Create a Great Valentine’s Day: Tips from Michael Fazio, Concierge to the Stars

Valentines Tips From Michael Fazio1 Create a Great Valentines Day: Tips from Michael Fazio, Concierge to the Stars

On Valentine’s Day, more than most days, you’ve got to get romance right. And that starts with planning a seamless night. Michael Fazio, whose book Concierge Confidential will soon be published by St. Martin’s Press, says, “Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest restaurant nights of the year. The people who fare the best are the ones who know how to navigate the terrain like a pro and how to avoid some of the pitfalls encountered by the amateurs.”

If you don’t want to look like an amateur on this special night, use these exclusive tips from guest-blogger Fazio, cofounder of Abigail Michaels Concierge, providers of a vast repertoire of concierge services to nearly 40,000 New Yorkers.

1. Select the right spot.

A great date for your Valentine’s Day starts with selecting the perfect restaurant. To find the perfect place for you and your date, answer these same questions I ask my clients when they seek my help in selecting a restaurant for them:

* Given the many definitions of what could be considered romantic, what do you visualize as the perfect setting for your date?

For some, the perfect restaurant is overflowing with luxury and opulence. For others, the perfect restaurant is a tiny little spot with checkered tablecloths and wicker-covered wine bottle candleholders. And for others, it might be the newest, hippest, and hardest to get reservation.

* How much time do you want to spend dining?

On Valentine’s Day, many restaurants replace their regular menus with special multi-course, prix-fixe menus. On OpenTable, you can find this by looking under the “Valentine’s Day/Romantic Dinners” tab on your city’s start page or by looking under “Deals and Offers” on a restaurant’s profile page. If you’re a foodie who favors the prix-fixe menu, consider an earlier reservation as a multi-course, prix-fixe meal tends to take time.

* What’s your budget?

The best way to ruin a nice evening out is to experience sticker shock. Review the menu on OpenTable, which you can view on a restaurant’s profile page. The “$$$$” measurement is always a reliable base, but it doesn’t hurt to consult the menu and wine list so you know before you go.

* Are you open to trying something different?

Take advantage of Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to be daring and have a new culinary experience. You don’t have to stretch your palate to the extreme, but exploring a new cuisine together can be quite fun. I still have amazing memories from my night dining on a floor pillow, under a tent in a Moroccan restaurant in the heart of NYC.

2. Get a little extra attention.

Make use of OpenTable’s “Special Requests to the Maitre D’” section when booking your reservation for a little extra love from your hosts for the evening. Yes, the restaurants read the comments, and I love to use this space to send compliments and express how much my clients are looking forward to dining at their restaurant. Set yourself apart by establishing a profile as being a fan. No one wants to disappoint a fan!

3. Make it special with flowers.

You can order flowers to be sent to your table right on OpenTable when you book your reservation. Everyone may stare as your bouquet arrives, but they’ll be wowed by the special gesture you made for your date. If flowers aren’t in your budget, stop by the restaurant earlier in the day with a card and ask the staff if they can insert it into your date’s menu when you arrive.

4. Couldn’t get a reservation? Try, try again!

My newest “can’t live without it” tool is the OpenTable Mobile App. The reason is simple. Restaurants’ reservation inventory shifts on a regular basis due to changes and cancellations. Ironically, the premium reservation times are often the ones to change. With an OpenTable Mobile App, you can check and re-check availability several times a day, wherever you are. It’s also a great tool for last minute reservations.  In my recent experience using this mobile app, I was originally unable to find availability at one of the city’s new hot spots. Deciding to “wing it” about 30 minutes before I wanted to dine, I snagged a prime reservation that wasn’t available the many times I tried previously.

5. Plan a pre- or après-dinner activity.

Before or after dinner, visit a museum or take a walk on a scenic street. Or, book a private car or limo to pick you up at the restaurant and take a drive down memory lane past your first home or the place that you first met.

Whatever your plans involve, just remember that the most important part of the date is spending time together. Have a sense of humor about it, and don’t get intimidated by the pressure of a special night like Valentine’s Day. Remember, if it all goes wrong, the best way to spin it into a positive is to laugh, knowing you’ll have a memory to last a lifetime.

Finally, keep in mind that Valentine’s Day dining can be a nice brunch, lunch, or even just a dessert date. Whether you start your celebration on Friday the 12th or Sunday the 14th, savor each flavor and enjoy the experience!

Visit Abigail Michaels to learn more about Michael Fazio and Abigail Michaels Concierge’s services.

