Valentine’s Day

Now that we’ve all had time to put our Christmas decorations away, it is time to pull out the pink and red and focus on the most romantic day of the year – Valentine’s Day. If you are like me, you are most likely rolling your eyes right now. Believe me, I get it. Take this little parable, for instance. On our first Valentine’s Day together, my husband, whom I had only been dating for a few short months, came to pick me up and told me he had a surprise for me and that he couldn’t tell me where we were going. I was very excited as we drove over the bridge that led out of town and onto a very rural road that led to the middle of nowhere. I was far less excited about 45 minutes later when we pulled into a darkened, empty parking lot in front of a burned out building. My husband jumped out of the car without a word and walked up to the building as I sat in the car with a sneaking suspicion I was about to be murdered. But when he walked back to the car, it wasn’t the face of a deranged lunatic, but that of a very confused and embarrassed young man. It turns out the romantic restaurant he was planning to take me to had burned down some months prior, and he hadn’t bothered to call and make a reservation (rookie mistake). So, he had no idea. Good times.

My point, dear reader, is that Valentine’s Day can be tricky.  With so much anticipation and expectation, it’s easy to end up, well, in a proverbial abandoned parking lot.  But, fear not, love birds! With so many fabulous and romantic restaurants in The Woodlands, it’s impossible to have a misstep. Below are some of my favorite romantic restaurants, guaranteed to make your Valentines sweet, stress-free, and delicious.

As one of the first fine dining restaurants in The Woodlands, Amerigo’s Grille has a tradition of exceptional service and amazing food that has kept loyal patrons coming back for special occasions for decades. Five years ago, my husband took me here and surprised me with a trip to Europe! I’m sad to report that I didn’t get a special little envelope with two tickets to paradise this go-round, but we did have a meal that rivals the finest restaurants in Europe.

Amerigo’s offers a special four-course Valentine’s Day menu with a wide variety of options. We began with the Tuna Carpaccio, which was served with asparagus and ginger remoulade, and the Bruno Shrimp, which I could have made an entire meal! The jumbo shrimp were panko-crusted, pan seared and served with a creamy mango sauce. The flavor profiles of both appetizers went very well together and we were thrilled our amazing server, Sarah, had recommended them.

Next, came our salad course with a Classic Caesar for my husband and a Poached Pear Salad for myself. Though I love a good Caesar, I think I won on this course. The poached pears were delicious served on seasonal greens with dried cranberries, gorgonzola, pear, and a blueberry-pomegranate dressing. It was so good I almost felt bad that I needed to leave room for my entrée…almost.

Again, we went with Sarah’s recommendation and I had the Snapper Pistachio. It honestly wasn’t something I would have picked on my own, but holy cow – it was amazing! The red snapper was crusted with pistachio nuts and baked with artichoke hearts, diced tomatoes and topped with a light sherry cream sauce. I would put the sherry cream sauce on top of everything I eat for the rest of my life if that were an option. Not to be outdone, my husband chose the 14 oz. New York Strip, accompanied by roasted potatoes and haricot verts. This steak was perfectly cooked and had the most amazing flavor. Our served told us it was charred with an aged marsala and natural au jus, and it was heavenly.

To finish off this amazing meal, the pastry chef put together a sampling of miniature delectable confections served with chocolate truffles.  Being able to sample each of the amazing desserts was the perfect sweet ending to our romantic evening.  Amerigo’s will always hold a place in my heart for this extremely special experience.

As I’ve grown older, I have come to realize that not all Valentine’s Day celebrations are the same. This year V Day falls on a Wednesday, which as we all know, has long been hailed as the most romantic day of the week. (I’m hoping you sense my sarcasm.)  Because of this midweek malady, many couples will choose to celebrate either the weekend prior or the weekend afterward. Celebrating on a different date also makes it easier to do what we like to do and have a family Valentine’s dinner. No place in my mind is better for this than Schilleci’s New Orleans Kitchen in Market Street. Now don’t get me wrong, Schilleci’s is not what I would describe as a typical family restaurant; in all honestly it is New Orleans style fine dining with one of the most unique Cajun/Creole menus I have ever laid eyes on (and I’ve nearly made a second career out of eating at the best restaurants in my home state). That being said, the Schilleci family is so welcoming and passionate about sharing their love of food that I’ve never thought twice about bringing my children in for lunch or an early dinner. The icing on the King Cake this year is that Mardi Gras falls on the day before Valentine’s so there is really no question as to where we would go to celebrate.

