Port City Flavor: Dining with love

Port City Flavor: Dining with love
Del Ray Cafe is offering French desserts to pair with the Valentine's Day menu. (Photo/Del Ray Cafe)

By Brianne McConnell | bmcconnell895@gmail.com

With quaint neighborhoods, light-lined streets and small corner restaurant booths, the charm around Alexandria creates a natural setting for romance. Passion is often poured into many of the dishes that grace Alexandria’s tables year round, but this month, the idea of love has kitchens across the city heating up for Valentine’s Day.

Royal Nepal 

Royal Nepal, located at 3807 Mount Vernon Ave. in Del Ray, evokes warmth for diners with the many spices infused in the Nepalese dishes the restaurant has been serving to locals for the past seven years. 

Chef Subash Rai said the unique family recipes and traditional authentic experience will provide diners with a Valentine’s experience that includes a chance to heat up from the inside out. 

“We have yak chili that makes your body hot,” Rai said. 

The popular yak chili is made with crispy yak sliced meat, bell peppers, tomato, jalapenos and homemade chili. 

If chili isn’t top of mind for Valentine’s, there is a vast curry menu, including everything from boar, lamb or a vegetarian cauliflower option. The wild boar curry, made with warm spices, roasted mustard flakes, sage, onion and tomato gravy is one of the most popular dishes on the menu. 

Looking for something to share? The Nepalese style dumpling, Momocha, is served with roasted tomato sauce and is the perfect sharable dish with a date. 

While Royal Nepal isn’t offering a separate Valentine’s menu, Rai said a special house drink will be offered to anyone coming in to celebrate love. 

Michael’s on King 

If you’re looking for a traditional homemade Italian dish, then look no further than Michael’s on King, located at 703 King St., to set the mood for a romantic evening. 

“We are fine dining Italian food, so we are the poster child for Valentine’s Day spots,” Michael Strutton, owner and namesake of the restaurant, said. 

The restaurant, which has been in business for seven years, is known for elegant Italian dishes, including homemade pasta. A crowd favorite is the lasagna. 

To add even more richness to the pasta menu, this year for Valentine’s, Strutton said homemade lobster ravioli will be on the menu. 

“It’s the epitome of elegant pasta dish. It’s rich, not heavy, but filling and of course, fresh pasta is lighter than dry pasta,” Strutton said. 

If you’re looking to get out ahead of the crowds with that special someone in your life, Michael’s on King will also offer a beef fondue event on February 13. The “Fondue for Two” menu will include a pasta course with a white wine pairing, a beef fondue with filet mignon, a bottle of wine and assorted chocolates at the end. The prix fix menu is $260 a couple. 

“You get to keep your [fondue] pot, we bought sets and that is included in the cost,” Strutton said.

Del Ray Cafe 

If you want the feeling of staying home but still dining out, you can celebrate Valentine’s Day at the self-proclaimed “home away from home” restaurant at Del Ray Cafe. The restaurant, located at 205 E. Howell Ave., sits in a refurbished 1925 home with reclaimed wood floors and restored vintage lanterns. 

According to the owners, Laurent and Margaret Janowsky, the concept of the casual restaurant is the best fusion of French country cuisine using American products. 

The menu emphasizes natural and organic foods and the restaurant is peanut free to accommodate anyone with allergies. 

“My belief is when you go to a restaurant, that’s [when] you should try to eat things that you can’t buy or can’t do at home,” Laurent said. 

A special Valentine’s three-course menu is being offered at the neighborhood eatery, with many items related to love in each course, including oysters on the half shell, seared duck foie gras with cherries, a Maine lobster and several dessert offerings. Whether you’re dining out with friends or your loved one, the Valentine’s dessert menu has something for every sweet tooth including a classic creme brulee, beignets with Belgian chocolate, a grand marnier souffle and silky chocolate creams. 

“When I think about Valentine’s Day, the first thing I think about is chocolate and the second thing is souffles because 99% of restaurants don’t do them and we’ve been doing them for 40 some years,” Laurent said. 

Spice Kraft 

If you’re looking for a menu that offers plenty of options for folks with dietary restrictions, Spice Kraft, which sits at 2607 Mount Vernon Ave., is a great option for holiday celebrations. 

The boutique Indian bistro will transform its casual restaurant into a romantic dining experience for the midweek holiday. The restaurant is known for its slow braised lamb shank with spiced turmeric potato mash and also offers vegan and gluten-free options. 

On Valentine’s Day, diners can enjoy the regular menu or order off a specialized four-course menu with vegan and gluten-free items offered at each course. 

“We put together a menu based on romance using ingredients that evoke romance like cinnamon and vanilla,” Anthony Sankar, general manager and co-owner of Spice Kraft, said. 

The four course menu starts with a champagne toast and two appetizer options, including paneer pillow cigars or chettinadu crab cakes, both served with apple ginger chutney. There are five entree options, such as lobster and jumbo shrimp tikka masala, asparagus brussel sprout kootu or kashmiri paneer kofta, all served with an aromatic truffle naan and saffron-infused rice. 

Sankar said the planning for the menu begins well before the New Year, making sure to offer the same traditional flavor options to everyone.