Let’s face it: Going out to eat on Valentine’s Day can be a hassle, and an expensive one at that. Plus, what says “I love you” in Washingtonian-ese like eating a delicious meal in front of the season premiere of House of Cards? Thankfully, you don’t have to be a master chef to whip up a Valentine’s-worthy spread. Skip elaborate recipes and focus on ingredients—steamed lobsters, buttery steaks—whip up a one-pot dinner, or let chefs and shops lend a hand with prepared ingredients. Here’s where to start.
Lobster, live or steamed
Lobster appears on most high-end restaurants’ menus on Valentine’s Day, but it’s easy—and often cheaper—to crack claws at home. BlackSalt Fish Market is a longtime go-to, and will sell the crustaceans live or freshly steamed for no extra charge. If you really want to impress, pick up an order of caviar or freshly shucked oysters, as well; a simple green salad and melted butter for dunking are just as pleasing (try this herb butter for a little twist). Luke’s Lobster in Georgetown ships live crustaceans from Maine (orders must be placed by Wednesday for Friday pick-up), and also sells the meat for homemade lobster rolls. Looking for delivery? Legal Sea Foods ships V-Day lobster packages for two overnight with live or pre-cooked crustaceans, bisque, desserts, and more. The Boston-based company may be a chain, but the freshness of its seafood is typically top-notch.
Chefs always talk about letting simple ingredients shine, and there’s no reason home cooks can’t do the same. Quality is key for a centerpiece-worthy hunk of meat. Stellar options that come to mind: “tomahawk” steaks (bone-in rib eyes) from Red Apron Butchery at Union Market and the Mosaic District, the Organic Butcher of McLean’s standing rib roast, and dry-aged New York strips from Whole Foods (seriously, like butter). Need a hand with cooking? Society Fair in Alexandria carries wonderful raw meats, but also prepares Valentine’s packages. The same is true with the Butcher’s Block nearby—think marinated rack of lamb and chocolate mousse cake—and Stachowski’s Market in Georgetown, which makes meals like slow-cooked prime rib with baked potatoes and Caesar salad.
Fondue for two—or, even better, raclette
Fondue is a little cheesy—in a couple of ways—but always fun and incredibly satisfying on these freezing nights. If you don’t feel like grating, try picking up the pre-shredded packages from the Swiss Bakery shops in Springfield and Burke, Virginia. The house blend of cheeses such as Appenzeller and Gruyère is as good as any you could make, and you can also pick up fresh breads and sausages for dunking, as well as a selection of Swiss and French wines. I also love raclette, a Swiss delicacy where diners melt raclette cheese at the table and scrape the bubbly fromage over steamed potatoes, cured meats, and pickled onions. The Swiss Bakery, Righteous Cheese, and Cheesetique all sell (or in some cases, rent) the equipment and many of the key ingredients.
You can also think outside the fondue pot when it comes to single-dish delicacies. Want to sip bubbly with your date instead of cooking? Go with a recipe that can sit on the stove—or can be cooked the day before—such as chef Scott Drewno’s red-curry chicken from the Source, Bastille’s red-wine-braised beef, or a vegetarian eggplant-and-sweet-potato lasagna. If you’re more of a last-minute cooker, it’s hard to go wrong with super-fresh mussels and Jeff Black’s signature Addie’s recipe, which stays on the menu at all eight of his eateries.