Lose the Whitman’s Sampler: Creative Ways to Celebrate V-Day

Break out that fondue pot, then make the trek to Cowgirl Creamery. The savvy staff will help you pick wine and cheese pairings.

Not everyone wants a multicourse dinner with Champagne and chocolate soufflé on Valentine’s Day. Here are ways to keep the romance simple without the formality and big tab.

•Look for food to share—and swoon over.

This is the one day of the year when you can feed each other without making diners stare. These destination dishes, enough for two, are good for savoring bite by bite with your beloved.

At Komi (1509 17th St., NW; 202-332-9200), the spit-roasted katsikaki goat is smoky and luscious, and you can sop up the extra drippings with fluffy house-made pita. If you’re in the mood for something more robust, swing by Ray’s the Steaks (1725 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-841-7297) for the “cowboy cut” bone-in rib eye; with a smothering of mushroom-brandy sauce, it’s as velvety and rich as the whipped potatoes.

•Think Parisian—but not extravagant.

If you love Citronelle but not the high prices and formal dress code, consider dinner at Bastille in Old Town Alexandria (1201 N. Royal St.; 703-519-3776). Chef/owner Christophe Poteaux and his wife, pastry chef Michelle Garbee, have created a charming, relaxing getaway. On the chocolate-themed four-course menu ($69 a person) are plenty of indulgences, from seared foie gras with cocoa butter to grilled quail with Port-chocolate sauce.

Or craft your own low-key spread: At the Georgetown bakery Le Pain Quotidien (2815 M St., NW; 202-315- 5420), the glass case is stocked with Gruyère tartines, almond meringues, and brioche. The bakery Chez Hareg (1915 Ninth St., NW; 202-332-6000) has bite-size macaroons and wonderfully buttery sablé cookies, perfect for nibbling during an evening stroll around the Tidal Basin.

•Find a cozy bar—and spend the night.

A midweek getaway can be tough to pull off, but not if you stay at a hotel in town. At the Tabard Inn (1739 N St., NW; 202-785-1277), there are lots of quiet corners—the toasty nooks around the lounge’s fireplace are most coveted—and even-quieter bedrooms upstairs, $98 to $207 a night.

At the Morrison-Clark Historic Hotel and Restaurant (1015 L St., NW; 202-898-1200), the whimsical parlor rooms with overstuffed love seats lend themselves to all-night sipping and canoodling. Upstairs, the bedrooms—$169 to $249 a night—are quiet and classically decorated.

Or hole up at the stylish, under-the-radar Hotel George (15 E St., NW; 202-347-4200), where rooms are $269 to $279. It’s home to Jeff Buben’s French-themed Bistro Bis—which is the reason the room-service crème brûlée is so fabulous.

•Get romance to go.

If you’re in the mood to stay in and don’t mind making a little effort, think about a pot of gooey fondue from Cowgirl Creamery (919 F St., NW; 202-393-6880). The staff will help you pick the cheeses, then give fondue recipes and wine pairings—and there are Breadline baguettes for dipping.

Oysters are legendary aphrodisiacs, and you’ll find one of our favorite varieties—tiny, sweet Kusshi oysters from Fanny Bay—at BlackSalt’s fish market (4883 MacArthur Blvd., NW; 202-342-9101). A dozen on the half shell make a lovely prelude to a pair of the plump, ready-to-sauté crab cakes.

•Make it all about the chocolate.

A box of Godiva? C’mon—you can do better than that. At the Source (575 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-6100), the chocolate purse shatters at the touch of a fork, spilling warm, dark chocolate—a treat as dramatic as it is delicious.

Bread & Chocolate (DC, Alexandria, Falls Church, Reston, Bethesda, Chevy Chase) makes a warm chocolate fondue with plenty of dunkable snacks—sliced pineapples, oranges, and assorted tea breads.

Go for nostalgic pleasures at Jackie’s (8081 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-565-9700), which has one of the best brownie sundaes around, or Grapeseed (4865 Cordell Ave., Bethesda; 301-986-9592), which serves an upscale s’more topped with a melted house-made marshmallow.

This article appeared in the February 2008 issue of The Washingtonian.

Want more Valentine's Day advice and information—from where to dine, to where to go, to what gifts to buy? Click here for the Washingtonian Guide to Valentine's Day.