Quite a few years ago, a friend invited me to an anti-Valentine’s Day party. He and his boyfriend weren’t out and were nervous about going to a romantic restaurant together in a town as small as Santa Barbara on such an iconic “date night”; my girlfriend at the time was out of town with her family and so I was flying solo for the evening. We hung out with a bunch of single friends and all shared our snarky comments about the Hallmark-driven holiday, saying Valentine’s Day was lame, materialistic, and a poor cover-up for the chocolate and flower industries to make an extra buck.
Despite the fact that all of these things-and other equally cynical commentary-are true about V-Day, I can’t help but enjoy it. Call it the hypnosis of being in love or the fact that my girlfriend, Jackie, is one of the most charming people I know (this girl can make nachos and Diet Coke romantic), but I can’t deny the draw it has on me. I’m always excited about how Jackie and I will spend our evening together, whether we’re going out or staying in.
We used to love going to Gisella’s on State Street-they had wonderful food and they never treated us like two single women who went out on Valentine’s Day together to avoid being alone. That can be one of the more frustrating things about going out on such a capital-D Date night: getting confused for two buddies as opposed to being treated like a couple out on a date.
But once the trattoria closed, we opted to stay in, ordering a heart-shaped pizza from Rusty’s and finishing off the meal with bakery treats from Lazy Acres. Last year, Jackie upped the amorous ante by-I swear I’m not lying or exaggerating-spelling “I Love You” on our bedroom floor with 50 long-stemmed roses. Whether or not that makes you swoon or puke, I think we can all admit it’s pretty darn romantic.
This year, I think we’ll be staying in and cooking our own dinner. But for those of you who want to make it a night on the town, here are some ideas.
If you’re in the mood for yummy, higher-end organic cuisine, SpiritÂ-Land Bistro (230 E. Victoria St.; 966-7759) is probably your best bet. Although it will have a “streamlined version” of the regular menu, this intimate restaurant is also featuring a prix fixe vegan lunch ($55) and meat lunch ($65) from 11:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and a four-course vegan dinner ($75) or meat dinner ($85) from 5:30-9:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended, and a $25 deposit is required.
Like SpiritLand Bistro, Sojourner Cafe (134 E. Canon Perdido St.; 965-7922) is incredibly gay friendly and ready to meet your vegetarian/vegan dietary needs. Reservations should be made before 5 p.m., and the menu offers the same deliciousness it does every other day of the year. There will be an extra-specially decadent dessert menu.
If you’ve already got dinner plans but are on the prowl for dessert, you’d be wise to head to Crushcakes Cupcakery (1315 Anacapa St.; 963-9353). Since opening on February 2, owner Shannon M. Feld said she’s been selling out every day. If you want to buy more than a dozen, you’ll have to place an order, but if you’re simply looking for that one perfect cupcake, just stop by the store (Feld said she’s been opening the store at 10 a.m. and closing “when we sell out, at like 4 or 5”). Expect the regular selection (check out a menu at crushcakes.com), plus a more Valentine’s Day-themed one, like the raspberry kir royale.
For a more casual and laid-back celebration, there’s always my personal favorite: pizza and a movie. You can go for that heart-shaped pizza from Rusty’s (delivery until midnight; 564-1111)-which, by the way, is available until the 16th for those unable to celebrate on the actual day-and pick up something at Video Schmideo (11 W. Victoria St.; 564-4999) to make it a quiet night in.
And if flowers are on your list of must-give and/or must-receive, avoid Ralphs or Vons, where bouquets are insanely overpriced for the holiday. Instead, head to Trader Joe’s (traderjoes.com) since they order tons of flowers but keep their prices the same. But if you spell “I Love You” in roses, just remember: Jackie did it first.