Sunday, February 9, 2003

Campbell's scoop

No reservations for Valentine's Day? Here's Plan B

By Polly Campbell
The Cincinnati Enquirer

How to pull Valentine's Day out of the hat:

You're taking your sweetheart out on Valentine's Day and only the best will do: romantic setting, fine food, champagne and a maitre d' in a tuxedo. Except you forgot to make the reservation. Oops.

The restaurants that most obviously answer to that description are booked solid for Friday. You won't get into Maisonette, Celestial, the Phoenix, the Palace, Carlo and Johnny, Jean-Robert at Pigall's, Daveed's or Grand Finale on Valentine's Day.

Time to switch to Plan Two ... Three or Four:

Try this: "Did you know," you say, "that according to the National Restaurant Association, 32 percent of Americans dine out on Valentine's Day, including 44 percent of those in the 18-24 age bracket? In fact, it's the third most popular occasion to dine out, after birthdays and Mother's Day.

"Let's avoid the crowds and go on a day that would be more intimate."

You might get a table for Saturday, just one day after Valentine's Day, even at the popular places listed, especially if you try for early or late reservations. Most restaurants offering Valentine's Day specials will have them on Saturday's menu, too.

Even better, go on Thursday. Thursdays are very romantic, and you could get a table just about anywhere. At Sturkey's in Wyoming, the special menu will be available Thursday through Saturday. This is a four-course dinner made for two with a seafood sampler duet, Sturkey's house salad, tenderloin lobster Oscar and a dessert duet from Pam Sturkey. Cost: $89 per couple. 821-9200.

Sturkey's sibling, Encore CafÈ in West Chester Township, which usually doesn't take reservations, will take them for Thursday and Friday. 759-0200.

Another option: Have a long Valentine's Day lunch.

Other suggestions: There are plenty of other places with a fine-dining atmosphere and good food that still may have reservations available Friday. Consider one of these:

• Antonio's in West Chester is a fine-dining Italian restaurant. 755-7242.

• Mike Fink's in Covington has seafood and a great river and city view - and a few Friday reservations left. (859) 261-4212.

• La Petite France in Evendale is a French restaurant with a newly renovated bistro look and a contemporary French menu. 733-8383.

• Parker's Blue Ash Grill has a nice, cozy atmosphere with romantic touches such as fireplaces. 891-8300.

• The Heritage in Plainville has cozy rooms, an interesting menu and a good wine and beer list. 651-9300.

• Beluga in Hyde Park has a sleek look and gorgeous sushi as well as Euro-Asian entrees. 533-4444.

• Oriental Wok in Fort Mitchell is a more-romantic-than-usual Chinese restaurant, with well-made Chinese dishes. (859) 331-3000.


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