Port City Flavor: Valentine’s Day ventures

Port City Flavor: Valentine’s Day ventures
Bistro Sancerre has a wine cellar, fireplace and fine art gallery featuring romantic paintings and sculptures. (Photo/Troy Thorpe)

By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

Alexandria is known for a lot of things, one of them being the charming, swoon-worthy atmosphere it exudes. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, residents and tourists have many options when it comes to where in the city to spend the much-anticipated night. Some might consider the Hallmark holiday commercialized and overhyped, but it also presents an opportunity to spend time with loved ones and try new dishes. From oyster bars to bistros with fine art galleries, we’ve put together a list of places that are sure to make for the perfect romantic evening.

Bistro Sancerre

One option for couples seeking a cozy evening is Bistro Sancerre, located at 1725 Duke St. Sancerre is a French American bistro steakhouse with two levels; the upper level is reserved for private dining and the lower level serves as the main dining area, complete with a wine cellar surrounding the dining tables.

If patrons are looking for a bottle of wine, they can simply browse the cellar, pick the perfect bottle and bring it to the table for a server to open. For those who prefer something cold, Sancerre also has a rapid chiller to quickly cool white wine in a matter of minutes.

For those seeking a warm atmosphere and upscale appeal on Valentine’s Day, Sancerre has a fireplace and fine art gallery featuring romantic artwork. From sculptures to paintings, the gallery revolves around the theme of couples walking and talking together, Troy Thorpe, Sancerre owner, said.

“[They might be] walking down an alleyway in Paris or sitting at the bar with a glass of wine. … That’s the subject matter of the work that’s in there,” Thorpe said.

Starting Friday and running through Valentine’s Day on Monday, Sancerre will offer a prix fixe menu of three courses that patrons can choose from. The first course includes appetizer choices between mussels, faux gras, crab cakes, French onion soup and potato gnocchi. The main course options are potato-crusted rockfish, venison, rack of lamb, ragu or Teres Major steak. Finally, for dessert patrons can choose between a chocolate fondue for two, chilled lemon souffle or a dessert sampler filled with bread pudding, chocolate mousse and apple financier panna cotta.

“We’re one of the few restaurants that has the fireplace and the artwork, and all that kind of stuff. We have two bars, and on Thursdays we have live music. It’s fun,” Thorpe said.

Le Refuge

Originally opened in 1983 by a couple from the Loire Valley in France, Le Refuge is a Country French restaurant located in the heart of Old Town at 127 N. Washington St. The original owners’ daughter, Anne-Claire Fregnan, has taken over the restaurant, which she said is most known for its French onion soup, bouillabaisse and rack of lamb.

For Valentine’s Day, Le Refuge will offer a prix fixe menu that includes a four-course meal and glass of champagne. The appetizer round includes a selection of smoked salmon with toast and garniture; warm mushroom caps stuffed with crabmeat and a mushroom cream sauce; crayfish tails in a pastry shell with lobster sauce; a pate duo of duck liver mousse and counte pate and, of course, shrimp cocktails.

Inspired by founder Jean Francois Chaufour’s Loire Valley roots, French restaurant Le Refuge has been open since 1983. (Photo/Anne-Claire Fregnan)

Next comes a “palate cleanser” of raspberry sorbet with vodka and fresh mint, followed by the entree course. This round includes three beef medallions with pepper, bearnaise and bordelaise sauces; lamb filets with garlic thyme sauce; fresh salmon oscar with asparagus, crabmeat and bearnaise and fresh rockfish with salmon caviar, champagne sauce and fresh basil.

Finally, dessert includes chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries and pirouette, complemented with a glass of champagne.

“It’s so quaint and it just feels like you’re traveling to Paris without having to pay for the airplane ticket. It feels like you’re warped into this French bistro on a freezing night and it’s just food that warms your soul,” Fregnan said.

Whiskey & Oyster

Seafood-loving couples don’t have to look any further than Whiskey & Oyster, located at 301 John Carlyle St., to set the scene for a picture-perfect Valentine’s Day. The upscale spot is known for its accessible yet fine-dining experience, partially shucked oysters and rotating whiskey conveyor belt.

