Tables for Two

As Valentine's Day approaches, thoughts turn to romantic dinners

Many elements factor in when choosing the ideal restaurant to share a romantic dinner--the setting, the lighting, beautiful views, a decent wine list, a certain table, great service and of course, the food. Price, too, comes into consideration.

Below are some of the city's finest romantic spots. Some are the traditional favorites; others are a little more off beat. All promise a romantic time.

You'll fall in love all over again at The Gold Room in the Westward Look Resort. The multiple-award-winning Gold Room has been around for quite some time and has always proven to be romantic. If you can snag one of the large banquettes, you'll get a great view of city lights and the feeling that you are the only two people in the place. The menu offers both the familiar (filet mignon) and the unique (loin of buffalo), with service that is practically perfect in every way. Prices are high-end, of course, but totally worth it. Quite a few champagne choices are available, as are other wines and well-built martinis. There's also a beautiful Sunday brunch. Who says you can't be romantic in the middle of the day?

If old-world romance is what you're looking for, Anthony's in the Catalinas is an obvious choice. Anthony's has every detail you'll need: a continental menu (chateaubriand, for example), a wine list that has won kudos from numerous in-the-know groups, a fire place, live music, tuxedoed team service and views that are to die for. For a special treat, have bananas Foster, cherries jubilee or crepes Suzette prepared tableside by the highly trained staff.

NoRTH is romantic in that sexy, noisy, modern-eatery sort of way. Despite the size of the room and busy-ness of the open kitchen, a table at the large windowed walls can be quite intimate. Lights from both inside and out are reflected again and again, adding sparkle to that special dinner. (The place has won high praise since it opened its doors a little more than a year ago.) Start the meal with antipasti or split a house pizza; entrées include everything from pasta to an outstanding veal chop. You'll find the service friendly and most helpful. The wine list is reasonably priced and heavy on the Italians (this is, after all, a "modern Italian" restaurant); almost all are available by the glass, the terzo (about a glass and a half) and the bottle.

Another sexy, modern spot is J Bar. The deep colors of the room, the buzz of the crowd and the jazzy ambiance add up to a unique romantic experience. Owner and Chef Janos Wilder is known for innovation and a deep passion for his craft, and that is reflected everywhere and in everything--from the ingredients he starts with (most come from one-of-a-kind sources) to the wine menu, which features wines from smaller producers who share the Janos sensibility.

Janos, J Bar's companion restaurant, offers a more subdued and sophisticated romantic experience, but the philosophy is still the same. Here, you'll find lovely views, hushed tones and a menu that is both French and Southwest in spirit. Since the restaurants share the same award-winning wine program--with more than 20 wines available by the glass--you can find just about anything you want at just about any price.

The cocktail menu will tempt you with an assortment of flavored martinis and other Latin-influenced potables. As at its sister restaurant, the Janos staff takes great pride in what they have to offer and do whatever it takes to ensure diners enjoy their time there. Whichever you choose, a night a Janos or J Bar will certainly be truly romantic (both are serving a special prix fixe Valentine's Day dinner). Both restaurants are on the grounds of Westin La Paloma. (Other uptown spots to consider are the Flying V Bar and Grill at Ventana Canyon, the historic Arizona Inn and the newly opened Acacia at St. Philip's.)

Patios are truly romantic spots, and with our great weather, we can enjoy a romantic dinner al fresco practically year-round. Two patio spots to consider--both found in Barrio Viejo--are the Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant and El Minuto Café.

While Mexican food isn't the first thing that comes to mind when thinking romantic, dining on the small patio at El Minuto can be very romantic. Colored lights add a special glow, and the bougainvillea that laces around the iron work shelters you from the street traffic. There aren't more than 10 tile-topped tables on the cozy patio, and the service is down home. The wine list is very limited, but the beer is cold, so if you're on a budget and want to get close to someone, try this old favorite.

