Nosh Pit

Nosh Pit: Best dining bets for Valentine’s Day

Nick Dedier is co-owner of Aji Bistro in El Dorado Hills. The restaurant is one of many offering special meals through the weekend.
Nick Dedier is co-owner of Aji Bistro in El Dorado Hills. The restaurant is one of many offering special meals through the weekend. Sacramento Bee file

In restaurants throughout the Sacramento region, chefs, servers and other staffers are getting ready to dish up a whole lotta love. Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday this year, turning an already high-demand night for dining out into a weekend-long extravaganza of multicourse meals designed for couples.

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 70 million people go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day, or roughly one-quarter of the country’s population. With so many people going out to eat, restaurants count on Valentine’s Day to woo new customers and strengthen bonds with dedicated diners.

Over at South, a fairly new downtown spot known for its fried chicken and Southern cooking, the husband-wife ownership team of N’Gina and Ian Kavookjian are giving their restaurant a sophisticated-and-sexy touch for Valentine’s Day. Instead of its usual counter service, South will go prix-fixe style with two seatings: 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. As couples dig into their entrees, a soundtrack of slow jams will simmer on the stereo.

“It’s going to be like Maxwell, D’Angelo, Sade – baby-making music,” said N’Gina Kavookjian. “In a few months you’re going to see a spike in the new population, and they have a craving for fried chicken or short ribs.”

South will eschew much of its usual menu for Valentine’s Day. Most of the courses will be created especially for the occasion, a chance to put on the culinary equivalent of high heels instead of the same old comfy sneakers.

“We want to do some more elevated things for Valentine’s Day,” said N’Gina. “Our fried chicken, you can get that any day of the week. Let’s do something special. You can’t just re-package what you already do every single day.”

On a personal level, Valentine’s Day generally ranks as the most unromantic day of the year for the Kavookjians. Before opening South, they both worked in restaurants around the area. For them, Feb. 14 almost always means a hectic work shift.

“I remember working at a lot of different restaurants where it was, ‘OK, it’s Valentine’s Day, let’s just crank this out and survive,” said Ian Kavookjian. “And I remember working at Ella and it was, ‘There’s a lot of diners who don’t always come out during the rest of the year, so we’re going to step up our service and make it a special occasion.’”

So what eatery might best suit you and your sweetie this Valentine’s Day? Here’s a sample of what’s being served in and around Sacramento on Saturday – and in many cases, the meal specials will be available all weekend. But be sure to book a table soon, as restaurant reservations for Valentine’s Day tend to fill up fast.

Aji Bistro

4361 Town Center Blvd., El Dorado Hills; (916) 941-9181

Geared for: Sweeties who want to bond over seafood and Asian cuisine

Menu: The popular Asian-fusion restaurant in El Dorado Hills will present a menu of fresh fish, including mango swordfish, Alaskan king crab roll and oysters. Offerings also include rib-eye carpaccio over kimchi fried rice and more. Items from the Valentine’s Day menu, which will be available Friday through Sunday, can also be ordered a la carte.

Price: $42 per person for multicourse menu

Esquire Grill

1213 K St., Sacramento; (916) 448-8900

Geared for: Lovers with a taste for opulence

Menu: Esquire Grill presents a multicourse menu that spotlights the rich and savory. The meal kicks off with an amuse bouche of Gruyere cheese puffs, followed by options including kabocha squash and Honeycrisp apple soup, prime beef sirloin with miso butter and a dessert of warm coconut cake, plus assorted bittersweet chocolates by Puur Chocolat and fruit jellies. Supplemental courses include foie gras and lobster dumpling with pork belly.

Price: $65 per person

Mother

1023 K St., Sacramento; (916) 594-9812

Geared for: Vegetarian couples and others intrigued by going meatless

Menu: Mother recently ended its prix-fixe “Chef’s 10” program, which included both regular dishes and a few seasonal specials. But “10” is revived for Valentine’s Day in a format that includes wine pairings and gratuity. The exact menu is being kept hush-hush, creating an evening of veggie intrigue.

Price: $175 per couple

Old Sugar Mill

35265 Willow Ave., Clarksburg; (916) 744-1615

Geared for: Folks who want to enjoy wine this Valentine’s Day weekend and not get bogged down by the dinner scene

Menu: The multiwinery tasting facility in Clarksburg will celebrate its annual ode to port and chocolate 11 a.m.-5 p.m Saturday and Feb. 15. But for those who want something meatier, the Culinerdy Cruzer food truck will also cater a pop-up buffet with flavors from the bayou. Dishes include black-eyed pea salad, red beans, dirty rice, jambalaya, roast chicken and more.

Price: $25 for Culinerdy Cruzer buffet; $25 in advance for port and chocolate tasting; $40 at the door

South

2005 11th St., Sacramento; (916) 382-9722

Geared for: Those who want to keep it down-home (but with white tablecloths) for V-Day

Menu: The usual menu of fried chicken, gumbo and one of the best burgers in town goes a little upscale for Valentine’s Day. South will offer eight choices in its fixed menu for couples, including grilled bacon-wrapped shrimp, braised short ribs paired with kale, and chocolate desserts.

Price: $50 per person

Zocalo

1801 Capitol Ave., Sacramento; (916) 441-0303

1182 Roseville Parkway, Roseville; (916) 788-0303

Geared for: Couples who want to spice up their night with south-of-the-border cuisine

Menu: The bustling bar at Zocalo (in midtown and Roseville) is a well-known spot to take a date. But on Feb. 14, it’s the restaurant that’s spreading the romance, with a four-course menu with couples in mind. Dishes include a shared appetizer of seared albacore tuna, two salad options, an entree choice of enchiladas, house specials (carnitas, cochinita pibil, chili relleno, etc.) and a shared slice of tres leches cake.

Price: $120 per couple

Call The Bee’s Chris Macias, (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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