Sensual Foods for Valentine’s Day

Lynn Cline - February 6, 2018

Bouche Bistro, El Nido, La Plazuela and Eloisa

February is tailor-made for love. It kicks off for football lovers with the Superbowl, the biggest game of the year. Then all month long, February appeals to anyone who loves to ski—if there's enough snow, that is. But February's biggest day for lovers is Valentine's Day, of course,

This day devoted to romantic love has been celebrated for centuries. No less than Shakespeare, and Chaucer have written about it. By the 19th century in England, valentine cards were in such demand that factories were opened solely to produce them, dubbed by Charles Dickens as “Cupid's Manufactory.” Valentine's cards remain wildly popular today, with some 200 million presented in the U.S. alone. Other gifts have become traditional, including flowers, jewelry and chocolates. These dark delights, in fact, join a lengthy list of foods that have long been linked with love.

Consider Montezuma, the Aztec ruler, who reportedly sipped 50 cups of a chocolate elixir a day before heading to his harem. The Aztecs apparently ate avocados, not just for their creamy flavor but also as an aphrodisiac. The ancient Greeks and Romans prized grapes and honey as well as rosemary, saffron and basil as foods of love.In medieval Europe, people ate pinon nuts to increase their sexual potency. Some of the other foods that contain love-inducing properties include almonds, asparagus, beets, chile, figs, oysters and pomegranates.

With a new appreciation for these sensual foods, let's take a look at some of the Santa Fe restaurants offering Valentine's Day menus that feature them this year.

At Bouche Bistro, Charles Dale's Sweetheart Menu is filled with the foods of love, starting with oysters on the half-shell with champagne mignonette and fiery cocktail sauce. The beet and asparagus salad with blood orange vinaigrette is practically a tribute to the day. Aphrodite consumed beets to increase her appeal, according to Greek mythology and asparagus was praised for its potent properties by the Greeks and the French as well as in the Kama Sutra. Entrées that will woo your dinner partner include black truffle risotto with English peas and seared Maine scallops as well as Pheasant Two Ways with wild rice, apricots, pistachios and Lustau Sherry sauce. Desserts include a decadent Chocolate Hazelnut Opera Cake and warm apple tart with vanilla bean ice cream and salted caramel. You can feast on the three-course menu or the five-course tasting menu.

At El Nido in Tesuque, Chef Cristian Pontiggia also features oysters on his Valentine's Day menu. His version features applewood-grilled oysters topped with green chile butter, fresh herbs, garlic, lemon and Italian breadcrumbs. The Salad Amore blends wild arugula, strawberry, julienned speck, ricotta and caramelized almonds, in a honey mustard dressing. Entrée options on the three-course prix fixe menu include heart-shaped ravioli stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil with champagne cream sauce, Parmesan and roasted pistachios. The Branzino Cartoccio showcases a wood-grilled Mediterranean branzino, or sea bass, that's enveloped in parchment paper, flavored with lemon butter, herbs, Himalayan sea salt and finished in El Nido's Italian oven. For dessert, the Valentine Bruleée couldn't be more suited for the evening, with red vanilla cake, a caramelized top and chocolate gelato.

At La Plazuela in La Fonda on the Plaza, Chef Lane Warner's Valentine's prix fixe dinner includes an optional wine pairing that should delight any lovebirds. The menu starts with seared quail breasts with watercress, papaya vinaigrette and Parmesan cheese crisps. Next up, a hearty match-up of char-grilled petite filet mignon and grilled jumbo shrimp, accompanied by chipotle maltaise, Lyonnaise potatoes and sugar snap peas. For dessert, there's chocolate, as in a warm Mexican chocolate streusel with dark rum anglaise, strawberries and blueberries.

At Eloisa, at the Drury Plaza Hotel, Chef John Rivera Sedlar has crafted a St. Valentine's Day Cupido menu, available all week long (February 9-17). Choose from two entrées, one a petite filet with porcini mushroom sauce, aphrodisiacal asparagus and roasted root vegetables that also comes with seared Cape Cod scallops with langostine, Meyer lemon sauce, white asparagus and saffron risotto. The other option pairs Chilean sea bass filet with Meyer lemon beurre-blanc sauce and an asparagus duo with saffron risotto and a caviar garnish.