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Dining

Romantic restaurants for Valentine’s Day

The world’s your oyster at the classic Foreign Cinema. photo: courtesy foreign cinema

February is a month for romance and getting cozy, even if you decide not to eat out on Valentine’s Day proper (it’s Saturday Feb. 14, if you need to put it on your calendar). There’s more to romance than candlelight and French food, though those are great options, too. Here are some more traditionally romantic spots around town, along with some less conventional choices for your less conventional squeeze.

For some old school charm with neighborhood credentials, make your way to the Brazen Head for an intimate night in one of their booths. Start with oysters and bubbles, or perhaps one of their strong cocktails, and then move on to one of the classic American dishes. You can also feel good about supporting this neighborhood institution, because they regularly fundraise for the San Francisco Firefighters Toy Program and for breast cancer research. Nothing says romance like giving back to your community (3166 Buchanan Street, 415-721-7600, brazenheadsf.com).

Gamine French Bistrot on Union Street is adorable, intimate, and très charmant — what more could you ask for? The menu offers classic French staples, and a selection of sparkling wines is sure to keep the mood festive. Chocolate mousse for dessert, check (2223 Union Street, 415-771-7771, gaminesf.com).

The excellent wine list at A16 is enough to make any wine lover swoon, and the impeccable Southern Italian food won’t hurt, either. The space is perfect for a date who appreciates modern, sleek design, and the wood-fired oven takes the hearthside Italian vibe up yet another notch. Oh, and the blistered pizzas are the stuff dreams are made of (2355 Chestnut Street, 415-771-2216, a16sf.com).

For another French option with a more opulent ambiance, Café Claude Marina is an excellent choice. Every inch of the vintage-inspired interior is covered in luxurious fabrics, textiles, and wallpaper, and the red leather banquettes are perfect for a night of flirtation. The menu is classic French, with great daily specials, including bouillabaisse on Fridays and boeuf Bourguignon on Saturdays, and the wine list is no slouch either (2120 Greenwich Street, 415-375-9550, cafeclaude.com).

The rustic Italian vibe at Terzo is low-key and hard to beat for a cozy night out. The exposed brick, older building, and warm lighting are just some of the charms at this comfortable Cow Hollow spot. The menu is always intensely seasonal, with changing dishes each day, and the staff is welcoming. (3011 Steiner Street, 415-441-3200, terzosf.com).

North Beach is one of the more romantic neighborhoods in all of San Francisco, and Da Flora is one of the best places to enjoy it. The sweet potato gnocchi is rightly famous, as is the focaccia and other Venetian specialties. Flora herself has a reputation for being a bit prickly, but follow a few simple rules and you’ll be fine. Make a reservation, use your very best manners, and pay cash if you can. Your date is sure to be impressed with your North Beach cred (701 Columbus Avenue, 415-981-4664, daflora.net).

Aziza’s intimate booths, moody lighting, and sumptuous interior all conspire to make it one of the best date spots in town. It’s location in the sleepy Outer Richmond helps, too, if you and your love are into a fog-shrouded walk after dinner, serenaded by foghorns. The modern Moroccan food is excellent, and the unusual cocktails won’t disappoint (5800 Geary Boulevard, 415-752-2222, aziza-sf.com).

Located down a quiet alley right off charming Mint Plaza is 54 Mint, a great hidden gem in the middle of the downtown bustle. Reserve a table upstairs and you might actually think you’re in Rome, with the painted brick walls, beautiful bar, and charming staff. Don’t miss the pastas (the cacio e pepe is particularly noteworthy), and be sure to ask the knowledgeable staff for help with the extensive Italian wine list (16 Mint Plaza, 415-543-5100, 54mint.com).

For an adventurous date, check out brand new Californios in the Mission, from chef Val Cantu and his wife, Carolyn Cantu. Carolyn designed the beautiful space, with its dark walls, caramel leather banquettes, and thoughtful art objects. The food is all served as a seven-course tasting menu, so you won’t be faced with any choices — so be sure this is something you and your date will enjoy (a vegetarian option is available). Like the food, the soundtrack is urban and edgy, too, making it the perfect spot to impress the artsy, edgy cool kid in your life (3115 22nd Street, 415-757-0994, californiossf.com).

If Californios is a little too alternative but you still want a cool urban oasis, Foreign Cinema is your spot. The long hallway off Mission Street opens into a stylish, comfortable space with a gorgeous fireplace, back courtyard, and attractive bar. The classically California food is always good, and it’s an excellent place for a vegetarian and meat eater to find menu harmony. The vegetable dishes are just as thoughtful as the meat-focused ones, so no one will feel left out. The desserts always deliver, too. Oh, and did we mention they screen films on the back patio wall? Sure to be a hit with your artsy date (2534 Mission Street, 415-648-7600, foreigncinema.com).

For serious old school charm, head to the top of Nob Hill for a night at Osso Steakhouse. This San Francisco classic drips with Art Deco opulence, and they specialize in dry-aged, bone-in steaks. They also serve an extensive selection of seafood, including local Dungeness crab, and have an extensive wine list (1177 California Street, 415-771-6776, ossosteakhouse.com).

Speaking of classic San Francisco, nothing says romance quite like the ocean view at The Cliff House. The historical landmark is perched at the very edge of San Francisco, with huge windows, a full bar, and great design. The restaurant has actually been in operation since 1863, but was rebuilt and remodeled several times, and now is an excellent example of Art Deco architecture. Start or finish your meal at the bar, where the views are especially spectacular and a fireplace keeps everything warm (1090 Point Lobos, 415-386-3330, cliffhouse.com).

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Dana Eastland is the associate editor the Tablehopper, a weekly food and restaurant e-column. E-mail: [email protected]

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