What actually constitutes a romantic dinner? This question swirled in my mind last week as I began to think about Valentine’s Day. I get the whole hearts-and-Cupid thing for starry-eyed teens—and I might add that my 12-year-old has his first girlfriend, so on February 14th I am sure I will see plenty of that—but for adults, how can we create the kind of spread we want at home?
As per usual, when I could not find precisely the right inspiration I was looking for on Pinterest, I drew on disparate images and scribbled-down concepts, then filtered them through my own idea of what a truly romantic table would look like. The end result was this dark and moody scene. The vibe is just the tone I seek for a quiet dinner for two.
So if you’re looking to create a similarly romantic setup this year, free from the cheesiness that tends to pervade Valentine's Day, here are a few guiding principles to help make it happen:
1. Go dark and moody.
The tonal grey table linens, black ceramics and flatware, and even the dim lighting set the tone of the night. Deep, dark accents like these create a far more appropriate ambiance than the one created by the traditional palette of red and bright pink. If you go this route, be sure to consider your accent palette as well. Here, the tone of the dahlias pairs with the wine-colored velvet ribbon, and the delicate buds on the branches, though paler, also complement that color scheme.
And don’t forget the candlelight. Using crisp white candles was intentional, offering a bit of relief from the contrasting dark elements.
2. Pick out your own florals.
Believe me, I love to receive flowers—but if I’m being honest, I’d rather buy the blooms myself. I’m just not that into roses. In my opinion, a few elegant blooms from the local florist is money far better spent than on dozens of cheaper varieties; just two placed in a simple vase is really all you need.
Aside from traditional flowers, a bunch of tall branches, like this seasonal quince (above) from the corner deli, packs a visual punch that feels wild and whimsical while offering verticality to your table—and lasts for weeks, I might add!
3. Add accents in interesting materials.
Something as simple as a yard of rich Bordeaux-toned velvet ribbon for $3.99 can add significant elegance. I toyed with carefully wrapping each plate with the ribbon but settled upon incorporating the cutlery and haphazardly wrapping each napkin instead. When it comes to design, simpler is often better! A sprig of greenery completes the place setting, a touch of nature in contrast to the velvet's texture.
4. Prep in advance.
During date night dinner I want to be able to focus on the one I love—not be a slave to the kitchen. To satisfy that criteria, much of my meal this year (and the table settings) was made to be prepared in advance. That way, you can give your partner your full attention, a real and true gesture of admiration.
5. Incorporate unexpected ingredients.
This blood orange bundt cake is great on its own, but—why not?— I topped it off with a tart citrus glaze infused with bourbon and aromatic bitters.
Remembering to take chances and experiment with unique flavor profiles is the icing on the cake for an intriguing, romantic table setting.
for the cake
- 3-4 blood oranges, zest and juice
- 1-2 lemons, juiced
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup almond meal
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 5 large eggs
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup whole milk Greek yogurt
- 2 tablespoons bourbon
for the glaze
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 3 teaspoons blood orange juice
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon bourbon
- 6 drops orange bitters