bridges, who will pair your courses with wines you will love so much you might make him your new Valentine. Just down the street is sexy Yakuza, where you can sip Carrot Cosmos and feed each other grilled pork and prawn meatballs and bites of Hawaiian amberjack sashimi.

Northeast Portland’s Alu might have the most sensual basement in town, with a fireplace to set the mood, plush overstuffed furniture for getting snuggly, small plates that will induce lust, cocktails to loosen tongues and inhibitions, and nifty little wine tags so you can remember what you drank the night you conceived little Pagona.

Claim a booth at Beaker & Flask and fall in love with supercute chef Ben Bettinger’s self-described “Euro-Portland” cuisine and the always-surprising cocktail menu, or claim the end of the bar at nearby Biwa and feed each other whole cloves of grilled skewered garlic, then go home and play “Edward and Bella.” While you’re in the Lower Burnside ‘hood, please don’t forget to stop in at my one true love, if wine bars can be true loves, exquisite little Kir.

Sharing things together makes for a happy relationship, so if you’re lucky enough to snag one of the booths at Bar Avignon, you can while away the evening sharing a bottle of Chateauneuf-du-Pape and sharing paprika-spiced hazelnuts and wild boar ribs and sharing the responsibility of giving the person who ordered the last piece of flourless Scharffen Berger chocolate cake a very unromantic stinkeye. Over on Hawthorne, you can share an Apizza Amore in Apizza Scholls‘ cute little left-hand-side dining room, but be careful about feeding it to each other, missing fingers and hospital visits are not happy relationship-makers. Just up the street, you can cap the night by sharing a Naughty Toddy at the dark and sultry crimson-tinted Sapphire Hotel. I would not, however, suggest sharing the Apricot Blonde or Other Woman.

I know you two like progressive evenings, so post-dinner and pre-Happy Ending, you might consider a drink with a view at lofty East-side wine bar Noble Rot or swanky Departure Lounge atop downtown’s The Nines Hotel, or, if simple and sweet better fits your mood, share an Aphrodite (cherry and chocolate mousse, moscato-soaked chocolate flourless biscuit, and a drunken cherry) and a glass of sherry at Pix Patisserie.

If you’re looking for the ideal spot to seal the deal, by all means head straight into the seductive embrace of the Driftwood Room, located inside the swanky, Rat-Pack glammy Hotel deLuxe, where they’ll mix you champagne cocktails and tell you to get a room. Why not? After all, the hotel is running several V-Day specials like the “Be My Chocolate Valentine”, and “All You Need is Love” packages.

On a do-it-yourself note, the couple that makes porcini-dusted beef tenderloin, truffle-scented mashed potatoes, and chocolate souffles with espresso créme anglaise together stays together, so perhaps you should opt to eat in–in Sur La Table’s “Date Night: Love is in the Air” cooking class that is. Or learn to compose a salad plate and make caramel sauce together at In Good Taste’s Valentine’s Day Dinner class.

Well, Bri Anonymous, that should get you started on your way to the happiest of happy endings. By the way, while you question the romance quotient of Voodoo Doughnut in your letter, I’ll remind you that nowhere else in town can you buy your lover a pair of underpants that read “the magic is in the hole,” and that Voodoo is a very popular place, in some circles, to tie the knot (doughnuts and coffee for 60 included). And if getting married while eating a Triple Chocolate Penetration and wearing wunderpants that say “the magic is in the hole” isn’t romantic, I just don’t know what is.