- Courtesy Of Pho Son
- Pho tái and goi cuõn at Pho Son
In some ways the pressure is lower this Valentine's Day. If you usually forget to plan ahead and make a dinner reservation, you're off the hook because few of us are dining out the way we have in years past.
Happily, there are still plenty of options for special takeout meals. Feast your eyes on a Seven Days version of a baker's dozen — seven plus a bonus eighth option — that caters to a variety of budgets and tastes. Representatives from each Chittenden County restaurant also shared something about their own Valentine's culinary plan.
I'm going to show my love for restaurants by tipping especially well. My first date with my husband was at a small Japanese restaurant many years ago. I treasure memories of many date nights and anniversaries celebrated over good food and drink.
We want all our favorite restaurants back next year when, once again, we'll scramble to secure the perfect Valentine's reservation.
Around $30 for Two: All-Day Brunch or Soup Love
- File: Glenn Russell
- Pork carnitas omelette at Firebird Café
Firebird Café, 1 Main St., Essex Junction, 316-4265, takeout and delivery
A lazy stay-in-bed morning seems like an even better idea when you've ordered an all-day Valentine's weekend brunch special from Firebird Café. For $30, you pick two breakfast menu items and a choice of drinks, from premixed mimosas to house-roasted Good Luck Coffee Roasters java.
I'm a huge fan of Firebird's pork carnitas omelette ($10.85): puffy egg cradling tender, shredded pork, caramelized mushrooms, red onions, avocado and melty cheese.
Chef-owner Jake Tran said that his creative Benedicts also travel well. The Blackstone ($10.85) boasts bacon, grilled tomato, cheese and a creamy poblano sauce, while the chorizo Benedict ($11.85) stars housemade chorizo.
Regarding his own Valentine's plan, Tran said he'll be working most of the day and admitted, "I'm terrible at [this kind of thing], but my partner, Steph, she's good at it." That said, he's thinking they'll cook a dry-rubbed brisket with some sautéed dinosaur kale, roasted butternut squash and parsnip fries.
Pho Son, 213 College St., Burlington, 540-8888, takeout and delivery
Steaming bowls of soup are often proffered to those we love in times of need. Pho, the Vietnamese classic, starts with a long-simmered bone broth infused with star anise and ginger, and it finishes with fresh bean sprouts, Thai basil, lime and hot sauce to taste.
Pho Son's excellent options include pho tái ($12), with thinly sliced rare beef, and a traditional pho gà ($14), with chicken meat, gizzard, liver and heart. The generous portions could be shared, slurping noodles from the same bowl reminiscent of the iconic spaghetti scene in Lady and the Tramp.
Even if you order two, you can still afford a pair of translucent, rice-paper-wrapped summer rolls (goi cuõn) made with shrimp and pork ($6) or vegetables ($5). For an extra dollar, try a Seven Days food team favorite, bò lá lót ($7), beef in betel leaves topped with peanuts and fried shallots.
Chef and co-owner Son Le has nothing planned for his own Valentine's Day. "Our tradition is every day eating well," he said. "Food for us is happiness." His wife and two young daughters will be in the restaurant with him while he works. For a treat, he said, they might order sushi from Bento down the street (see below). "We love sushi. It's very well presented there," Le said.
Under $40 for Two: Take-and-Bake Times Two
- James Buck
- Mini pastries and chocolate-raspberry mousse cake for two at Mirabelles Bakery
Mirabelles Bakery, 3060 Williston Rd., South Burlington, 658-3074, pastries and "Take-and-Bake" meals. (Closed on Sundays, including February 14.)
The bakery has long been a top destination for extra-special Valentine's Day treats for two, such as a chocolate-raspberry mousse cake ($18) or vanilla sponge cake layered with passion fruit curd and cassis jelly and smothered in toasted meringue ($18).
Newer to many are the "Take-and-Bake" meals, available both refrigerated and frozen, that the bakery started offering after its January 2020 relocation from downtown Burlington. Regular items include chili and pot pie, but for Valentine's, there will be an elegant pair of crêpes folded around chicken, leeks, mushrooms and vegetables in a lemony-crème fraîche sauce ($18).
For a more hands-on feast, try the taco kit for two ($32) with pork tinga and all the fixings, plus a pair of mini flourless chocolate Sonic cakes ($2.75 each), or share a heart-shaped mini chocolate-raspberry mousse or sour-cherry cheesecake ($4.75 each).
Co-owner and chef Alison Lane started her family's Valentine's tradition when her two teenage sons were "tiny," she said. "The meal is whatever, but we always do chocolate fondue." Lane uses dark chocolate, heavy cream and a splash of Grand Marnier. In addition to pound cake and fruit, the family loves the sweet-salty crunch of dipping pretzels or potato chips.
Pizzeria Verità, 156 St. Paul St., Burlington, 489-5644, takeout and delivery
- Courtesy Of Pizzeria Verità
- Pizzeria Verità do-it-yourself pizza kit
Pizzeria Verità is normally closed on Sundays but will make an exception on Valentine's Day to serve oven-blistered pizzas to-go. A special four-course dinner for two, from cheeseboard to chocolate mousse, is $50, plus optional cocktail pairings.
For those looking to spend less or seeking guided hands-on fun with food, the holiday special do-it-yourself pizza kit for two is $15.95 — complete with a how-to video.
February 12 through 14, Verità will offer dough with toppings for one Margherita and one Cherry Amore pizza, featuring dried cherries, arugula, spicy honey and housemade fresh mozzarella.
