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Valentine’s Day–bashing is as popular as the holiday itself. Both the single and the attached seem to despise it with equal vehemence. And yet we all seem to be pressed into its service every year. This fact has been a windfall for restaurants everywhere, since they know their customers are powerless to stay home. But they should stay home! And here are five reasons.
1. Valentine’s Day Dining is a Huge Rip-Off. My defining Valentine’s Day experience came a few years ago when one of my favorite chefs in the world made lasagna—regular lasagna, no truffles or other frills—and charged us $115 for it. I am still reeling from it. He was only trying to get the most out of a rare windfall. There are few restaurants indeed that make much in the way of profit when all is said and done. In the same way that you have to have a big Saturday night to make up for a slow Tuesday, Valentine’s Day covers a multitude of sins. Except the sin of greed.
2. Valentine’s Day Makes You Feel Bad. I’m not just speaking of lonely guys and spinsters. Even couples in perfect harmony often find the holiday depressing. Romance on demand is about as sexy as a visit to the burn unit; it brings out all the shortcomings and frustrations that established couples invariably feel. The first Valentine’s Day is a dream, or close enough to make you not hate it, but in year two or three? And, of course, for anyone unattached, the occasion is an open invitation to end your own life. That goes without saying.
3. Valentine’s Day is Lame. I realize that this is somewhat subjective, but really, it’s not. From the time in elementary school when you are forced to give Valentine’s Day cards to random classmates, the holiday is by definition stiff, forced, conventional and conformist. Do you really need a thawed lobster and a food service filet to mark your most personal feelings? Because, make no mistake, that’s what you’re going to get. A restaurant service that everyone is artificially impelled to attend isn’t going to go out of its way to give you the best stuff. Why should they? Half the customers come only twice a year anyway.
4. Valentine’s Day Dinners Murder Sex. Let’s not spend too much time on this one. Surely we’ve all experienced the bitter irony of a romantic dinner that stuffs you so full of food that you are little more than a passive bag of offal afterward. Again, as romantic as the burn unit. Let’s move on.
5. Valentine’s Day Makes Food Irrelevant. Here’s another bitter irony of Valentine’s Day dining: The better the restaurant you go to, the less you enjoy it. The melancholy echoes of better times and youthful credit ratings are bad enough; but the looming presence of a big bill, and the need to converse instead of concentrating raptly on your food absolutely murder a meal. Who remembers Valentine’s Day meals, except as occasions of frustration and disappointment, as with my $100-plus lasagna? Nobody I know. Of course, I don’t know anybody happy.
Exception: Omakase. The one happy Valentine’s Day meal I can remember—and it was very happy—was the time my wife and I went to a superb Japanese restaurant called Sushi Zen, one of the best places in New York. We sat side by side at the counter and were handed one small and delicious thing after another. We interacted with somebody besides each other; the omakase cost was fixed and so provided no surprise, and best of all, the light but superb feeding left us both with the vigor to consummate the evening. (Even if we had to order hamburgers delivered later that night.) If you have to go out—and you do—it’s omakase all the way.