"If you force it, it ain’t worth it.”
Stores are already flooded with heart-shaped chocolate boxes, life-size teddy bears, overpriced red roses and greeting cards in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. Restaurants dabble in the profitable, consumer-friendly holiday, too, by offering prix-fixe menus, forcing diners to commit to dinners that will run upwards of a few hundred dollars per couple (before wine pairings are even added into the equation). Many chefs feel that these one-day-only tasting menus aren’t the best representations of their talent in the kitchen.
While we’re not suggesting you avoid every prix fixe menu on the planet, as there are certainly noteworthy ones, there’s something to be said about a restaurant standing by its regular menu. After all, a night centered around love should include your favorite meal, don’t you think?
Here, we tapped a few chefs to tell us why they don't do Valentine’s Day prix fixe menus—and why they would advise against them.
Chef Cheetie Kumar, Garland: They're forced.
“On any given night, the room is filled with couples that are in various stages of love or un-love. The expectations are high, not just on February 14. I always want a meal at Garland to be memorable, to make this ‘our place’ for our guests—but the whole thing of Valentine’s Day seems to push me in the corner of clichés, wrought with imported roses and tacky heart-shaped candy. I know love is more complex than that or at least it should be—stoked with shared bites that inspire memories or future plans together. So, the prix fixe turn and burn thing is, of course, what the expectation is. But I’m more in love with coming up with specials for couples or friends to share—or for those who aren’t in love at the moment to come out and realize, it’s okay to be right where you are. Everyone knows, 'If you force it, it ain’t worth it.'"
“I stopped serving Valentine’s Day tasting menus at my restaurants a few years ago when I realized that the guests who were coming in didn’t necessarily want them. Guests who come in on a special occasion want their favorite dishes and do not want to be limited by a smaller menu. I also think that if you’re not a tasting menu restaurant, you shouldn’t become one for the night—it’s not a true representation of the cuisine. On Valentine’s Day people want to take their loved ones out for a great meal, but don’t want to spend an arm and a leg—serving our regular menu allows them to have more control over their meals.”
Chef Michael Psilakis, MP Taverna: They're limiting.
“It was my practice for years to offer both a special prix fixe and our à la carte menu on Valentine’s Day. But after a while we noticed across all three MP Taverna locations that more people would order from our regular menu and less and less would step outside the box and participate in the prix fixe. It became abundantly clear that our diners come to us for a convivial Mediterranean experience, and that means ordering a bunch of meze, some salads, a grilled fish or steak and digging in family style."
“Unlike many restaurants, we offer Henrietta’s Table’s normal à la carte menu for holidays and special occasions, as well as during restaurant week. We prefer to offer a true representation of our restaurant on special occasions when we’re more likely to see new diners. We’ve found that familiar faces appreciate the consistency Henrietta’s Table, and a prix fixe menu just isn’t the same for new diners, especially when they’re expecting the true farm-to-table experience that Henrietta’s is known for.”
Executive Chef Aaron Deal, The River and Rail: They're too expensive.
“I feel that offering our regular menu showcases how valuable our food, wine and service is, without the need for an extraordinary price or luxury list of ingredients. I want those guests to be excited to come back next week, not just next year!”
“A pre-fixe menu can sometimes be an imposition on the guest, limiting one highly-priced option that doesn’t always equate in value. We’re not interested in maximizing profit on a busy night at the cost of our guests’ experience, we prefer to offer couples the option to scale their dinners based on budget and likings, so they feel comfortable. We’d rather provide a dining experience that is approachable and inspires couples to return because that’s who we are year-round. Instead, we offer creative beverage specials like themed Valentine’s Day cocktails and wine flights that reflect the natural progression of romance, and specialty dishes like a cacao-infused tagliatelle pasta with lobster, langoustine tails and salt spring mussels (with option to add in fresh black truffles) to jazz up the night.”
“We generally default to the idea that our guests like to dine with us for what we do well, and we shouldn’t be something other than that for one night. Not to mention it can be awkward enough for some folks on a Valentine’s date. Being stuck with some item you don’t like and then you come across as picky or difficult would be the worst!”
Chef Moosah Reaume, Commons Club: They're not necessary.
“Commons Club is sexy enough as is. We want guests to enjoy the full experience of everything of everything we have to offer - so we aren't offering a prix-fixe menu because we want to give everyone a Commons Club experience they will remember without being limited.”
Chef Robert Gaffney, Bagby Beer: They're fussy.
"Prix fixe meals can be really fun and special. We’ve certainly hosted some that were excellent, with unique beverage pairings, but they’re not for everybody. For us, we’ve found some success in breaking the mold of some of these traditional holiday expectations by doing things differently. People have felt more inclusive and more at ease when the dining experience is high in thoughtfulness and quality, but low on the perceived fussiness (and inflated prices) that can come with a prix fixe meal on a day like Valentine’s.”