Well-Reviewed: Baker and Banker; Beacon; Birch and Barley, and Other Restaurants That Don’t Start with a ‘B’

Recent restaurant reviews from the news…

  • Beacon in Los Angeles gets high marks for its fusion burgers from Damon Gambuto at A Hamburger Today. [Serious Eats]
  • Ezekiel J. Emanuel hates all of the 555 beers served at Washington, D.C.’s Birch and Barley (because he hates all beer), but he loves the food. [The Atlantic]
  • Victoria Pesce Elliott has an uplifting dining experience at South Beach’s Solea. [Miami Herald]

Molecular Gastronomy Goes Mainstream in Manhattan

Molecular Gastronomy Goes Mainstream in Manhattan Molecular Gastronomy Goes Mainstream in ManhattanWylie Dufresne has been playing with his food à la Dr. Frankenstein for years, and while not all restaurants embrace his methods, many elements of his brand of molecular gastronomy have seeped into mainstream dining in the Big Apple. The New York Post reports on Dufresne, chef-owner of wd-50, Dave Arnold, resident mad scientist at the French Culinary Institute and its restaurant L’Ecole (who regularly  blogs about his “experiments” at the FCI), Michael Laiskonis, pastry chef at Le Bernardin, and George Mendes, chef-owner at Aldea, on their use of “meat glue” and other ingredients more likely found in a laboratory than your kitchen cupboard.

Are you a fan of molecular gastronomy’s transformative powers? Or do you prefer more traditional ingredients and techniques?

More Dining Trends for 2010: Bacon, Again?

Dining Trends for 2010 Again More Dining Trends for 2010: Bacon, Again?The Chicago Tribune checks in with some so-called dining trendspotters (Bacon is great, but to call it a trend for the year ahead is like saying 2010 is *finally* going to be Roger Federer’s breakout year.) to uncover the method to their madness, and then weighs in with 10 trends they find to be slightly less obvious — and they are. If you’re a true foodie, though, even the Tribune‘s list will be more “been there, done that” than enlightening.

What do you think are the truly new trends we’ll see emerge in the year ahead? Serve up your suggestions here or over on Facebook.

Chef Watch: Michael Voltaggio Cooks and Tells; New York Post Has a Beef with Alain Ducasse; Norman Van Aken Opens His Recipe Book; The World’s Most Influential Chef; Charlie Trotter’s New Hire, and More

Chefs making food and headlines…

•    Michael Voltaggaio, winner of season 6 of “Top Chef” shows football fans how to have a very molecular gastronomic Super Bowl party. Does that mean deconstructed nachos? [Los Angeles Times]

•    Speaking of Chef Voltaggio, who is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham, he answers questions about his post-TC life. [Orange County Register]

•    Jose Garces, whose Philadelphia restaurant empire includes Amada, Chifa, Distrito, and Tinto, reveals what’s inspiring him lately. [The Daily Beast]

•    Charlie Trotter hires visually impaired chef Laura Martinez to join his kitchen at Charlie Trotter’s. [Grub Street Chicago]

•    If Chicago’s Graham Elliot Bowles’s food at Graham Elliot were an album, it would be Feed the Animals by Girl Talk. At least this week, anyway. [Time Out Chicago]

•    Meet the U.K’s own Fergus Henderson of St. John restaurant in London. He’s also the world’s most influential chef. No, really. [Men's Health]

•    Chef Norman Van Aken shares some of his signature recipes from Norman’s at the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, but it’s probably just easier to go ahead and let him make them for us at his eponymous restaurant. [The Daily Beast]

•    Thomas Keller (Ad Hoc, Bouchon, Bouchon – Beverly Hills, The French Laundry, Per Se) loses his right-hand man. As long as it’s not his right hand. [San Francisco Chronicle]

•    Restaurant critic Steve Cuozzo of the New York Post has a bone to pick with Alain Ducasse (Adour Alain Ducasse at The St. Regis New York, Benoit New York) over his recent comments about the New York restaurant scene. Call me a coward, but it’s probably not all that wise to start a beef with anyone who wields knives for a living. [New York Post]

Choucroute Takes Chicago: Chi-Town to Become Chou-Town?

