I go on a lot of dates. Sometimes, it's my lovely girlfriend or a close friend, and sometimes, it's a complete stranger. As part of my job for Nooga.com, Date Night Dining has taken me to every corner of the region.
My conclusion: Any place can be romantic and special as long as you're with someone you enjoy being around. There's no need to be outrageous or extravagant or to blow your budget on a fancy meal. Just enjoy it together—even if it's Chinese takeout or a basket of hot wings.
I thought it might be fun to offer you some alternative options for Valentine's Day dining with your significant other this week. Why? Because everybody will be dining at Alleia, St. John's Restaurant and the like. You don't have to fight lines or plan too much to have a great evening.
With that in mind, here are some of my favorite alternative ideas for a Valentine's date night. What are yours?
River Street Deli, 151 River St.
Did you know that River Street Deli offers occasional white tablecloth "fancy" dinners? Me, either. It wasn't until New Year's Eve that we discovered how amazing these one-off dinners can be. Reservations are extremely limited (they may be booked by the time of this article), but I highly recommend keeping an eye out on Facebook for announcements. Most of these dinners are about $60 per person, and you can bring your own wine. The menu for the Valentine's dinner includes smoked asparagus Boursin cheese soup, oysters Rockefeller, pomegranate sorbet, French rack of lamb with flan potatoes and a flourless chocolate cake with dipped strawberries. You'll never think of River Street Deli in the same way after one of these dinners.
Conga Latin Food, 26 E. Main St.
The new location of Conga Latin Food on the Southside offers a much more appropriate venue for a proper date night than the former location. I recently attended a catered after-hours birthday party at the new location and was reminded how delicious their menu of Central and South American cuisine happens to be. Here's how I would navigate: Start with a pitcher of sangria and an order of the fish ceviche (some of the best I've ever had). Follow that with a couple of bandejas of your choice to split with your significant other. End the meal by splitting an order of sweet guayaba and cheese empanadas or the churros con Nutella. Yes, THAT Nutella. Trust me, there is nothing sexier than Nutella.
Matilda Midnight, 120 E. 10th St.
My co-worker Chloé Morrison and I enjoyed a nonromantic happy hour at what was the new Dwell Hotel last August. I remember thinking, "This would be an awesome place for a romantic evening." The bar is associated with TerraMae, but the lounge is whimsical, weird and wonderful on its own. It's also hopelessly romantic with its Paris-in-the-1940s vibe. I like the idea of sharing food for Valentine's. Matilda Midnight allows you to do that, be it the pommes frites, spinach and goat cheese cigars, duck panini or the shrimp fried rice. And, of course, the cocktails are all expertly crafted and elegant. Two straws and a Tiki drink is an excellent way to consume alcohol on V-Day.
Hummingbird Pastaria, 720 Mississippi Ave. (Signal Mountain)
Valentine's Day proper is on a Tuesday night, but many will be celebrating the occasion on the weekend prior. Regardless, one of my favorite easy weeknight getaways is Hummingbird Pastaria on Signal Mountain. Offering "rustic Italian food, pizzas, pasta and paninis," Hummingbird is a great place to dine that doesn't have that middle-of-the-city feel. The food and service are impeccable, and the prices are modest considering the atmosphere. Check out their Facebook page for updates on seasonal menu items and more. You can dress up if you want to, but most people choose to observe a "mountain casual." Regardless, a memorable night at Hummingbird is something that might turn into a tradition. I highly recommended this place, and it's a shame that it's often overlooked by city folks. Click here to read about my Tavolata (family-style dining) experience at Hummingbird.
212 Market Restaurant, 212 Market St.
It simply doesn't get more Chattanooga than 212 Market Restaurant. The weekend ahead of Valentine's Day also happens to be the 25th anniversary for the restaurant, which remains one of the only pre-Tennessee Aquarium restaurants in downtown Chattanooga. It also holds the distinction of being a farm-to-table establishment and boasts one of the best wine menus in the city. If that isn't enough, 212 was also the first certified green restaurant in the state of Tennessee. The entire state. Check out the dinner menu and make your reservations now.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.