Add a Caesar to share ($9.50) and a tiramisu and a slice of flourless chocolate cake topped with salted caramel ($6 each), and you're still south of $40. Or choose a Valentine's wine special for $12.50, including a Nebbiolo blend or a lightly frizzante white.
The restaurant group's director of marketing, Keith Dunlop, reported that Verità's executive chef, Dan Cervantes, and his girlfriend always have fresh oysters with a Champagne mignonette sauce. Verità general manager Morgan Sullivan said she would skip the oysters and just drink Champagne, a preference with which co-owner Leslie McCrory Wells heartily concurred.
Under $50 for Two: Raw Fish or Long-Cooked Meat
- Daria Bishop
- A sushi assortment with miso soup and a variety of drinks at Bento
Bento, 197 College St., Burlington, 497-2494, takeout and delivery
In a glass-windowed cubicle within a quiet downtown storefront, sushi master Kazutoshi (Mike) Maeda wields his knife to craft perfect morsels of sushi and compelling rolls, such as yellowtail with shiso and pickled plum, and tuna with pickled daikon.
You can orchestrate your own meal, but the simplest option is the chef's choice sushi assortment for $21: seven pieces of seafood nestled on rice, a sushi roll and miso soup. It's worth asking if you can pay a few dollars extra for touches such as carrot, vinegar and Japanese mayonnaise sauce on salmon.
Maeda and a former business partner moved from New York City to open San Sai Japanese Restaurant on Lake Street in 2011. It closed in 2015, and they focused on Bento, a mostly to-go spot that opened in 2013.
These days, it's a fully family operation. When you call, you will likely speak with Reiko Maeda, the chef's 24-year-old daughter, a recent University of Vermont graduate. The pandemic put a pause on her plans to move back to New York City, but she's OK with pitching in at Bento for now. "If it's for family, I'll do anything," Reiko said.
She won't be eating sushi for Valentine's Day. "My boyfriend and I will just make a meal together — probably steak — and watch Netflix," she said with a laugh.
Bluebird Barbecue, 317 Riverside Ave., Burlington, 448-3070, takeout
- Courtesy Of Jessica Sipe
- Bluebird Barbecue platter for two
Barbecue may not be the obvious choice for a meal early in a relationship. There's pretty much no way to eat Bluebird Barbecue's meaty ribs or succulent bone-in smoked chicken without getting messy. Best to channel the lobster-eating scene in Flashdance and make the most of it while splitting Bluebird's barbecue platter for two.
For $39.50, you'll get a trio of meats and the choice of four sides. My faves include cute corn bread muffins, smoky pit beans, and creamy mac and cheese. Up the meat factor with caramelized brisket burnt ends ($9), or add the excellent crispy Brussels sprouts ($11).
The restaurant's founder and managing partner, Sue Bette, likes to celebrate special occasions over breakfast out with her wife, Sarah Sears. "It's a great way to start the day — so easy and fun," Bette said.
The couple will have to wait until next year to head to the Penny Cluse Café counter, a favorite destination. This year, Bette said, they're planning to order the Sunday doughnut box from Honey Road and will drop off some for family and friends to spread the love.
Over $50 for Two: Birds of a Feather
- File: Matthew Thorsen ©️ Seven Days
- Seafood grits at the Gryphon
The Gryphon, 131 Main St., Burlington, 489-5699, takeout and dine-in
The Gryphon is known for great cocktails and menu favorites such as seafood with creamy grits and lobster butter ($26) and grilled maple-glazed duck breast ($28).
As of press time, the Gryphon had a few later tables left for Sunday brunch, but the whole brunch and dinner menu, including drinks, is available for takeout.
The Rumming Out of Thyme ($13), made with rum, apple cider and thyme simple syrup, sounds delicious but might send the wrong message for Valentine's Day.
Valentine's weekend dinner specials (prices TBD) will include a starter of housemade ravioli, Arctic char in port wine sauce with a sweet-potato gratin and asparagus, and flourless chocolate angel cake with berries and "sinful" spiked cream.
Front-of-the-house manager Emily Clements is planning a simple Valentine's Day, celebrating the fact that she has the day off. "It'll be me and my dog, Myrnin, some chocolate, and pinot noir," she said.
Hen of the Wood Burlington, 55 Cherry St., Burlington, 540-0534, takeout and dine-in
- Courtesy of Hen of the Wood Burlington
- Baked Harbison with crackers and apple butter from Hen of the Wood Burlington
Hen of the Wood's takeout system caters to last-minute planners, especially if they're night owls. Online ordering for the next day goes live after service closes down around midnight the preceding night.
On top of the regular menu, chef de cuisine Jordan Ware said Valentine's takeout offerings for Saturday and Sunday will include a dozen shuck-your-own oysters ($24) and a "bake at home situation" for a Harbison cheese with maple sea salt crackers and apple butter ($30).
That's my ideal Valentine's feast right there, but other options for two include the radicchio salad with buttermilk dressing, blue cheese, hazelnuts and apple ($24), and cast-iron-seared duck with house sauerkraut and polenta ($85). Chocolate fondue will come with a variety of house-crafted dipping deliciousness ($20).
Ware will celebrate with his wife, Dana Parseliti, assistant general manager at Honey Road. Both have the evening off. Ware thinks he'll make his wife's favorite dish, braciole, a traditional Italian wine-braised beef stuffed with prosciutto, provolone, golden raisins and pine nuts.
"I follow her dad's recipe to the tee," the chef said. "He used to own a restaurant in Hartford, Conn., called Frank's. Her grandpa ran it before her dad took it over." The restaurant closed in 1995 after 51 years of hosting its own share of romantic dinners. "People still remember it," Ware said.