Table for Two
The short petulant month of February most often leaves us flat with the predictable heart shaped box. This Valentine’s Day break with stingy sentiment and go where love is lavished. Chefs love their food and they know how to whet the appetite, braise the intensity, zest the brightness and quick sear the depth of flavor.
A chef’s love affair is plated to tickle the senses without sensory overload, teasing to the point of decadence and abruptly ceasing when sated. Seven centuries beg to question why force love or romance or a commitment, when only a reservation is required.
So, spark your love affair this season at one of our top picks for Valentine’s Day dining…
By ELLEN MARCUS
Beefeaters is the pearls and jeans of the Sandhills and a Valentine must for any serious couple. The Southern classic casual, feel good spot is tried and true. Steeped in Southern Hospitality the tea is sweet, the service is pleasant, the prime rib is full-plated, the award-winning steaks are cooked to order and the fried green tomatoes crisp and light. The rambling salad bar is a smorgasbord unto itself, showcasing in-house sweet relishes, Carolina side salads, pickled vegetables and fresh veggies. The diverse menu reads like a novella for the omnivore’s dilemma of too many choices to ponder and consider. Expect to cozy up and settle in, enjoying the many courses by candlelight.
Chapman’s Food and Spirits
Sometimes a hamburger is just a juicy, hot, tasty, in your face Hamm Burger. Chapman’s is where the All-American guy gets together with the girl next door to enjoy lobsta fries, a pan of mussels and each other’s company. Chef Peter Hamm and Kitty Hopkins makes it look easy, serving up fun, classic favorites steeped in old world depth of flavor with gracious hospitality. It’s easy to find one’s self pining away for a full bodied, well rounded Reubenesque, because sometimes a sandwich is more than a sandwich. Who better to share an intimate culinary experience with, than the person you feel the most comfortable with.
Chef Warren’s Bistro
When overwhelming sentiment inspires a sumptuous gesture, Chef Warren’s Bistro serves generously. Chef Warren Lewis’s culinary integrity to French cuisine is as consistent and measured as the train whistling through the heart of Southern Pines. The whimsy is that Lewis ventures into new territory, intermingling the exotic with technique whetting the appetite for adventure. Impressing on your Valentine that worth is in substance, this dinner overture plays to the flawless proposal. Sometimes in love you either go big or stay home.
At a loss for conversation, then turn your full attention to a complimentary bowl of rich, Italian gravy and a basket of fresh baked bread while contemplating a quenching compliment of beer or wine. Chef Curt Shelvey cooks what he knows and loves what he cooks. Curt’s Cucina is classic authentic Italian food that demands hand’s on interaction. Gently prying apart Zuppa di Mussels and using the shell to sip the sweet salty brine; Soaking your bread in the Seafood Fra Diavolo’s and tasting the wild windswept sea; Slicing your way into a slab of bubbling Cucina Parmigiana; or tunneling into a tender flakey Cucina Cannoli excavating the sweet cream. This Valentine’s Day will either be your best dinner date, or best dinner and if cupid is playing favorites, both.
Elliott’s on Linden
Chef Mark Elliott has a well-seasoned, long-lasting relationship with NC farmers and artisans. Elliott was one of the first to seek out local grown ingredients, from early summer delicate squash blossoms to winter hearty greens. “Valentine’s Day is a day we want to share a part of our feelings…our hearts with one special person,” Elliott said. “Elliott’s is a special place that does just that. We share our love for food to make Valentine’s Day an experience to be remembered. We believe an exquisite meal makes the moment special and complete. From the greeting at the door, to the presentation on the plate and to the burst of flavor on the palate, they all create those small moments that make life great.”
Filly & Colts
What’s more romantic than a drive at sunset? Filly and Colts is the perfect Valentine’s evening get away. The bright and airy dining room overlooks the rolling greens of the Little River Golf Resort, silhouetted by pine forest. Head Chef Karen Littlefield offers a bright take on Southern gulf ingredients and flavors. A splash of brown sugar bourbon caramelizes the citrus glazed salmon. Fried Green Tomatoes and Shrimp are drizzled in a roasted pepper remoulade. Warm up next to the mood enhancing, rock fireplace while cooling off with Littlefield’s signature black cherry mojito. Opposites not only attract but complement the other.
Where love blooms, lovelies dine. For thirty-seven years Vince and Cindy Continenza have prepared and served beautiful, delectable food. Over a decade ago they purchased the Midland restaurant, tapped its Sandhills’ roots, planted gardens and created an oasis in the pines. Their son Mason Continenza turns out amazing modern salads, rich indulgent sandwiches and signature entrees that appeal to all ages. “Our guests tell us often, we love everything about the Ironwood but we keep coming back because of the staff,” Vince said. “We are one big family.” Vince and Cindy now enjoy sharing their own table at the Ironwood on Valentine’s night. “It’s a festive night with balloons, streamers, and a three course dinner.”
