Valentine Dining

Just when you thought the holiday season had released you from its clutches, Valentine's Day comes steaming down the track.

In wintry climes, Valentine's Day offers a bit of respite from the winter doldrums, but here where passions are free to flare all year long, your best bet is to make your Valentine's reservations early.

Although Tucson has many fine venues to celebrate your love, here is the short list of some of the best bets in town. Regardless of where you dine, remember to suck the toes of your Valentine.

3048 E. Broadway

Elle consistently offers a great deal with Date Night. Just in time for Valentine's Day, Elle will be offering a three-course prixe fixe menu that includes a bottle of wine. The menu will include shrimp and roasted fennel bisque, mixed greens with pear and blue cheese, herb dressing, or classic Caesar salad with anchovies. Entrees include a choice of vegetable lasagna with ratatouille, shiitake and portabello mushrooms sauced with a spicy red pepper sauce, or grilled breast of duck with truffled mashed potatoes, caramelized onion sauce, or sea bass wrapped in puff pastry served with crab thyme butter sauce. Dessert brings a choice of devil's food cake or tiramisu with amaretto and Laura Chenel's fromage blanc. For just $75 a couple, this is a serious bang for your buck.

3025 N. Campbell

Should your date require a more flamboyant twist, Pastiche is offering a special menu in addition to its regular eclectic fare. All items are available as half portions (perfect for sharing) as well as a lollypop veal chop, lobster tails, and fresh fish specials. Not to be missed are their aphrodisiacal made-to-order paellas, an intimate steamy bowl for two. Lorraine, the decadently sweet pastry chef, will prepare a special rich and creamy white chocolate raspberry cheesecake for dessert. Probably one of the best kept secrets in town is Pastiche's late-night bar menu. In a town that rolls up the red carpet at about 9:30, it can be a moment of revelation to find yourself and your squeeze supping on a mushroom souffle, ginger crab cakes, or grilled salmon at the witching hour. Better still, all appetizers are offered at half price. Perfect for that late night rendezvous, Pastiche provides lovers of all sorts with plenty of romantic options.

6958 E. Tanque Verde Road

Should your lascivious love require some extra-special devotion, you can always dine by candlelight with Fuego's Lover's Menu. Hopefully passions will ignite with Fuego's dramatic offerings of traditional favorites: rack of lamb, lobster tail, ostrich, gourmet topless oysters, prickly pear pork tenderloin, or "Fuego Red" filet Mignon. Don't miss the "Be My Valentine Dinner Show" on Sunday, February 17, with Paul Elia's Sinatra style & Joe Bourne's Lou Rawls charm. The early show begins at 6 p.m. and the late show begins at 8:30 p.m.

3770 E. Sunrise

If a more formal culinary affair is in order, you'll be rewarded by making a reservation at Janos. One's love never dwindles at the table of this inspired chef, and the special menu planned for this Valentine's evening will be one to remember. Start with fresh oyster on the half shell with caviar butter and Crispy Lemon, linger over seared ahi with seaweed salad and shiitake mushrooms. Poached Maine lobster with carrot nage and braised fennel, smoked ham hocks and potato galette should keep you swooning right through roast squab with lentil flan, game sauce and summer berries in the winter. By the time you've reached the roast rack of Colorado lamb served with fingerling potatoes and pomegranate there should be open weeping at the table if not spontaneous recitations of pure poetry. End the evening with chocolate Peanut Butter Torte with Banana Sorbet. Each course may be paired with carefully selected wines. Prices start at $75 per person without wine, $110 per person with.

For a more relaxed yet bright and festive menu, J-Bar -- the bar at Janos -- will serve its family-style menu. Should your Valentine's configuration include a family member, or perhaps more than one couple, J-Bar's lively menu will be sure to spice things up. Begin with the bocaditos, shrimp, scallop and calamari ceviche shooters, papousa of pork carnitas with chile slaw and lemon crema, as well as plantain and chicken chalupas. Move on to graze with an antojitos platter offering shrimp tamale with salsa fresca, mango, avocado, and grilled pineapple salad, or grilled sardines with mint recado and tomatillo salsa. With so many possible flavors, you'll want to pace yourself for the platillos. The offerings are enticing: spicy chicken with guava BBQ sauce and chorizo black beans, piloncillo -rubbed pork loin with mole rojo, chiptole molasses boniato and apricot chutney, or blue corn crusted salmon with red chili butter and green rice. You might choose to take several Valentines so you can mix and match and taste them all. Dessert, tres leches cake with ancho ripple ice cream and almondrado sauce, should add just the right sweet note to your evening.

4122 E. Speedway

Finally, you might have some serious wooing to do, and leaving the house might not be in order, although a languorous romantic dinner for two would put just the right touch on your evening. Fear not. Chef Doug Levy will have a romantic menu for two ready to go. You can order the meal hot or cold (with heating instructions) or should desire overcome you, it can be eaten on the spot. Baby mixed green lettuces with balsamic vinaigrette and truffled toasts, a sea scallop bundle with roasted red pepper pistachio-Rieseling butter, or smoked salmon and chevre napoleon provide a light opening course. There is an intermezzo; when was the last time you lovingingly spoon-fed your adored a lemon-campari sorbet? Or even used the word intermezzo for that matter? Impress and win the heart of your desire with butter poached lobster tail served over crepes with brie and champagne grapes, champagne sauce or seared beef tenderloin with cabernet-wild mushroom risotto. We don't even want to know what you'll be wearing as you work your way through the bittersweet chocolate- dipped strawberries or crème brulee tarts, but we bet it will be a night to remember. Unbelievably, all four courses can be had for just $30 per person and you'll get 10 percent off your wine or champagne when you order all four courses.

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