History is the draw at Cushing Street. Inside you'll find art deco antiques and reminders of Tucson's past. On the patio, you'll find high adobe walls, old growth and new, and the feeling that you are far away from your everyday world. The menu is small, and the fare can be described as uptown comfort food. Try sharing the fruit plate with cheese and some crusty French bread. The wine list has enough whites and reds to keep you happy, but there's a full bar if you want a cocktail or two. Both restaurants are open a little bit later on weekends. (Other patio hot spots are Vivace, the Grill at Hacienda del Sol, Miguel's and Caruso's. )

At first glance, El Corral may not seem like a romantic place; most evenings, you'll find the place-- known for its prime rib and other juicy red meats--packed to the rafters with tourists and families. But a table by the window in the either the original dining room or the room in the back of the restaurant can prove to be a nice place for a romantic meal. There's a tiny cactus garden just outside the windows, and after the sun goes down, the romantically lit miniature desert takes on a special feeling. The rustic ranch house adds a nice touch as well. While the wine list is limited, the bar service turns out good mixed drinks. And for a special touch (if you both order the same dressing on your salads), the server mixes your green tableside.

Another place to make sure you get a window seat is FioRito's. There's always a flickering candle; the blur of streets lights is softened by a gauzy curtain, and the wine list has an Italian slant. FioRito's is a lot like something you'd find in the North End in Boston or an Italian neighborhood in Chicago, especially in décor and service (you are always treated like one of the family). The menu features everything from lamb shanks to spaghetti and meatballs, and the pizza is great and reasonably priced, if you go the traditional way. Add a couple glasses of chianti, and you've got a romantic meal that fits a limited budget. (Another cool spot for a window seat is the Lighthouse II.)

Eating in or at the bar can be not just romantic, but terribly chic as well! Kingfisher has one of the best bar eats in town; think Nick and Nora Charles in the 21st century. The tables in the bar are intimate--a great place to snuggle with your honey. Kingfisher boasts great oyster choices (always a prelude to romance) and a user-friendly wine list. The servers have wine smarts and are most helpful in that regard. This is also a great spot for a late-night romantic rendezvous with a special menu served until midnight.

Another cool bar dining spot can be found at The Dish. Almost hidden behind Rumrunner, The Dish has an outstanding, yet reasonably priced wine list. Entrées are unique and tempting (the Dish Duet is sea bass is served with forbidden rice; forbidden is always sexy)--try the house's famous steamed mussels, the fancy salad, a bottle of wine recommended by the friendly staff, and a scrumptious dessert and you'll have a heavenly time.

And because no romantic roundup would be complete without a French restaurant, there is Le Rendez-Vous--doesn't the name say it all? The food is prepared in that special way the French do it (oh, those escargot!), with great sauces, pretty vegetables, cooked-to-perfection pommes frites and a wine list that will teach you not just about wine, but also French geography.

Ultimately, what makes a romantic dinner romantic is the company you keep--that certain someone who makes your heart flutter and starts your libido racing. But dining at any one of the aforementioned restaurants can help create a special evening whether you're with a date you want to impress or the love of your life. Valentine's Day is coming up--an ideal time to try a little romance.

Reservations are recommended for most of these restaurants:

  • The Gold Room, The Westward Look Resort, 245 E. Ina Road, 297-1151
  • Anthony's in the Catalinas, 6440 N. Campbell Ave., 299-1771
  • NoRTH, 2995 E. Skyline Drive, 299-1600
  • J Bar/Janos, Westin La Paloma, 3770 E. Sunrise Drive, 615-6100
  • Flying V Bar and Grill, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, 7000 N. Resort Drive, 299-2020
  • The Arizona Inn, 2200 E. Elm St., 325-1541
  • Acacia at St. Philip's, 4340 N. Campbell Ave., 232-0101
  • El Minuto Café, 354 S. Main Ave., 882-4145
  • Cushing Street Bar and Restaurant, 198 W. Cushing St., 622-7984
  • Vivace, 4310 N. Campbell Ave., 795-7221
  • The Grill at Hacienda del Sol, 5601 N. Hacienda del Sol Road, 529-3500
  • Miguel's, La Posada Lodge 5900 N. Oracle Road, 887-3777
  • Caruso's, 434 N. Fourth Ave., 624-5765
  • El Corral, 2201 E. River Road, 299-6092
  • FioRito's, 2702 E. Grant Road, 325-6913
  • The Lighthouse II, 3073 N. Campbell Ave., 881-8881
  • Kingfisher Bar and Grill, 2564 E. Grant Road, 323-7739
  • The Dish, 3200 E. Speedway Blvd., 326-1714
  • Le Rendez-Vous, 3844 E. Fort Lowell Road, 323-7373

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