Choucroute Takes Chicago1 Choucroute Takes Chicago: Chi Town to Become Chou Town?It’s no secret that Chicago eaters love salted meat products (see Swerski, Bill), so it may not come as any surprise that choucroute garni, an Alsatian dish of seasoned sauerkraut typically topped with sausage, ham, and potatoes, is taking hold of the town. Time Out Chicago reports seeing choucroute dishes on the menus at Brasserie Jo (where it’s been a staple for years), and, more recently, Blackbird and Kith and Kin. It’s not a dish for the faint of heart (or the clogged of arteries), but if you’re going to dig in, winter is the time. I’ve only had this in France, where a friend and I shared what turned out to be a mountainous plate we now call the “meat-lover’s special.” It was porky. It was salty. It was delicious — and we didn’t come close to finishing it.

50 Most Romantic Restaurants: Diners’ Choice Awards 2010

Top 50 Romantic Restaurants in US 2010.jgp 50 Most Romantic Restaurants: Diners Choice Awards 2010Just in time for Valentine’s Day, OpenTable is proud to announce the winners of our 2010 Diners’ Choice Awards for the Most Romantic Restaurants in America. Derived from nearly four million reviews submitted by OpenTable diners for more than 10,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, this list can help diners find a restaurant that can make any evening great, whether it’s your first date or your 50th anniversary.

The winners include restaurants with terrific views, such as The Eagle’s Nest in Indianapolis, foodie faves, like Canlis in Seattle, and classics that have hosted hundreds of marriage proposals, such as Manhattan’s One if by Land, Two if by Sea.

From fun fondue restaurants to those offering breathtaking vistas or just a chance to flirt over a plate of delicious food, these restaurants can help make any evening more romantic. Reserve for romance today!

Did your favorite romantic restaurant make our list? Let us know here or join the conversation on Facebook. And, speaking of romance, don’t forget to book your Valentine’s Day reservations now.

Not-so-new Food Trends for 2010

The Daily Beast gathered up predictions for the biggest food trends of 2010. James Norton quickly pointed out on Chow that many of these trends are leftovers — not just from 2009, but way back when.

I’m not sure he’s wrong about this assertion, but, in defense of The Daily Beast, there may not be anything that is, in fact, new to those of us who are really dialed into what’s happening in the food world.

Can you remember the last time a trend came along that was truly fresh news to your ears and taste buds?

Are Restaurant Critics Still Important to Diners?

If everybody’s a critic (and a blogger), where does that leave professional restaurant critics and food writers? Staring into the abyss, according to Francis Lambert, who provides coverage and commentary on New York University’s recent symposium “Taste and Authority: The Restaurant Review” in his article on Salon. Participants included Alan Richman, from GQ, Mitchell Davis, vice president of the James Beard Foundation, and Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin.

In this new world order of online, first-person reviews, how relevant are professional critics’ restaurant reviews to your dining choices? Which critics matter (or mattered. See Bruni, Frank.) most to you? Give your faves a shout out here or over on Facebook.

Chef Watch: Jamie Lauren’s Walk-In; Ron Duprat’s Efforts to Help Haiti; Patricia Yeo’s ‘Son-in-Law’ Eggs; and More

Chef Watch Chef Watch: Jamie Laurens Walk In; Ron Duprats Efforts to Help Haiti; Patricia Yeos Son in Law Eggs; and MoreChefs who are making headlines this week…

* Jamie Lauren, from “Top Chef “Season 5, shows the Grub Street gang her super-neat walk-in at San Francisco’s Absinthe Brasserie, where she’s the executive chef.  [Grub Street San Francisco]

* Speaking of “Top Chef”, Season 6 contestant Ron Duprat, executive chef at Latitudes Beach Café at the Hollywood Beach Marriot in Florida, is organizing a dining relief effort for Haiti on February 14, 2010. Duprat, a native of Haiti, will be joined by other former “Top Chef” contestants including Mattin Noblia (of Illuna Basque in San Francisco), Hector Santiago (of Pura Vida in Atlanta) and Michael Voltaggio is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena, California. []

* Patricia Yeo of Boston’s Ginger Park Kitchen + Bar discusses her “Scottish Son-in-Law Eggs” that are egg-citing (I couldn’t help it) diners at her Boston restaurant. [Boston Herald]

* Chef Simon Dolinky of BLVD 16 is honoring those who make dineLA possible with a discounted tasting menu for restaurant-industry employees only. The offer runs from February 9-14. BLVD 16 is also participating in dineLA, so those of us not in the industry can still enjoy his meals at a steal. [Grub Street Los Angeles]

* Former chef to Oprah and restaurateur Art Smith, of Table Fifty-Two in Chicago and Art and Soul in Washington, D.C., dishes on earning a spot in the Chicago Culinary Museum and Chefs Hall of Fame (nevermind that the museum itself has yet to find a spot). [Chicago Tribune]