By Vicki Hyman | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on February 03, 2015 at 10:00 AM, updated February 03, 2015 at 11:08 AM
From a “menage a foie” to fried chicken and red velvet waffles to oysters by the dozen, there’s a Valentine’s Day menu for every taste, although tables are going fast. (Unless you’re the sort who enjoys eating at 5 p.m. — hey, more time for other, um, activities.)
But don’t only go by OpenTable — many restaurants block slots on the web reservation service on big holidays so they can more effectively control the flow on busy nights. If you don’t see a slot open, call the restaurant directly. (Begging may help.)
Here are 14 prime picks that still have tables available for Valentine’s Day:
• Truffles, cocoa, oysters, almonds and asparagus — all the reputed aphrodisiacs (yes, asparagus — need a visual?) make an appearance on the special four-course menu at Brothers Moon in Hopewell (7 W. Broad Street, 609-333-1330, brothersmoon.com). The cocoa- and rosemary-braised beef short rib with creamy corn polenta and asparagus seems like a winner. The menu is $79 per person.
• Avenue in Long Branch (23 Ocean Avenue, 732-759-2900, leclubavenue.com) has a cosmopolitan vibe and South of France-inflected menu, and was named one of Inside Jersey’s most romantic restaurants. The three-course $48-per-person menu features a ceviche of diver scallops with grapefruit essence and lime emulsion and a lobster Bolognese pasta with saffron mascarpone.
• The clubby Strip House at Livingston’s Westminster Hotel (550 W. Mount Pleasant Ave., 973-548-0050, striphousenewjersey.com), with its red leather banquettes, flocked wallpaper and racy vintage pin-ups on the walls, is a steak house with a heaping dose of sexy. Valentine’s Day specials include a caramelized onion soup, a Dijon- and herb-crusted prime rib and fried s’mores for dessert. (Plus there’s a hotel upstairs …)
• Snap up one of the last reservations at Picnic on the Square (26 Wilsey Square, 201-444-4001, picniconthesquare.com), the much-heralded return of Christine Nunn to her own kitchen. The $80-per-person “Seduction” menu opens with the likes of “menage a foie” (foie gras three ways with an Armagnac reduction). There’s also slow-braised short rib with an espresso chocolate demi glace and filet mignon with a gently-poached egg and Parmesan whipped potatoes, emphasis on whipped.
• Valentine’s Day starts early at the airy, pan-European Satis Bistro in Jersey City (212 Washington St., 201-435-5151, satisbistro.com), with an extensive special menu available all weekend. You can’t go wrong with oysters — these are served with caramelized fennel and apple mignonette — or a 42-ounce dry-aged bone-in rib eye for two with Mangalitsa pork-potato rosti. The four-course pre fixe is only available Saturday ($75 a person, with wine pairings an additional $45), while the other specials are available a la carte Friday and Sunday.
Caballo serves Spanish and Mediterranean fare in Bernardsville’s historic Old Stone Barn, which once housed the town’s fire department.
Steve Hockstein/For The Star-Ledger
• The dramatic stone dining room is a draw in itself at Caballo in Bernardsville (1 Mill St., 908-766-7979, caballonj.com), but the Mediterranean fare also impresses. Escargot in ajillo sauce over paella cake, lobster ravioli in a cognac cream sauce and crepes for two promise a memorable meal. Prices for the three-course menu vary according to entree ($48-$64).
• Keep things spicy at Verve in Somerville (18 E. Main St., 908-707-8655, vervestyle.com), where the $75-per-person three-course menu features wild boar carpaccio with macerated blackberry and smoked sea salt and a blood orange and black pepper sorbet.
• There’s a wink in the Valentine’s Day menu at Brandl’s in Belmar (703 Belmar Plaza, 732-280-7501, brandlrestaurant.com), from the house-ground sliders with cheese fondue to the “lazy lobster” with vanilla bean butter to the salted caramel creme brulee served in a jar with cookies. Don’t miss the chocolate souffle. The New American eatery offers a three-course pre fixe menu at $85 a person.
• The rustic, romantic Harvest Bistro in Closter (252 Schraalenburgh Road, 201-750-9966, harvestbistro.com) offers six seatings for its Valentine’s Day menu, where the luxe options include sauteed foie gras with apple Madeira sauce and oven-roasted Long Island duck with caramelized raspberry cognac sauce and crispy apricot polenta. The menu is $85 per person and comes with a complimentary glass of Champagne.
• Fiorino in Summit (38 Maple St., 908-277-1900, fiorinoristorante.com) has been serving refined but robust Tuscan for 20 years. For Valentine’s Day, the $65-per-person pre fixe features red beet and goat cheese ravioli in a Parmigiano cream, steamed red snapper with mussels, claims and fennel in a saffron brodetto, and chocolate coconut fudge cake for dessert.
• The heart or the stomach? There’s no doubt which comes first at Lithos Estiatorio (405 Eisenhower Parkway, 973-758-1111, lithosgreekrestaurant.com), with its “Like Your Mate, Love Your Food” menu for $150 a couple: The four-course (plus a glass of Champagne) menu offers an appetizer of goat cheese-crusted lamb chops and among the entrees, porcini-crusted filet mignon. For dessert, pears are poached in the sweet, Port-like mavrodaphne and served with vanilla gelato.
• Go exotic at the modern Indian bistro IndeBlue in Collingswood (619 Collings Ave., 856-854-4633, indebluerestaurant.com). The $50 pre fixe with complimentary glass of wine intrigues with shrimp skewers prepared with honey and garlic, osso bucco pork vindaloo and rose petal ice cream with spiced truffles.
• The six words you’ve been waiting for: Fried chicken and red velvet waffles. The Valentine’s Day menu at Delta’s in New Brunswick (19 Dennis St., 732-249-1551, deltasrestaurant.com) is not for the timid. The $54.95 per person menu has the soul food restaurant’s regular offerings plus specials like the waffles as well as crab-stuffed salmon with purple mashed potatoes. Dakota McLeod and the Brooklyn Soul Train will be performing starting at 6:30 p.m.
• On the four-course, $70 per person menu at Mediterra in Princeton (9 Hulfish St., 609-252-9680, mediterrarestaurant.com) is duck breast with quince in a ginger and honey reduction and striped bass a la plancha, but there are some options for lusty vegetarians, including sweet potato ricotta gnocchi and smoked root vegetables with a citrus yogurt sauce. Add wine pairings for $35 a person.
Vicki Hyman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @vickihy. Find NJ.com/Entertainment on Facebook.