Although love doesn't live by the calendar, February 14 is an ideal, albeit expected, day to indulge your sentimental side. With emotions and expectations running high, however, it's easy to mistake elaborate for impressive. As a result, affection tends to express itself in one of two forms: an extravagant menu at a restaurant or a labor-intensive multicourse meal at home. Both of these routine romantic scenarios have their own rewards, but they tend to lose a little of their allure when neighboring diners, looming waitstaff, or a towering stack of dirty pots compete for your attention.
An option that's all too often overlooked is a quietly elegant meal, one that comes together with ease on a weeknight yet sacrifices nothing in appeal. This menu accomplishes all that, even offering you a choice of entrees to tailor to your tastes (make one now; set the other recipe aside for next year). This approach is guaranteed to leave you time to linger over the meal -- and in a relaxed enough mood to enjoy it.
After you serve the first course, take a brief break to tend to the entree and the side dish.
A Day Before
Wash frisee and refrigerate. Toast walnuts and hazelnuts, and store separately at room temperature. Make semifreddo and freeze. If making beef, thaw pastry.
30 Minutes Before
Make salad dressing. If making beef, bake pastry, sear and roast meat, and prepare and measure ingredients for sauce. Let meat rest during the first course.
Just Before First
Whisk dressing, and toss with salad ingredients. Toast baguette and broil cheese. Pour wine.
Immediately After First Course
Cook haricots verts, and tie into bundles if desired. If making beef, saute mushrooms, and make sauce. Assemble tarts. If making fish, saute sole, and make sauce.
Just Before Dessert
Sprinkle toasted hazelnuts on semifreddo.
What to Pour
This elegant menu offers the perfect occasion to show off the subtle artistry of great French wine.
If Serving Either Entree
A lively Champagne can see you through both menus, from salad to semifreddo. Recommended: Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier, nonvintage ($53).
If Serving Fish
The mellow flavors of a white Burgundy (Chardonnay) blend beautifully with a fillet of sole. Recommended: Corton-Charlemagne 2002 by Joseph Drouhin ($102) or a half-bottle of Chassagne Montrachet 2002 by Louis Latour ($20).
If Serving Beef
A hearty Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon), with its softened tannins and touch of black currant, is the perfect foil for these rich tarts. The recipe calls for white wine, so consider pouring white Burgundy or Champagne with the salad and red Bordeaux with the entree. Recommended: Leoville Barton's 1998 ($65) or Chateau Brown Lamartine Bordeaux Superieur 2002 ($18).