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Loved by some, lamented by many and widely regarded as a “Hallmark holiday” for its commercialization, Valentine’s Day is fast approaching. Feb. 14 falls on a Saturday this year, creating the perfect opportunity to make the most of the day dedicated to celebrating love. Some ambitious admirers may wish to show their affection by rolling up their sleeves and cooking for their significant others. However, if saut�ing and souffl�ing aren’t your forte, a better option is to dine at one of Philadelphia’s romantic restaurants. Many eateries have pulled out all the stops, designing custom Valentine’s Day menus to dazzle your taste buds and hasten your heartbeat. If you’re still undecided about where to celebrate, here are a few places to keep in mind: Bistro St. Tropez is offering a three-course, $49-per-person “Menu des Amoureux” posted under “Events” on its Web site. It features, among other decadent choices, oysters — a fabled aphrodisiac — served with champagne, pistachio cardamom crusted pork and a Grand Marnier souffl�/chocolate cake combination dessert. 2400 Market St. 215-569-9269. www.bistrosttropez.com. Fork, a New American bistro run by restaurateur Stephen Starr, has also posted a special menu on its Web site. For $65 per person, guests will start with hamachi ceviche with truffled green mango relish and then choose from a multitude of first and second courses. For the sweet tooth tired of traditional Valentine’s Day chocolate, dessert choices include a passion fruit and blood orange tart and a three citrus cheesecake with lemon custard sauce. 306 Market St. 215-625-9425. www.forkrestaurant.com. La Boheme, a French-Mediterranean BYOB, has a similar three-course menu, from which guests can choose from five appetizers, five entrees and four desserts while enjoying a complimentary champagne toast — standard with many of the special Valentine’s menus mentioned here. If your reservations are for 5 or 6 p.m., the meal is $45 per person; if they’re later, it goes up to $55. Cash only. 246 S. 11th St. 215-351-9901. Valanni, which incorporates Mediterranean and Latin ingredients in its cuisine, allows patrons to make reservations at either 5:45, 7:45 or 8:45 p.m., though the price does not vary depending on when you choose to dine. The four-course menu, fixed at $65 per person, includes a tequila-lime skewered shrimp appetizer, a beet and blood orange salad, grilled grouper with lobster mash and a chocolate pecan tart. 1229 Spruce St. 215-790-9494. www.valanni.com. Novelty, a hot spot for Eclectic International cuisine, has another approach. A special $45, four-course Valentine’s Day menu is under development, but for $35, patrons can also enjoy their choice of any appetizer, entr�e and dessert on the existing menu. 15 S. 3rd St. 215-627-7885. www.noveltyrestaurant.com. Several other restaurants are also in the process of developing special menus for the occasion, including two eateries owned and operated by Audrey Claire Taichman. Audrey Claire, a Middle-Eastern-influenced BYOB, will have three courses for $45 per person. Cash Only. 276 S. 20th St. 215-731-1222. Twenty Manning, Taichman’s more upscale Asian-fusion bar and lounge, will serve up three courses for $50 per person. 261 S. 20th St. 215-731-0900. www.twentymanning.com. L2, a romantic eatery featuring New American cuisine, promises a soup and salad, an appetizer, an entr�e and a dessert, along with a complimentary rose for the ladies. The price has not been set. 2201 South St. 215-732-7878. If you need more ideas about finding open reservations on short notice, you might try the Open Table Web site, www.opentable.com. Customers simply mark off their preferred date and time and the number of people in their party, and a search engine scans dozens of participating Philadelphia restaurants to find those with open reservations. It also lists those places that are already booked, a list that will surely grow as Feb. 14 approaches. However, if you’re waiting until the last minute to find a place to dine, you might want to skip the Internet and pick up the phone. Web sites are hardly ever as up-to-date as the real thing. If you’re looking to make the romance last beyond dinner, you might consider a more extravagant, albeit pricier, alternative. Many Philadelphia-area hotels are offering special overnight packages for Valentine’s Day. For example, the Westin Philadelphia has a Heavenly Escape package that includes valet parking all weekend, complimentary champagne and chocolate-dipped strawberries, Sunday breakfast for two and a late 4 p.m. checkout time for $295 a night. The Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, Rittenhouse Hotel and the Four Seasons all have similar packages with varying price tags. If a hotel package sounds appealing but you’ve already made plans, consider a hotel gift certificate. Present it to your loved one on Feb. 14 as a promise of a future getaway, or buy one now and surprise him or her with an impromptu mini-vacation in the coming gray months. FLEXIBILITY IS KEY The nice part about Feb. 14 falling on a Saturday is that you can stretch the theme over the entire weekend. You can go out at any point over the weekend, allowing the holiday to encompass as much as, or as little of, your time as you’d like; the key is flexibility. If you find that the place you were eyeing for Saturday night is booked up, ask about a Friday night reservation. Or, spend the night of Feb. 14 at home, then go out for a leisurely Sunday brunch. Flexibility also applies when considering what time you would like to go out. Many of the restaurant staff interviewed for this article advised against getting stuck in a “dinner hour only” mindset when making reservations. Most of the city’s restaurants no longer have reservations for 7 or 8 p.m., but they do have openings for 5:30, 6 or 9 p.m. The earlier you go, the more likely you are to get a table. You can also try for around 9 p.m., though you could run into trouble if you go any later. If you go at 10 p.m., the wait staff will be tired, the kitchen will be about to close and your experience could suffer. Another alternative is to go out with another couple or a group. While Valentine’s Day dinner is traditionally a one-on-one shared experience with your significant other, your chances of getting a reservation at the restaurant of your choice go up considerably if you go as a group of four or more. Some of your friends may also be having trouble finding an open table for two, so you could end up helping each other. Keep in mind, you have the rest of the weekend to spend quality time with your loved one. Go out for Friday evening drinks to celebrate on your own and then have dinner with friends on Saturday so you can sample the special menus and complimentary champagne. Wherever you go, keep in mind that even the best-laid plans can fall through. If they do, remember that Valentine’s Day isn’t about eating at the perfect place at the perfect time; it’s about celebrating the people you love.

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