Taste of romance

February 12, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Love is in the air, and Cheryl Kenney, well, she loves it.

Truth is, the owner of Roccoco on West Washington Street in Hagerstown tries to set a romantic mood every night.

But she admits her staff gets ramped up as Valentine's Day approaches.

This year is no different. A special menu is in place, and French love songs pipe through her sound system.

One year, all women diners received a long-stemmed red rose. Tonight and Friday, Feb. 14, an opera singer will serenade patrons with Italian love songs.

"It is a special night, and some people, they may only go out once or twice a year," Kenney says. "And we try to make it a memorable event for them."


A chilled bottle of champagne. Rose petals strewn across a red tablecloth. Two long, slender candles shedding a luminous glow on the love of your life.

Setting a romantic tone for a Valentine's Day meal is not confined to fancy restaurants. Going out or staying in, setting the proper mood can make or break an intimate Valentine's rendezvous.

"Think it through. Soft candlelight has significance, and roses have deep significance," says Wendy Jones, an instructor at the Culinary Institute of America. "Women, and men, love it when you fuss."

In terms of presentation, think simple but elegant, with a blend of color.

Play soft music to further establish an amorous mood. Beth Lowery, owner of Heather B's Pub in Boonsboro, says tone is set right away when customers step into her restaurant.

"They're out here to dine and to enjoy each other's company," she says. "It's a cozy little place to come in. The lights are dimmed and it's like a little getaway."

For background lighting, think pink, with light bulbs turned down low to let candlelight shine bright.

But not any candles will do, Jones says. Short, squat votives may work well for everyday use, but they also cast ghostly shadows upward onto your honey.

"The short candles, they'll beam the underside of your eyeballs, so it gives an eerie effect," she says. "If you're telling ghost stories, it's good. But not for a romantic dinner."

Tall candles shine downward, enhancing beauty without casting a spooky pall over the proceedings.

Of course, romantic meals are made or broken by the fare served. Like atmosphere, there are special dos and don'ts.

In the Roccoco kitchen, staff members are concocting all manner of decadence to woo patrons this weekend. Homemade ice cream, pastries, lamb chops and filet topped with crabcakes are on the menu.

"Some things that reek of romance would be lobster, chocolate, anything like souffl," Kenney says. "It just seems more special than on an ordinary evening."

A Culinary Institute of America graduate, Jones says oysters are a big aphrodisiac food, joined by truffles, chocolate and spices such as saffron, vanilla or ginger.

To drink, turn to an old standby, champagne.

"Definitely, bubbly is good," Jones says. "It puts you in a festive mood, and it takes away inhibitions. But, again, in moderation."

Mood killers? Skirt away from high concentrations of citrus fruit (lime, lemon) that can be disruptive to the stomach. Too much caffeine, she says, is another no-no.

"It's just kind of the jitteriness," Jones says. "You can't get into that relaxing mood."

Without a doubt, the cherry on top of any romantic feast is dessert.

"Because it's choclatey and romantic," Kenney says. "It's sweet. You know, like your valentine."

Oysters on Skewers

  • 8 oysters

  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

  • 8 cherry tomatoes

  • 8 mushroom caps

  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted

Wash oysters and roll in Parmesan cheese. Thread oysters, tomatoes and mushroom caps on skewers. Brush tomatoes and mushrooms with butter. Season with salt and pepper.

Place skewers on a foil covered cookie sheet under broiler for 3 minutes. Turn once and leave for 3 minutes more. Do not let tomato skins burn. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

- Recipe from Culinary Institute of America

Cherries Jubilee

  • 1 pound jar sweet, black pitted cherries

  • Rind and juice of 1 orange

  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier or cherry liqueur

  • 1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch

  • 1 oz. brandy

  • 1/2 pint vanilla ice cream

Drain cherries and place in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add grated rind and strained juice of orange and Grand Marnier or cherry liqueur. Heat until bubbling. Dissolve arrowroot or cornstarch in 1/4 cup reserved cherry juice and add to cherries, folding cherries repeatedly as a thickening sauce forms around them.

Heat brandy in a small pot. Touch brandy with a lighted match and pour flames over cherries at the table.

Place a scoop of ice cream in each dish and spoon hot cherries over ice cream.

Serves 2

- Recipe from Culinary Institute of America

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