The author takes her date-night meal away from Sama Sama Kitchen last week, just one of the many takeout options she recently explored, including Loquita’s Spanish-style dinner and the pepperoni pizza from Bettina. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

With Valentine’s Day about to rear its romantic head, nothing says, “I love you,” like a home-cooked meal. But as we approach a full year of this pandemic life, the quaint idea of whipping up yet another meal for two in your very own kitchen may lack its once enticing allure.

Fear not, lovers. Santa Barbara offers a slew of tasty takeout options that bring the tantalizing food, clever cocktails, and easy magic of an evening out right into your home. Here are some of my favorites.

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Credit: Courtesy

BLACK SHEEP:  Whenever I dine at Black Sheep, I feel like I’ve landed at a sweet New York City hole-in-the-wall, brimming with colorful art and creative concoctions. Thankfully, that warm, eclectic vibe transfers to their take-out. Start with a zippy cocktail, like their yuzu margarita, then shift into a comforting risotto — filled with leeks, shiitake mushrooms, plenty of parmesan, and a whole lot of stirring, what dish is more emblematic of love? The melt-in-your-mouth braised beef short rib with chilled noodle and vegetable salad plays in perfect harmony. “Our food is sourced through local farmers who produce their food with care and love,” said owner Ruben Perez. “Black Sheep handles it with care and prepares it with love, making it a love-love situation.”

Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

SAMA SAMA KITCHEN:  “Our food is meant to be shared,” explained Sama Sama co-owner Ryan Simorangkir, an ethos that aligns with date-night dinners. While thrills these days are few and far between, the exciting Sama Sama flavors take taste buds on a welcome ride. Try their crispy rice salad, with pork sausage, pickled onion, cucumber, herbs, and fried egg, or the pan-seared Spanish octopus with potatoes, rendang, leek, and chili oil. Keep the fun going with a killer cocktail like The Last Flight, featuring smoky mezcal, Bordiga aperitif, yellow chartreuse, and lime. It won’t hurt your Valentine’s vibes that it’s packaged to-go with a pretty flower and comes in pink.

Credit: Courtesy

LOQUITA:  Loquita provides an escape to Spain without the stress of a pandemic flight. “Chef Nik Ramirez was inspired by the travels of the conquistadors throughout the country,” said GM Stephanie Perkins. Their four-course Valentine’s Dinner features tasty pintxos, remolacha with Mud Creek Farms citrus, ricotta salata, and chicories, and paella bursting with Santa Barbara spiny lobster and wagyu short rib. Dessert includes a delicate raspberry parfait with persimmon sorbet and rose caramel. Add on a gin and tonic pack for extra effervescence. If you’re not celebrating on Valentine’s Day, Loquita’s regular multicourse dinners for two regularly are just $65.

Credit: Sarah Chum of @SBGoodEats 

BETTINA PIZZERIA:  Pizza is a date-night classic, but Bettina propels the beloved pie to Valentine’s dinner status. “Our flavors and the quality of ingredients we use help elevate that experience to make the night a bit more special,” said Rachel Greenspan, who owns the restaurant with husband, Brendan Smith. “Plus, pizza goes excellent with wine and cocktails to make the evening more fun.” Start the night light and bright with their white negroni, a lovely mix of Italian white vermouth, suze, a splash of gin, and prosecco. From the hand-pulled mozzarella to the tender sourdough crust to the house-ground sausage, their pizzas exude love with every bite. Farm-fresh salads like the baby gems with goat cheddar provide the perfect companion for a low-key yet luxurious night.

THE LARK:  It wouldn’t be a date-night feature without mentioning one of the most sought-out reservations in town. A perk of going the takeout route is the lack of worry over snagging a table; another is The Lark’s incredible SAMsARA Winery Dinner for two. This special, created by Chef De Cuisine Logan Jones, includes delectable dishes designed to pair perfectly with a bottle of the winery’s 2014 Turner Vineyard pinot noir. The appetizer includes marinated beets with Humboldt fog, satsuma marmalade, hazelnut praline, and niçoise olive crumble and arugula, followed by pomegranate braised beef short ribs, and, for dessert, a Valrhona dark chocolate budino that caps the night off ethereally. “The effort we put in behind the scenes is something we are very proud of,” said Jason Paluska, The Lark’s executive chef. “We are always hopeful that our guests can feel and appreciate our meticulous planning, and eye for detail.”

Credit: Courtesy

OPPI’Z:  For a true Italian dinner, look no further than Oppi’z. Chef, owner, and former resident of Pavia, Italy, Guido Oppizzi is channeling the spirit of San Valentino with a four-course Valentine’s dinner for two, including a bottle of wine. There are vegetarian options for each course, and highlights include a starter of beef tenderloin carpaccio with parmesan, arugula, and capers, and the showstopping pan-seared beef tenderloin with parsnip puree, sauteed spinach, and mushroom sauce. “Nothing says more on La Festa di San Valentino than a candlelit, four-course, authentic Italian dinner with the live accordion music of Gail Campanella,” said Oppizzi, who’s also inviting dine-in guests for the evening. Takeout and delivery are available, but the accordion is not included.

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