La Poblanita Mexican Café
Heady, dark and densely rich molé is mysteriously the most complex, multi-dimensional, intensive labor of love ever ladled up as an accompaniment. La Poblanita’s guarded recipe is a science unto itself. The molé never stands alone. It is the first grace of La Poblanita. The second grace is light airy chips with fresh, sharp salsa that taste of equatorial sunshine. Third are the handmade tamales wrapped in a corn husk longing to be undressed and blanketed in velvety molé, and the fourth grace is an in-house, icy, lime-tart margarita that cools the heat and brightens the outlook. Who needs a date―grab a friend or go alone, all the love you need is gracing the plate.
195 is crisp, clean and modern with no pretense. It is the perfect balance of sugar and spice for the discerning Valentine, whether it be dinner or cocktails. 195 embodies New American cuisine, fusing the warmth of Indian spices with mindfully sourced ingredients. Owner Milton Pilson utilizes local farmers and food artisans as much as possible. Chef Prem Nath, originally from New Delhi, India, worked with celebrity Chef Bobby Flay in New York City. Nath has recently expanded the menu to include a wider offering of authentic Indian entrees and is also the secret behind the refreshing cocktail menu. Anna Pilson, Restaurant Manager, credits Nath for creating the flavorful reductions, syrups, and bright garnishes that enhance the experience. “We have couples that come in to just enjoy drinks and conversation at the bar.”
Sweets for the sweet, caramel beignets dredged in cinnamon sugar. What’s not to love? Scott’s Table is a sweet spot with plenty to savor. Chef Scott and Karen Margolis have nurtured a natural, reciprocal relationship with North Carolina farmers and ranchers. Scott has a gift for transforming regional sun-ripened produce and proteins into culinary poetry, from his juicy rise and shine burger to vegetarian roasted carrot polenta with wild mushroom ragout. “We are a restaurant with heart,” Karen laughs. “We put our romance aside for Valentine’s Day. Instead we get to watch people make memories for themselves and be a part of that.”
Give your Valentine the warm shoulder sitting side by side at Ten Ya’s immaculate sushi bar. Ten Ya Japanese Cuisine and Sushi Bar is the veritable, two is company setting for sharing quiet conversation and delectable multi-textured bites of sushi. There are few secrets in a small town but Ten Ya’s larb salad might be one of the most addicting. Larb is light, refreshing, and packs surprising heat. The minced chicken salad is tossed with in-house ground roasted rice and splashed with a zingy chili lime dressing. Eating healthy is sweetly rewarded with a decadent, tempura fried ice-cream drizzled with chocolate sauce. It’s not unheard of to by a container of macerated berries for a do-it-yourself deluxe sundae. After dinner take a stroll through the beautiful historic streets of Pinehurst.
The House of Fish
The House of Fish owner and Chef Danny Hayes is passionate about seafood. In another life he worked as an accountant for Caroline Kennedy. Today he is a self-taught chef inspecting a pair of fresh, bright-eyed red snappers. He has big plans. The snappers are to be cleaned, scored, grilled with lemon and served over a bed of saffron-infused seafood rice with a side of mango salsa. A third grilled snapper will be glazed in a Dr. Pepper Thai chili reduction. Like many of the other area chefs he has befriended a farmer―John Frye of Mac’s Family Farm. “John delivers quality fresh vegetables year-round; edible flowers, broccolini, collard greens and okra― the list goes on and on,” said Hayes. The only thing you and your sweetheart need agree on is your desire to eat seafood, as little else is served. Unless you both wish to share a big, heaping basket of crisp, airy peppered sizzling pork rinds. Then kismet it is.
Rich and decadent with light, crisp delightful notes, The Tavern is the master of sating cravings. At a loss for conversation, the menu reads like a culinary geographical rollercoaster, where Hot Mess, Falafel, and Down South Burgers share space with Peruvian Chicken Tacos, Spring Greens and Hot Honey Flat Bread. Try the Crab Cakes served Southern style in a sweet corn skillet with asparagus, white cheddar, caramelized onion hushpuppies, Old Bay aioli and grilled lemon. The rich, dark wood with an authentic antique bar (hailing from Scotland) epitomizes the early days of Pinehurst. The dimly lit, intimate dining room of The Tavern is nestled in The Holly Inn, so a romantic night is only a reservation away.
Wolcott’s takes pride in getting fresh. It’s not you, it’s obviously him. Owner, chef, and Maine native Scott Wolcott holds a dear place in his heart for seafood. The catch of the day is globetrotted from around the world―Hawaii, Scotland, New Zealand, South America. Executive Chef Alex Turner prepares features daily with an emphasis on New England fine dining with French influences. General Manager Travis King promises a special menu for Valentine’s’ Day. Regardless of the entrée, the decadent chocolate pot de crème is a lovely ending after a romantic meal.