Maybe it’s a generalization that men are notoriously slow about making dinner reservations. Maybe it’s not. Either way, you might want to start now prompting your honey to call that special place you love to have dinner…especially the evening of Valentine’s Day.
Not a clue about what to do? Here are some places to ponder:
- Highlands Bar & Grill – Probably the best-known dining establishment in the state, if not
the Southeast, Highlands sets the standard for many of the best restaurants in the region. To know Highlands, you first must know about owner and chef, Frank Stitt. Stitt’s love of cooking with fresh southern ingredients comes from his rural raising in Cullman, Alabama. An avid traveler, Stitt’s trips through the French countryside in Provence and Burgundy led him to the unusual blending of Southern favorites with French sauces and braises, creating elegant balance with superb flavor. Highlands is regularly nominated by the James Beard Foundation as the “Most Outstanding Restaurant in the Country.” Highlands is offering a special seasonal menu for Valentine’s Day.
- Chez Fonfon – This casual French Bistro, just next door to Highlands, is also owned by Chef Stitt. The bustling café focuses on provincial food and wine. The country pâté and moules-frites are musts for those wanting a true taste of French dining. To the joy of all procrastinating men, Chez Fonfon does not take reservations! Sample entrée: Shrimp & avocado salad with sauce rémoulade
- Bottega Café and Restaurant – The third in Stitt’s trio of restaurants, Bottega Café is a casual trattoria about a mile from Highlands and Chez Fonfon. The seasonal menu at Bottega includes fresh gulf seafood, naturally-raised meats and fresh organic vegetables. The café’s wood-fired oven turns out perfect pizzas and flatbreads and gives roasts and braises a fine hickory seasoning. Sample Entree: Roast Pork Loin with Polenta, Tomato Chutney Aioli and Venetian Spinach Just next door in the same building is the slightly more upscale Bottega Dining Room, which is open only for dinner.
- Hot & Hot Fish Club – Though the notoriety may not be as great as Highlands, the food is. Chef Chris Hastings specializes in and excels at memorable dining. Diners along the sweeping limestone chef’s counter have front row seats to the energetic, detailed preparation of the cuisine. Located in the intimate setting of a historic Southside building, Hot & Hot also adheres to the philosophy of using fresh ingredients from local providers. Sample Appetizer: “Surf and Turf” Wagyu Beef and Tuna Tartare
- Galley and Garden– Just across the narrow street is another chef-owned dining room, where love of food is apparent in every detail. Inventive combinations here are paired with gracious service for an experience to savor. Here Chef James Boyce invites diners to enjoy modern American-French inspired cuisine with Southern influences. (Too bad Valentine’s Day doesn’t fall of Sunday this year. Sunday brunch here is a local favorite.) Sample Entrée: Slow-braised Hereford Short Ribs
- Café Dupont – Part of the charm of this café is its setting in an 1870s renovated store in the heart of downtown. The dining room’s exposed brick, high ceilings and original floors reflect the building’s history. Chef/Owner Chris Dupont, like others, relies on locally grown produce for preparing top quality cuisine. Signature Dishes: Fried Oysters & Okra with Cayenne Butter Sauce, Grilled Manchester Farms Quail, and Vanilla Bean Crème Brûlée
- Gianmarco’s – Tucked into a small historic building in the Homewood neighborhood,
this restaurant draws diners from across the region and is regularly packed out. There is a reason. The menu and meals are never a disappointment. Family owned and operated,
Gianmarco’s serves authentic Italian meals, along with a selection of daily specials from
prime cut ribeye to fresh grouper with andouille gumbo. Sample Entrée: Pistachio and Goat Cheese Crusted Rack of Lamb with Roasted Potatoes and Asparagus
8. Ovenbird – Now accepting reservations—did you hear that, guys?—Ovenbird is one of the
hottest new tickets in town. The small plate formats here take inspiration from the live fire
cooking traditions of Spain, Portugal, Argentina and the American South. Goat and grits is an all-time favorite, as are the roasted peppers or grilled mushrooms with slow cooked egg and onion. The restaurant, located in historic Pepper Place, has received a ton of national publicity and accolades. Sample Plates: Spit-Roasted Duck, Henry Fudge’s Pig Belly, By-Catch Ceviche
If you struck out on reservations at all these tony places,
there’s still hope for a grand Valentine’s Day dinner. Try:
The Fish Market on Southside – Oysters, oysters, oysters!
Ocean – More oysters and great fresh seafood
Bamboo on 2nd – Really good sushi
El Barrio Restaurante Y Bar – Well worth the wait
Bistro V – The Tuesday night special is scallops over grits.
Taste of Thailand – Spicy Pad Thai heats up the evening.