General Manager and Executive Chef Mason Fillmore will offer a three-course meal for two for Valentine’s Day. The holiday menu includes three options for the first course: a salad of mixed greens, sliced pears, candied pecans and feta cheese topped with balsamic vinaigrette; tuna tartar with sesame ginger marinade, avocado and crispy wonton; and she-crab soup made with smooth crab bisque, aged sherry and Chesapeake crab.

Whiskey and Oyster is recognized for its nautical theme, accessible yet upscale dining experience and whiskey conveyor belt. (Photo/Whiskey & Oyster)

The second course includes options like whole Maine steamed lobster with a baked russet potato and roasted Brussel sprouts; crispy pork belly with asparagus and corn succotash doused in a honey garlic sauce; and seafood fra diavolo with spaghetti nero, spicy red sauce, scallops, shrimp, mussels, littleneck clams and topped with fresh basil. And for dessert, each person may choose between red velvet cake and salted caramel beignets.

Megan Arthur, marketing manager for HomeGrown Restaurant Group, which includes Whiskey & Oyster, said the menu is “elaborate.”

“The chef here comes up with just very intricate dishes that are out of this world insane,” Arthur said.

Sweet Fire Donna’s

Sweet Fire Donna’s is just the spot for couples looking to go out but still hoping to keep it casual. Also part of HomeGrown Restaurant Group, Sweet Fire Donna’s sports what Arthur called a “barbecue and hops” style that is relaxed and inviting.

“It’s like the Cheers bar of the Carlyle, Old Town neighborhood – a bunch of regulars and they come in every day. It’s a super cool spot,” Arthur said.

This smoked crab soup, made with a creamy rich base and soaked in cajun spices, is available at Sweet Fire Donna’s. (Photo/Megan Arthur)

Located at 510 John Carlyle St., the restaurant is small and cozy with 48 seats. Popular menu items include pulled pork and BBQ chicken, but the restaurant also includes a full bar, several pasta dishes – one of which is vegetarian – and special packages for large events.

Patrons who stop by on Valentine’s Day will enjoy a three-course meal for two. The appetizer round consists of a goat cheese and cranberry salad, with candied walnuts, dried goat cheese crumbles and balsamic vinaigrette.

The entree is a smoked shrimp scampi in a lemon and garlic sauce and tossed in linguine, and dessert is a chocolate bomb cake filled with layers chocolate ganache, mousse and frosting, all drizzled in a raspberry glaze.

Union Street Public House 

Union Street Public House has resided at its 121 S. Union St. location since 1986. The renovated warehouse where it is located dates back to the 1700s and has hosted the likes of George Washington and John Carlyle. Beyond its colorful history, Union Street is also recognized among community members as the venue for some of the “most romantic” proposals over the last 35 years, according to General Manager Al Chadsey.

One booth in particular, unobtrusively tucked away in the corner, seems to have an air of enchantment surrounding it.

“It seems that everybody that comes in here and says, ‘My husband proposed to me’ or ‘our first date’ or whatever, I’ll say, ‘Let me guess, you were sitting right over there’ and they say, ‘Yeah, how’d you know?’” Chadsey said. “It’s an odd coincidence of the booth; it’s the most popular booth in here for proposals.”

Union Street Public House is a known proposal and first date spot, possibly because of its mega-popular oyster selection. (Photo/Union Street Public House)

Although Chadsey said he’s unsure what exactly makes this specific booth so special, he did say that the overall atmosphere and food selection at the restaurant might influence the possibility for romance.

“My guess is that our oysters are the ultimate aphrodisiac and anything in our chocolate department will set the stage for the beginning of a romantic interlude,” Chadsey said.

As one might expect, Union Street plans to go all out for Valentine’s Day. The restaurant will host a “Galentine’s Day” event on Sunday, the day before Valentine’s Day, which will give the all-female attendees the whiskey bar all to themselves and feature a special selection of drinks.

While Union Street is still solidifying its Valentine’s Day menu, it is famed for its oysters with horseradish cocktail sauce, seasonal fried oysters with Old Bay aioli and New York strip steak with smashed potatoes, leeks and charred green beans.

In addition to samplings from the above items, Chadsey said it is guaranteed the holiday menu “starts with champagne and ends with chocolate, and has everything in between.”