Every meal at Schilleci’s starts out with a bowl of Zapp’s Spicy Cajun Crawtator potato chips. They are the perfect snack to enjoy while perusing the extensive menu. Executive Chef David Brittain was offering an off-menu appetizer of baked brie served with Gambino’s French bread for dipping. The brie was topped with the most delicious cherry sauce. I honestly forgot what he called it because I was too busy trying to eat it all before my husband got a bite! My daughter also had a bowl of crawfish bisque as a starter. I have made many a meal off that crawfish bisque alone, but one bite had to do because we were eager to try some of their famous fish specials.

My husband ordered the Barramundi blackened with a sautéed crawfish sauce that was topped with mushrooms and green onions. I opted for the catch of the day, which was Sword Fish. Mine was pan seared with scallops and artichokes then topped with mushrooms, walnuts, spinach and a lemon butter sauce. Both were served with steamed rice and were delicious! My very fancy daughter who talks about food as if she were a writer for Bon Appetit ordered the Cajun Fettuccini Alfredo and, I’m not gonna lie, we tried to steal a bite every chance we could.

My little guy would gladly skip dinner and head straight to the beignets, but he surprised me by finishing all his popcorn shrimp, which are part of the kid’s menu. For the sake of this article, I tried one for myself and they were just like the shrimp I would expect to find falling off a po’boy in New Orleans. Well-done Schilleci’s!

Since Hughes Landing opened a few years ago, it has become one of our favorite dining destinations offering the perfect spot for everything from casual lunch to formal dinners. Nestled at the end of restaurant row with beautiful sweeping views of Lake Woodlands are my two favorite spots, both of which would be ideal for a romantic Valentine’s date night.

Broken Barrel is a relative newcomer to the area and focuses on small plates infused with global influences. The Crispy Olives with Garlic Lemon Aioli are addictive. I’ve actually begged owner and executive Chef Hilda Ysusi to make them for me one Sunday because they weren’t featured on the Brunch menu. She politely obliged, of course, and I didn’t have to resort to tears. This year, Broken Barrel is offering a preset three-course dinner for $70 per person and includes a glass of bubbly as well! For your first course, you can choose between Roasted Cauliflower Soup with hazelnuts, bacon and chili oil and Seared Duck Breast with charred sweet potato, citrus yogurt, and pecans. For your second, Chef Ysusi is offering Mussels with salsa verde and chorizo or Gnocchi with confit pork and a spicy tomato sauce. Your meal is finished off with Strawberry Shortcake served with aged balsamic and cracked black pepper.

Image Courtesy Truluck’s-The Woodlands

Last but certainly not least, I must mention Truluck’s. Glorious Florida Stone Crab aside, this elegant spot with its nightly piano player and floor to ceiling views of the lake has one of the most exceptional menus around. My husband’s absolute favorite is the indulgent Filet Oscar Royale. The 7 oz. filet is topped with caviar, king crab, asparagus and béarnaise served with parmesan mashed potatoes. Since he doesn’t like caviar, I always get the first bite when it arrives which is just a bonus for me! Speaking of me, my go-to entrée is the Miso Glazed Seabass, which is oven-roasted and served with crab fried rice and chilled cucumber slaw. Though we usually would stop here and roll out to the valet stand, on Valentine’s you must treat yourself to one of their indulgent made-from-scratch desserts!

So now that I have gotten you all good and hungry, I hope you will take a minute to plan a romantic night out for that special someone. My suggestion is: take them to all four! Happy Valentine’s Day!

Jennifer Coyle has lived in The Woodlands with her husband and two children for ten years. She is involved in numerous local charities and is the owner of Fête by Jennifer Coyle, a local event design business. 

Taste of the Town

The 2018 Taste of the Town served to indulge all the senses! Hosted by The Woodlands Area Chamber of Commerce, the event featured more than 50 area restaurants, bakeries, and distributors plus contests, raffles and entertainment. The array of mouth-watering foods consisting of varies cuisines, delighted a crowd of over 400 attendees. In keeping with tradition, winners were chosen in four categories:

Best Appetizer – Broken Barrel with their teriyaki taco with habanero crema and a trinity slaw

Best Entrée’ – Avenida Brazil Woodlands with their beef and au gratin potatoes and chimichurri

Best Dessert – KICPOPS with their blackberry lavender ice pop made with all fresh ingredients

Planet Lincoln’s People’s Choice Award – KICPOPS with their gourmet treats

Congratulations to these winners and to the Chamber team for hosting a wonderful evening!

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